April 18, 2002

Not for the Frail

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A family torn apart by religious fanaticism. A man who trains his sons to kill demons for their God. No, I’m not talking about the situation in the Middle East with its suicide bombers and jihads. Bill Paxton’s directing debut, Frailty, hits much closer to home.

Set in a rural town in Texas, Frailty examines the infectious nature of evil as it digs its tentacles into a blue-collared American family. Beautifully crafted and profoundly disturbing, Frailty dissects the slow disintegration of familial relationships when religion gets into the way.

It begins with a revelation by Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) to FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Power Brooks) regarding the recent “God’s Hands” serial killer. Fenton says that the killer is his brother and the movie shifts into the past as Fenton launches into his tale of his family’s downfall.

The twelve year-old Fenton, convincingly portrayed by Matt O’Leary and his nine year-old brother Andy (Jeremy Sumpter) live behind the Rose Garden with their father (Paxton). Aside from the fact that their mother died when Andy was born, the three live a relatively normal family life.

But then, Paxton’s character begins receiving visions from God instructing him that Judgement day has come and that his family has been chosen to help God begin the war against demons. He wants his boys to help him in the crusade, explaining to Andy that they are like superheros for God. Andy joins his dad in the pursuit, but Fenton is not so easily convinced that the people his dad hacks apart with his “magical ax” are indeed the demons that his dad insists they are.

Eventually, the angels tell Paxton’s character that Fenton is a demon and must be destroyed. But unlike Abraham when he was asked to destroy Isaac, Fenton’s father is unable to overcome his love for his son.

Although the movie is about destroying demons, the film plays down the gory aspect and concentrates on the psychological turmoil that the characters go through. It is hard to watch as Fenton becomes estranged from a family that he obviously loves while Andy becomes obsessed with finding demons.

McConaughey carries his role as the grown brother very well as he reveals more and more of the story. As Dad, Paxton convincingly conveys a character who is simultaneously a vengeful servant of God and a compassionate father.

For a directorial debut, Frailty is an impressive project since it is such a cross-genre film. Paxton does a commendable job capturing the mood of the script with the changing lighting and believable character development.

Frailty blurs the line between a psychological thriller and a horror film as it shocks both the mind and challenges it. With surprises that carry through until the ending, Frailty is truly a scary ride. It has been a long time since a movie kept me guessing so hard.

Archived article by Yiwei Wang