New to DVD: Fragmented (2016) - Reviewed

Fragmented is a twisty, tricky, thriller with a lot of plot and atmosphere. It throws so many developments and characters at the audience that it may take a bit to realize it is not adding up to much. It is so busy with setup after setup, that it never takes the time to make the situation believable. The eventual payoffs mostly fall flat because Fragmented is more interested in being clever than in telling an actual story. Sometimes, holding information back can bring meaning and excitement to the revelations. Here, it is narrative trickery for its own sake. It is effectively gritty, giving off a strong sense of danger throughout, yet has no substance to go along with it.

It opens with an American couple on vacation in Mexico. The husband gets angry, storms out and does not return. The next morning, his wife begins a search for him that draws the attention of the police and a cartel. This is one of those stories where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. However, instead of planting seeds which end up shedding light on these people, they remain outlines we never really get to know. The twists would have to be fascinating in their own right to make up for that and they are not. Since we do not learn much about the characters on a personal level, they could do anything, thus lowering the stakes and making it less interesting when anything does happen.

The main plotline follows Natalie as she wanders Mexico City trying to discover where her husband, Carsten, has gone. That intersects with the police, investigating for their own reasons, and Carsten, who has gotten himself involved in some dangerous business. Fragmented introduces all of this fairly efficiently. It quickly establishes the setting, while making Natalie a sympathetic figure who does not understand what is happening and barely speaks Spanish. Unfortunately, the screenplay is so intent on preserving its secrets that it fails to engage with its material, probably for fear of hinting at something too soon.

Its most successful element is its mood. Director Douglas Elford-Argent and his team make it feel like death and betrayal lurk around each corner. Desperation is there in every scene. A large part of that is achieved through the locations and the editing. Hotels, restaurants, even the police station is grimy and off-putting. It makes it easy to distrust the people Natalie encounters. Elford-Argent and his editor, Wendy Elford-Argent, do a pretty good job of cutting between events and characters so we are not entirely sure of what we saw until we are supposed to be. That approach has a purpose. Unlike the plot structure, which feels like they were screwing with the audience for fun.

Sadly, the good stuff, including a few solid moments from the actors, gets overwhelmed by everything else. In the end, the surprises on top of surprises supply far more questions than answers. Even after seeing the whole picture, some of the twists seem completely unnecessary, not explaining what they are intended to explain. Fragmented has the makings of an intriguing thriller, but unpredictability is not a satisfactory substitute for logic.

--Ben Pivoz