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Fractional (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

FRACTIONAL (2013)

Starring: Desmond Daly, Peter O'Toole, Donna Bradley, Paula Gahan, Paul Byrne

Written & Directed By: Malcolm Deegan

The Short Version

Something wicked from Dublin comes, and it doesn’t need a huge budget to make its point.

This isn’t camp horror; this isn’t fun horror – it’s creepy horror.  Plan accordingly.

There is violence, but the real cringe moments come from the promise of that violence.

This is also a movie that demands its audience to think, and not all answers are given.

If you want creepy psychological horror, Fractional is definitely worth your time.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

PORT WINE SPREAD.

Don’t ask the provenance of the red streak in it; just spread the stuff on a cracker.  Because creepy movies go great with cheese and crackers.


Pairs Well With...

GUINNESS BLACK LAGER.

Dark stuff from Dublin for dark stuff from Dublin.

“We’ll get to the reason there’s a selection of knives on the table a little later.”


Horror films don’t always need buckets of blood to be horrifying, and mysteries don’t always need to provide every answer to be interesting.  Case in point on both counts: Fractional, a psychological horror flick that’s small on budget but large on chill factor.

It begins in a mostly empty, dimly lit warehouse space.  A man the audience will first come to know as Dr. John Hatchett (Desmond Daly) awakens to find himself bound to a small office chair, duct tape over his mouth.  Nearby is an IV stand, currently attached to nothing but ominously present.  Of more immediate concern is the large worktable, the top of which is home to two very neat rows of knives, chisels, and other nasty looking tools.

Eventually, John’s captor arrives, introducing himself as David Crowe (Peter O’Toole).  John claims not to recognize him, even though Crowe is quite sure that he ought to… just as sure as he is of the fact that “John Hatchett” is not his prisoner’s real name.  Over the course of the next several days, Crowe will be putting “Dr. Hatchett” to the question; sometimes with tools, sometimes without.  Lies will be told by both men, as will the truth.

Good luck telling the difference…

Always with horror, the trick is striking the correct balance.  It is a trick made all the more difficult by the fact that the best possible balance for any given story is not going to be the same as the best possible balance for another.  How much should be gory, and how much should be left to the imagination?  Should the nastiest things come as shocks, or should they be presaged and talked about, allowing anticipation to build?  If so, how often should that anticipation be rewarded, and how often should it not?  How much is too much, and when do we say “enough” and throw in a laugh to ease the soul?  Each film must find its own way, and that way is best determined by answering the question: “What do you, the storyteller, want your movie to do?”

Though I have not, as of this writing, ever had occasion to ask filmmaker Malcolm Deegan that question, I will say that if his answer is “to make the viewer feel really damn uneasy,” he and his team have done a bang-up job with Fractional, because that is exactly what it does.  Everything that happens during the course of the film, taken as individual parts and then again as whole, plays directly toward the notion of chilling the soul and making the viewer – even the jaded viewer – uncomfortable.

In other words, it’s horrifying.  Not “in your face” horrifying; that’d be kinder.  No, this is the creepy stuff that ends up feeding into nightmares and making one look over one’s shoulder in the dark.  This is horror in the real sense of the word; stuff that creeps inside your spinal column and plays with your psyche for a while even after the credits are done.  And forget the jokes; there’s not a laugh to be had here.  So if you’re looking for the fun, cheesy thrills of camp slashers or the over-the-top “torture porn” of the Saw sequels, Fractional is playing in an entirely different section of the theatre.  But if being creeped out is what you’re after…

The storytelling balance struck by Fractional is built around the idea of keeping the viewer off balance; whenever one starts get a handle on what’s really going on, the situation shifts gears, and any notions that seemed perfectly plausible just a few moments before get summarily chucked out the window.  What allows this to work (as opposed to being an annoyance) is the fact that while there is no pattern, there is consistency.  When Crowe picks up a tool, one can never be truly sure how or even whether that tool will be used, but no matter what, Crowe is still Crowe – a persistent character rather than a plot device.  Meanwhile, whether or not “John” is telling the truth at any given moment and whatever name he’s fessed up to being his, his central character remains consistent throughout – that of a psychiatrist who desperately needs to have his license taken away.  (Don’t pretend that’s a spoiler; innocent psychiatrists never get tied to chair and threatened with shop implements.)  That’s a difficult thing to pull off, especially in a story built on lies, but Deegan and his cast do an outstanding job of it.

But – since this is, after all, a horror film about a guy tied to a chair – let’s get back to those tools.  Crowe and his captive spend just enough time talking about them to keep them threatening without overdoing the exposition, so that whenever one of them is mentioned, it is always a cue for the audience to take notice, and to anticipate what might happen next.  This then feeds into the moments when Crowe actually picks up one of his implements, so that when all is said and done, by volume, the majority of the horror associated with the tools is not from their actual use, but from what the audience members’ minds have done in anticipation of their use thanks to the promises – and threats – made through dialogue and display.  But don’t take that to mean that it’s all smoke and mirrors; oh, no.  When those tools get used, they get used, and the effects are always nasty.  The mess left by the hammer, the sounds of crunching bones when chisels are put into play…  Oh, yeah, there’s more than just talk here.

And when talking leads to flashbacks to moments that took place outside this chilling little warehouse…  I’ll just say that there are few sights as economically disturbing as that of a baby’s shoe dropped near a small pool of blood.

So, yes – horror.

All right, one may ask, but aside from unnerving the audience from start to finish, is there a point to the story; a reason behind the torture?

That is an interesting question.

I can easily see a lot of audiences saying “no,” deciding that the lies upon lies are too much and that by the time it’s all done, one still doesn’t know the real truth of it all, especially several different variants on “why.”  Indeed, I’ll go on to suggest that if you’re the sort of person who needs plotlines to be concrete and requires stories to wrap up neatly before they finish, Fractional is not going to be for you.

For me, though, I love having lots of threads to unravel and pull through.  I like it when a story isn’t predictable from start to finish, and when moments occur that make me do a double take and say “Wait, what?”  (Like when Crowe hires a hooker to “take care of” his prisoner, for example.  Trust me, though; it’s not titillating.  It’s creepy.)  I like the fact that right up until there was less than a minute and a half left in the movie, I was still asking the most fundamental question of all – why? – and that the answer didn’t come until the last forty-five seconds… only to bring on yet another question.  That’s interesting stuff, and if I’m going to be chilled by something – which I was by Fractional – I do prefer some thought process to be tacked on to the unnerving experience.

With that said, Fractional is not the sort of horror movie one pops in over and over again, even if one enjoys it.  It is anything but the “feel good movie of the year,” and begs for a little time between viewings.  It’s unsettling enough in one go-round, and besides, there’s plenty to think about long after it’s done, so it’s not as though it’ll be leaving your brain anytime soon.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a psychological horror flick that truly delivers on the creep factor while still giving you something to think about – including the ends of plot threads with resolutions that may be suggested but are never spoken aloud, some of which cannot exist simultaneously with others – Fractional is an independently made change of pace that’s certainly worth your time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2014


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