Deep in the heart of Texas, a world-weary FBI agent (Powers Boothe) has come to a dead end in his search for the notorious God’s Hand murderer when Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) walks into his office asserting that his brother, Adam, did all the killings and then turned a gun on himself. Winding the clock back to 1979, Meiks tells the story of two boys, who live in relative harmony with their widowed Dad (Bill Paxton)….until one night he awakes the boys to explain that he has been chosen by God to rid the world of the demons who masquerade as human beings. Adam believes everything his father tells him but Fenton is skeptical and then watches horrified as his axe-wielding dad “destroys” his first demon.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
The sins of a deluded father who believes he is saving the world from demons is the riveting core of this spiritual thriller. It's the calm eyes of loving father Bill Paxton you'll remember long after watching this chilling tale of obsession. For a film concerned with ritual slaughter carried out by an insane, self-declared agent of god, Frailty is remarkably well composed. There are many acts of extreme violence here but most occur off screen and each has an important part to play in this intelligent and fascinating study of fanatical behaviour. Dad isn't violent or cruel toward the sons he's enlisted in his mission. He's an ordinary guy who just happens to see a bright light and hear a heavenly voice one night and believes it's a divine order to 'pick up these demons and pitch them out of this world, one by one'. He's calm and logical with the boys when he tells them they've been chosen to help on this quest. 'Killing demons is good, killing people is bad' he says while picking up an axe and waiting for the first directive from above. The killing spree is only part of the horror this film depicts. What's truly terrifying is the damage inflicted on the sons, particularly Fenton who sees the insanity behind his father’s calm rationale. As an essay on the dangers of religious fanaticism, Frailty is boldly executed and bound to be attacked by conservative Christian groups. At a time when the battle lines are being drawn for a war that is certain to bring religions into conflict as well, the content in this film seems even more remarkable. Without much to compare it with except some elements of Michael Tolkin's overlooked 1991 drama The Rapture, Frailty marks a fine directorial debut for Bill Paxton. He judges the material expertly and brings it to the boil effectively as the contemporary scenes between grown-up Fenton and FBI man Doyle (Powers Boothe) and flashbacks to the summer of 1979 collide in a finale guaranteed to have you talking about and discussing this film long after the lights go up.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Bill Paxton’s first film as director comes with glowing praise from his friends. James Cameron, who directed Paxton in Titanic, describes it as an “electrifying tale of madness and elemental evil which keeps you guessing until the very last shot.” Sam Raimi, who directed Paxton in A Simple Plan, erupted in a frenzy of flowery hyperbole: “Frailty is the most frightening horror picture I’ve seen since The Shining. It kept me on the edge of my seat begging for mercy.” But when Stephen King said: “I’ve never seen a movie quite like Frailty,” I was reminded of Billy Wilder, who squirmed through a private screening of De Mille’s overblown epic The Greatest Show On Earth and when pressed for an opinion afterwards said in mock reverence: “Cecil, you have just made the greatest show on earth!” Let’s get things in perspective. Frailty is a well made, but frightfully nasty piece of work, filled with enough horror to make Hannibal Lecter drool at the chops. Mercifully, all but one of the brutal slayings happen off screen, but each one comes with the squelching sound of crushed skull and shattered bone which leave little to the imagination. Like The Sixth Sense and its imitators, Frailty has a supernatural element, a spiritual bent and a twist that Freud himself couldn’t anticipate, given that Paxton hoodwinks the viewer with a blatantly deceptive red herring. Haley Joel Osment heard voices; Bill Paxton sees angels, spruiks piles of pious mumbo jumbo and is guided by the hand of God to the weapons he must use to dispatch the demons of his mind. Trapped in his father’s nightmare and convinced of his madness, newcomer Matt O’Leary (as the 12-year-old Fenton), steals a film that is undeniably gripping, suspenseful and disquieting. This is a film that fears God and all who believe in Him, questions faith and blurs the borders between good and evil. Regrettably, the corkscrewy climax attempts to validate the kind of religious fanaticism that only panders to the pernicious extremes of the fringe loony.
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CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Matt O’Leary, Jeremy Sumpter.
PRODUCER: David Kirschner, David Blocker, Corey Sienega
DIRECTOR: Bill Paxton
SCRIPT: Brent Hanley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bill Butler
EDITOR: Arnold Glassman
MUSIC: Brian Tyler
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nelson Coates
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 30, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
VIDEO RELEASE: June 13, 2003
(Also on DVD)