Brad Anderson’s Fractured is not a good film, but it somehow manages to look, sound and feel like one. How, you may ask? It’s just one of those slick, dynamic thrillers that is absolutely engaging on a stylistic level, well acted, scary when it needs to be and very atmospheric… however, it has a manipulative, unfair zigzag of a narrative that insults both the audience’s deductive skills and overall intelligence and at times feels like they were making it up as they went along, and decided right in the middle of the third act which fork in the road they were gonna go with in terms of plot resolution. Not a good look from a screenplay standpoint. Anderson is a terrific filmmaker who is responsible for some of my dearest favourites in the horror/thriller genres including Transsiberian, Session 9, Stonehearst Asylum, Vanishing On 7th Street, The Machinist and a few fascinating if flawed efforts like The Call and now this film. Sam Worthington gives a solid performance as a frantic father desperately searching for his missing wife (Lily Rabe, wondrous as ever) and young daughter (Lucy Capri), when they disappear under mysterious circumstances at a county hospital the family goes to following a roadside medical emergency. He checks them in, they are rushed off downstairs to get MRI’s and… he never sees them again. All of the nurses, EMT’s and the charismatic duty doctor (always nice to see Stephen Tobolowsky) keep assuring him that he checked himself in alone and there never was a wife or a daughter in their hospital to begin with, which seems shady as fuck and causes him to launch a one man mission to find out what happened to them. There are some incredibly tense scenes of hospital espionage as he stealthily navigates corridors and stairwells, pursued by cops and security at every turn. The performances are great, the momentum is kept up nicely and it’s all very snazzy… but like I said, this one jerked my chain a few too many times as far as plot turns go and by the end I felt disappointed, exploited as a viewer and downright hostile at the experience overall. Is this guy just a lunatic and imagining he had a wife and kid, or are the hospital staff actually hiding something sinister? Well, the film waffles back and forth in embarrassingly melodramatic and implausible fashion between the two possible outcomes and when it comes time to level with us their way of going about it feels cheap, lurid and unfair to its lead, which is especially unfortunate for poor Worthington who *finally* gives a terrific performance and ends up betrayed by the script that doesn’t properly do the character justice. The fact that this is well made makes its glaring drawbacks all the more frustrating: if it were simply a shittily crafted film I could have just three pointer line tossed it into the trashcan, so to speak. But I enjoyed much of it from a style and tone aspect, so it makes the lack of proper backbone in story just sting way more. Meh.
A lot can happen on a nearly eight thousand kilometre railway trip, and much of it does in Brad Anderson’s chilly, blunt, ruthless and exciting Transsiberian, a Hitchcockian whodunit with as many turns in the plot as there are bends in the railroad. Filmed on location in Russia and China, the Trans Siberian is indeed a real train that makes a long, snowy voyage from Beijing all the way to Moscow and here serves as evocative backdrop for six various characters involved in a dangerous game of deceit, escape, intimidation and foul play. Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer are the American couple, he’s a bit of a bumbling nebbish, she’s more quiet, shrewd, observant and possessive of a reckless past. Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara are another couple, outwardly shady, edgy and suspiciously rough around the edges. One of these four is smuggling a large amount of heroin somewhere in the train, and it’s up to the viewer to discern why, how, where they got it and what the consequences will be. Meanwhile, two Russian narcotics officers trawl the train trying to smoke out the mule, played by a cold, psychopathic Thomas Kretschmann and a wily, charismatic and utterly scene stealing Ben Kingsley. This is such an entertaining, suspenseful, panicky, fascinating, character based piece of melodramatic escapism, made so by brilliant work from its cast, powerful scenes of violence, pursuit and distrust and locations that are at once beautiful, desolate, eerie and breathtaking. Mortimer is excellent as the kind of woman who fiercely guards her true nature and is resourceful to the bone in a tricky situation. Mara is low key very effective as the mysterious girl in over her head, Noriega just the right mixture of charming and dangerous, Kretschmann thoroughly chilling in his full on Slav tracksuit while Harrelson gets the film’s only comic relief as the lovable schmuck who doesn’t see danger until it’s in the same train compartment staring him down. Kingsley steals the show though, he’s a cackling fiend who exudes menace, dark humour and terrifying villainy, sometimes all in the same note. Director Anderson is responsible for some of my favourite horror/thriller films out there (Session 9, The Machinist, Vanishing On 7th Street) and this is one of his best. Cold, stark, with well written, believable characters, oppressive atmosphere, tangible danger and a feeling of karmic forces giving each player exactly what they need and deserve as the serpentine narrative unfolds. Great film.
Ever heard the expression ‘inmates running the asylum?’ Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum has, and quite literally spins a terrifically gothic horror yarn for the ages around it, packed with stars, ideas, twists, beautiful scenery and a wistful aesthetic reminiscent of old Hammer horror stuff. Now if the premise sounds like a final act twist let me assure you I haven’t spoiled anything that the trailers don’t cheerfully announce early on. This film is so bonkers it starts at level ten madness and only ratchets the lever up from there. But don’t get the idea that this is a raving madhouse without story or subtlety either, for all its wanton spectacle there are well drawn human beings with something to say behind these walls.
Based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, Jim Sturgess stars as an apprentice Alienist shipped off to the austere Stonehearst Asylum in rural Britain (actually stunning Bulgarian countryside) to learn the trade. Once there he discovers that the facility’s real staff have been overthrown by the patients in a violent revolution and now a cunning madman (Ben Kingsley doing a sly riff on his Shutter Island character) is impersonating the actual superintendent (an icy Michael Caine) and calling the shots. This is apparent right off the bat since the place seems to have no security protocol in place and oddballs of all shape and size cavort freely about the manor. One patient who doesn’t seem to be a hopeless basket case though is the mysterious Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a girl with a shady past and secrets up her sleeve.
Director Anderson is an unsung horror thriller maestro with an incredibly solid track record including The Machinist, Session 9, The Call, Vanishing On 7th Street and now this which is a proper old school horror flick like you don’t really see anymore. This is a film that throws in subplots simply to have them there, amps up simple set pieces until they are unnecessarily but wonderfully cacophonous and is just overall in love with storytelling. The cast are all clearly having the time of their lives especially Kingsley who injects some genuine pathos into a role that could come across as high camp in someone else’s hands, exploring the notion of what would happen for real in this outlandish scenario. We also get familiar faces like Brendan Gleeson, Jason Flemyng, Christopher Fulford, Sinead Cusack and others. Standouts include newcomer Sophie Kennedy Clarke as a scene stealing patient with a penchant for childlike melodrama and David ‘Professor Lupin’ Thewlis as a particularly scary homicidal resident. You’ve kind of gotta employ considerable suspension of disbelief here, this is a film where spectacle, atmosphere and incident dance over the graves of logic and continuity, but there’s a rich tale to be absorbed with many fine performances, gorgeous cinematography and a creaky gothic vibe. Highly recommended, you can find this streaming on Amazon Prime.
Brad Anderson’s Vanishing On 7th Street pulled a vanishing act of its own almost immediately following release, sinking into the background with little acclaim or celebration. I really love its slow, atmospheric and ambiguous take on the post apocalyptic chiller. Anderson has two brilliant thrillers under his belt (Session 9, The Machinist) another two great but flawed ones (The Call, Transsiberian), but this is up there with his best for me, and definitely his most overlooked. Anakin Skywalker plays a Detroit news anchor who wakes up to something sinister: people are disappearing into the long, gaunt shadows that have started to amass here and there, especially at night where light sources are scarcer. By disappearing I mean just that; the dark hits them and suddenly there’s just a pile of clothes where they were standing, it’s quite jarring. He forms a band of desperate survivors including plucky Thandie Newton, her son (Jacob Latimore), an orphaned girl they find (Tyler Groothius) and custodian John Leguizamo, excellent as that one guy who won’t go down without a fight. It’s a dim, dark and depressing film that slowly drains the hope and light from the corners of each frame, but I love that primal terror one gets from it. Usually when we are scared of the dark we can keep the fear at bay by staying away from it, but here the darkness has a life of its own and comes for you, a chilling premise that Anderson really makes the most out of. Top tier horror for me. Oh and watch for a subtle tie in to a popular mystery in American history right at the end, implying all sorts of origins for this phenomena that Anderson wisely leaves unexplained.