★ / ★★★★
Staff and patients of Mercy Falls Children’s Hospital, located in the Isle of Wight, are supposed to evacuate the building and move to a more conveniently located hospital in the middle of the island, but a recent train crash leaves St. James little room for the merge. So, for the time being, they are to remain where they are despite very strange occurrences in the building. For instance, while a boy (Lloyd F. Booth Shankley) with one broken femur is getting his X-Ray done, somehow a second break occurs even though no one is in the room with him. Is it caused by a rare a disease, a form of witchcraft, or an unknown entity?
“Frágiles,” written by Jaume Balagueró and Jordi Galceran, directed by the former, is a most underwhelming experience because although the story takes place in a creepy children’s hospital, not much is done with it on the script level as well as on the level of performance. When the would-be scares finally arrive, they are as typical as they are draining. We’ve all seen horror movies that depend on special and visual effects during the last act because they offer little else prior to that point. This work belongs under this category.
Amy Nicholls (Calista Flockhart), a replacement night nurse, is a complete bore of a protagonist. While Flockhart is good at evoking sadness mixed with fear, especially when Amy walks down dark hallways during her shift, Amy is written to be untrustworthy. She is a confusing rather than a conflicted figure because her tragic history is often veiled. Her superiors walk around the “terrible thing” that happened prior to her being hired. Since we are kept in the dark so consistently, how are we supposed to understand her as a person who works with children as well as how she thinks and reacts when her patients are in mortal danger?
The supporting actors are less convincing. Elena Anaya who plays one of Amy’s fellow nurses plays her character without consistency. In one scene she seems to care a lot about the work she does. In the next scene, she is cold and afraid of everything. There is no explanation as to what triggers these sudden changes. Halfway through, I began to think that she has a mood disorder even though she is not the one taking medication.
On the other hand, Richard Roxburgh as the lead doctor is deathly one-note. I wondered if he did actual research so that he is able to put a special stamp to his character or he simply watched how soap operas portray doctors. This is because Dr. Marcus neither exudes intelligence nor practicality. He’s just a nice guy, probably well-built under that white coat, designed to console when things are hard for Amy and when Amy asks him to look through files.
Everyone keeps talking about how spooky the place is but nothing special happens. (Although one good sequence involves an elevator.) While there are annoying throwaway shots like a shadowy figure walking across the foreground when our protagonist is not looking, most frustrating is the fact that the writers seem to depend on one thing to get us to care: the potential victims are sick children. Of course no one wants to see them get hurt or die. There is barely an active attempt to involve the audience in its mysteries.
★ / ★★★★
Frank (Richard Roxburgh), a professional explorer, and his crew (Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Creamer Cain) were in the uncharted Esa’ala Cave to map out the underground river that ran through it. But their exploration turned grim when it began to rain. The cave was located underground so water from the rainforest began to pool inside. With exits blocked by heavy rocks and powerful torrents, Frank, his crew, his son named Josh (Rhys Wakefield), the project financier (Ioan Gruffudd), and his girlfriend (Alice Parkinson) decided that their only hope was to find the exit the led up to the ocean. Inspired by a true story, “Sanctum” might have been better off as a documentary. Instead, it featured melodrama between father and son. Josh felt distant toward his father because Frank was fully invested in his work and didn’t spend enough time at home. When they shared conversations, the topic consisted of cave diving, mountain climbing, and other extreme physical activities. I suppose Josh wanted his father to ask him about his hobbies or if he ever had a girlfriend (or boyfriend). I found it difficult to connect to their relationship when everyone was yelling all the time. Naturally, as the picture progressed, the two found common ground. As for the survival aspect of the film, I liked that the environment looked threatening. Sharp rocks were abound, the flowing water looked like it could easily knock me over, and the claustrophic space when the characters went underwater looked menacing. However, did the characters have to make one bad decision after another? They were supposed to have had experience in extreme situations one way or another, but their mistakes were elementary. Take the financier’s girlfriend for example. Prior to a crucial dive, she was adamant in not wearing a dead woman’s wet suit. She claimed she would rather, in her own words, “be cold and alive than warm and dead.” Her logic did not make sense to me. Someone should have knocked some sense into her and explained that a wet suit could help keep her alive. I just had to laugh at her in the next scene when she got hypothermia. I thought she deserved it for being so stubborn. The picture needed more quiet moments. The score was distracting especially during the underwater sequences. If most of those scenes were silent and all we could here were the bubbles, there would have been genuine, naturalistic tension because we all know how it’s like to hold our breath underwater and the panic that creeps in when our lungs crave oxygen. The filmmakers should have taken advantage of that instead of allowing the music to tell us what to feel. Directed by Alister Grierson, “Sanctum” failed to show us what needed to be experienced. This was best reflected in the scene when Frank and his crew witnessed something that was supposedly astonishing. The camera focused on their expressions the entire time and never allowed us to see the greatness for ourselves.
Like Minds (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Gregory J. Read, “Like Minds” or “Murderous Intent” was about two boys in prep school who had a complex relationship. One ended up dead (Tom Sturridge) and the other was sent to jail (Eddie Redmayne) because evidence suggested murder. It was up to a forensic psychologist (Toni Collette) to figure out what really happened between the two and to try to gather evidence that could potentially allow the surviving boy to be released from jail. The film was something I had not expected. I’ve seen a number of movies about prep school and murder but I did not expect this one to be so involved in history and psychology. Since I had studied the latter subject, it was relatively easy for me to grasp what was happening on the surface. However, since my weakest subject was history, I found the discussion of the past somewhat confusing so I don’t think I fully saw the big picture. Having said that, the movie was full of tension and had a knack for delivering the unexpected. I thought it did a great job establishing the twisted relationship between Sturridge and Redmayne; they were interesting together but it was creepy at the same time trying to deal with a roommate from hell who had a penchant for dissecting dead animals. However, I wished that the picture had more scenes of Collette doing her own investigation instead of relying on the surviving boy’s stories. One of the best scenes was the climax in which she finally stumbled upon some evidence because she delivered subtleties on her body movements and facial expressions that went beyond the fact that she was scared and she wanted to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. What did not work for me was the detective (Richard Roxburgh) in charge of the strange deaths. I thought he served no purpose to the overall picture and he was the most one-dimensional character. Instead of helping out Collette’s character, he kept on wanting to get together with her and it was very distracting. “Like Minds” may be a small film and somewhat uneven at times but the mystery fascinated me and there was an intelligence behind the storytelling. The two boys did a great job playing predator and prey, especially Sturridge’s ability to shift from intense and piercing glares to blank but evil eyes. He reminded me of a more versatile and magnetic version of Robert Pattinson which amused me because I found out later that they were good friends. Fans of creepy, slow, sometimes disturbing psychological thrillers will most likely find “Like Minds” pretty enjoyable.