If there’s one thing we learned from HBO’s Westworld, it’s that it’s phenomenally hard to pull one over on modern audiences, no matter how artfully made your material is. That’s not to say it can’t be done (see Shutter Island or The Prestige for example of recent successes), but with more than a century of cinema history, meta post-modernism, and social media hive mind on their side, audiences are sharper and more perceptive than ever; hip to all the narrative tricks that filmmakers use to obfuscate truth. Which is what makes a film like Fractured — gorgeously directed from an uninspired script — such a frustrating mixed bag to watch.
Sam Worthington stars as Ray Monroe, a recovering alcoholic struggling with his failures. His failures as a struggling addict, sure, but most of all, his failures as a husband and father. In a grating opening scene that immediately drops you smack Ray’s mindset of furious futility. We’re just broken,” his wife Joanne (Lily Rabe) tells him on the long, tense drive home from a failed family Thanksgiving dinner. “We have been for a long time.” The family drives through an icy, desolate wasteland, biting at each other every mile of the way, until a quick bathroom break at a nearby rest-stop leads to tragedy. While her parents’ backs are turned, Peri (Lucy Capri) walks right into a dangerous confrontation with a stray dog, who advances on the young girl, driving her closer and closer to a cliff that falls into a deep, potentially deadly construction pit. Moved by his frustrated sense of impotence and the need to do something, Ray foolishly hurls a rock at the dog and sends his daughter tipping backward over the brink.
He dives in after her, but it’s too late. The girl falls to the ground, taking a nasty smack to the head, and when he comes to, he awakes to a race against the clock, feeling a sense of accomplishment and relief with each car he zips past on his way to the hospital. But that satisfaction is over in a hurry when he tries to check his daughter in, immediately confronted with the infuriating red tape of bureaucracy and the health care industry. A parent in panic, he’s desperate to get his daughter some help but met with one panicked irritation after the next. Long wait times, missed check-in steps, insurance squabbles, and a horrid check-in attendant who won’t stop trying to pressure them into making Peri an organ donor. It’s a scene that inspires all kinds of anxiety and rage if you’ve ever had the bad luck of tangling with the American health system, but Fractured never takes the time to pry further into the horrors and helplessness of a system that puts pennies over patient lives, beyond the context of highlighting Ray’s floundering impotence.
Instead, the film is more interested in staging a Hitchcockian mystery inside Anderson’s favorite location — a spooky hospital, where things are never what they seem. After he sends Joanne and Peri to the bottom floor for tests, Ray falls asleep in the waiting room and wakes up to discover his family is missing. Worse, the hospital insists they were never there in the first place. From that moment on the question becomes, who is telling the truth? Ray or the hospital? Is there something darker happening in the hospital walls beyond the usual nightmares of American medical care? And can we trust this admittedly unreliable narrator, or are we just strapped in as witnesses to his descent into madness?
This is all familiar territory for Anderson, who made striking horror-tinged thrillers centered on the questionable mental decay of their main characters with Session 9 and The Machinist, so it should come as no surprise that the filmmaker has a gift for dropping you into the headspace of a person on the verge. The paranoia, the frustration, the rage, and the sorrow are all clearly communicated through Anderson’s sharp eye for detail, framing, and timing, which conjures a powerful sense of dread and panic in some of the film’s strongest scenes. Anderson directs the hell out of it; the shots are often stunning and the tone is oppressive. For his part, Worthington leans all-in, delivering one of the darker, more volatile performances as a man who has no idea who to trust, including himself.
But at the end of the day, Anderson’s playing some old hits from better outings and the script just isn’t there to back him up. It’s predictable, even when it has one twist too many, and while they try to make choices to throw the audience of the scent of the inevitable conclusion, the truth is there are only three or four possible options on the table, and the film ultimately picks most predictable one. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to like in Fractured and it’s nowhere near the ranks of the worst Netflix original movies, it’s just an average, extremely familiar thriller that gets a boost from Anderson’s direction.
This is a repost of our Fractured review from Fantastic Fest 2019. The film is now available to stream on Netflix.