Psychiatrist John Hackett (Desmond Daly) finds himself in a curious position, tied to a chair and gagged, alone in a garage save for a bright light and a table covered with tools, knives and other items set out like surgery prep. As he struggles to find escape, his captor arrives. David Crowe (Peter O’Toole) has a number of bones to pick with the psychiatrist, some involving the doctor’s own secret past, and others involving a shared history that Hackett has either forgotten, or is purposefully hiding.
Over the course of five days, Crowe delivers a series of tortures, some psychological, others physical, all horribly damaging to the captive psychiatrist. As the film goes along, more and more revelations come to the fore, from both captive and captor. Turns out Hackett isn’t as innocent and perfect a victim as even he imagines while, at the same time, Crowe’s motivations aren’t as clear either.
Fractional is a psychological thriller loosely wrapped in a torture porn aesthetic. And while there are elements of the latter, this isn’t a brutal, violent gorefest (at least not the entire time; there are definitely moments). The various mysteries of our two main characters are the true meat of the film.
Which is made even more impressive when you realize that essentially this is a film of two men talking to each in a dark room, with the occasional flashback to fill in the details they’re both revealing. The film works because there is a sense of the floor shifting under your feet as you learn more about what’s going; just when you think you’ve got it pegged, something new is uncovered.
So part of the credit goes to the story and writing, but also it’s predominantly the performances of Daly and O’Toole that bring it all together. Again, they’re holding your interest on the strength of their acting; you could have all the mystery in the world, but if the people explaining it to you aren’t all that compelling, it’d be hard to engage.
Now, having said all of that, since this is a film that reveals itself slowly, the pace is appropriately deliberate. So the flipside to all of this is that, if you don’t connect with the mystery early on, I could see this being a tiresome experience overall. But if you do engage, I think it rewards your attention.
In the end, Fractional is a solid psychological thriller that isn’t afraid to get its hands a little bloody. I wouldn’t call the experience entirely pleasant (torture tends to not be enjoyable all that much), but I would call it a very satisfying mystery, with a wonderfully twisted climax.
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