Worth A Look: 26.67%
Pretty Bad: 9.33%
Total Crap: 21.33%
8 reviews, 102 user ratings
by Doug Bentin
The most frightening thing about killers like Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac is that we know if they didn’t look just like everybody else, they’d never get close enough to their victims to strike.In “Frailty,” Bill Paxton plays the generically named Dad, a guy raising 10 and eight-year-old sons in Texas in 1979. He’s a mechanic. The boys have friends at school. The guys eat together, do their chores together, and watch TV together. They are all decent if unexceptional fellas and the household is as happy as can be expected since mom died giving birth to the youngest son.
"We want our monsters to look like monsters."
But one night Dad is visited by an angel who tells him that he and the boys have a new mission in life. The angel will get a list of names to Dad, names of demons who walk around disguised as humans, and Dad and the boys will kill these demons with an ax named “Otis.”
The older boy, Fenton (Matthew O’Leary), thinks his dad is going crazy but hopes for a recovery and the younger boy, Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) thinks it’s kinda cool to have a family member who’s a cross between St. George and a Ghostbuster. Dad is convinced that when he lays hands on the demons, he can see them for what they really are—sins and all. Fenton doesn’t see anything; Adam claims that he does.
This history of the family is related through flashback as the adult Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) confesses all to a Dallas FBI agent named Doyle (Powers Boothe) while the corpse of his brother sits outside the FBI offices in a stolen ambulance.
First time director Paxton spins a disturbing web of madness and murder from Brent Hanley’s unsettling screenplay. There are indications throughout the film that Dad may be telling the truth about his mission in life, but every time we begin to wonder, Paxton reminds us that we are not necessarily seeing what took place, but what a disturbed young man says took place. One of Hitchcock’s least fondly remembered films, “Stage Fright,” capitalizes on a similarly unreliable narrative. Personally, I think any form of slight of hand is permissible in thrillers as long as filmmakers don’t resort to out and out cheating. I like “Stage Fright,” and I like what Paxton is able to pull off here.
We could be watching a madman turning his sons into serial killers or we could be watching an agent of a most unforgiving god removing the vermin from our midst. This is all taking place in Texas where, sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.
With a role like Dad, Paxton the director needs to keep firm control of Paxton the actor. And he does. When Dad comes into the boys’ room in the dead of night to tell them about the angel’s first visit, and he talks to them just as he would if he were discussing the day’s most mundane events, he leaves us shaking our heads and wondering if he’s really saying what it sounds like he’s saying.
Even when abusively punishing Fenton, who never admits he believes anything supernatural is going on, Dad appears to be merely frustrated at the intransigence of youth, never insane. Paxton delivers a performance that is completely terrifying because it’s always so calm and loving. Remember that line about the banality of evil? This is it.
As Fenton grown up, McConaughey seems to have inherited his father’s gentleness. Just as with the film itself, the madness of the character is revealed slowly and McConaughey leads us—or perhaps drags us—to a conclusion that seems to answer all our questions and deliver us unto evil at the same time.
The two kid actors are just fine, never for a minute losing their grasps on the intricacies of the characters and their relationships.
Nelson Coates’ and Kevin Cozen’s sets recreate the atmosphere of late ‘70s small town Texas well, and Bill Butler’s camera captures both the beauty and innocence of the light and the sinister creepiness of the shadows.
What exactly is it in the film that is so frail? Our hold on reality, or what passes for it? Our belief in a good and merciful God? The human personality? The minds of children? I choose All of the Above. Fenton and Adam are good kids. When Fenton says good bye to another kid at school, he does it by slapping his pal on the back and patting his shoulder, gestures of true friendship. Even while fearing what Dad has become, he lets us know that he still loves his father and is willing to help him with his “mission” until he gets over his madness.
There is very little blood splattering in the film and the ax murders take place out of frame. We know how hideous they are by watching the faces of the boys. The worst moments for the queasy ones in the audience are probably those times the family gets together to bury bodies in the rose garden, and even then we don’t see anything nasty.“Frailty” is more than the best psychological thriller to come along in some time. It is a genuinely upsetting film about the horrors we can inflict on our children while all the time thinking that we are saving them.
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originally posted: 11/04/05 02:00:01