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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 26.67%
Average: 8%
Pretty Bad: 9.33%
Total Crap: 21.33%

8 reviews, 102 user ratings

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by Doug Bentin

"We want our monsters to look like monsters."
4 stars

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.

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
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User Comments

9/30/17 Langano A hidden gem. 4 stars
9/16/17 morris campbell some good twists the demons were real 3 stars
1/29/15 Simplefilmreviews Great horror Gem 5 stars
3/13/14 Phil M Afficionado Pretty hokey, and confusing to boot. Mot my thing when they play games with the viewer 2 stars
12/26/12 Ionicera disturbing look into a religious fundamentalist mindset 3 stars
6/24/11 Mfan I can't get past Bill Paxton's acting. Could've been a t 3 stars
12/29/09 Chad Dillon Cooper One of the best fims of the past two decades. 5 stars
8/21/09 Jeff Wilder Intriguing premise. Ending kind of flat 3 stars
7/20/09 Natalie SUCKED!!! 1 stars
1/20/09 Camilo Espinoza Great 5 stars
8/03/08 Doug Boring, uneventful, unoriginal, inconsequential 1 stars
8/23/07 ahnold Who possibly denigrates this movie? Well-acted and well written. might have to use ur brain 5 stars
1/28/07 mets1986 Unbelievably good horror flick.......... 5 stars
12/19/06 Kris D Amazing film. Obviously too intelligent for some people. 5 stars
10/17/06 AJ Muller Paxton makes a great movie - and a classic horror flick - his first time up. Bravo. 5 stars
8/21/06 Gene Pretty Good 4 stars
4/05/06 Steven murray Some peope think the demons were real but their dad was just looney tunes! and a drunk too 4 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Overrated. Paxton and Powers are great. Story is too pretentious. 2 stars
11/11/05 Dan Smith Great twists and turns, Congrats to Bill Paxton on his debut. 5 stars
10/07/05 Cacador Shit 1 stars
8/08/05 *Jena Marie* I liked it. There is to much crappy horror flicks out there. But I thought this was good. 4 stars
6/22/05 keith bill paxton is a terrible actor. and this movies plot is terrible also. 1 stars
6/12/05 Manu Ginobli kicks all kinds of ass. 5 stars
5/27/05 bob bad 1 stars
2/22/05 R.W. Welch Acting is O.K., but plot is too contrived for its own good. 3 stars
1/31/05 Abbath Very interesting, even if heavily flawed. Idea is interesting though. 4 stars
1/23/05 Phil M. Aficionado Good effort undermined by contrivances and plot holes; spare me the supernatural stuff. 3 stars
10/31/04 Monster W. Kung One of the worst movies ever made. 1 stars
10/08/04 jack springer dark, bruding....a craft so well done able to match carpenter-and even outdo him. must see! 5 stars
8/05/04 Ray~Ray Pretty good I thought. Guess I'm an idiot. 4 stars
7/21/04 magaafi woot! go bill &matt!! 5 stars
5/06/04 J.Peckerfoot Surprising. 3 stars
5/05/04 Echo Collin This is one of my least favorite movies of all time. Predictable, bad script, the works. 1 stars
1/23/04 Chloe Brody Very underrated! 4 stars
12/22/03 Ravenheart I found this quite entertaining. 4 stars
11/03/03 American Slasher Goddess The best movie of 2002. 5 stars
10/23/03 Frostbite Falls Disturbing - Didn't like it at first, but couldn't stop watching 4 stars
10/23/03 chris spooky! 5 stars
10/19/03 Lord Chu Very, very good film. 5 stars
10/19/03 Monster W. Kung John Linton Roberson got it right. This is an abysmal movie without any intelligence. 1 stars
10/18/03 John Linton Roberson Total crap, professionally photographed. 1 stars
9/16/03 Charles Tatum Paxton's direction impresses 4 stars
8/07/03 Diego Sandoval I still keep thinking.... 2 days after watching the movies 5 stars
7/31/03 Nicole Found this movie very disturbing and revolting 2 stars
7/16/03 christien gagnier fantastic movie, whenever it is on cable I can't stop watching it 5 stars
5/24/03 Mihai the best movie this doubt.. 5 stars
4/13/03 Dr. Zinn Very cool flick. Enjoyed every minute! 4 stars
4/13/03 Jack Sommersby Ludicrous and banal. It looks good, but the story is distressingly dumb. 2 stars
4/10/03 Jack Bourbon Gotta love Paxton's "close to the vest" performance. Fun movie. 4 stars
3/23/03 LMAN1060 Great !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
3/17/03 Paul Coleman Much better than I thought it would be. 4 stars
1/24/03 venkman Deliciously disturbing... wonderfully directed. Paxton shines. 5 stars
1/20/03 KCobain Don't listen to the haters. This is intense and thrilling. 5 stars
1/17/03 Kathy Roper loved this movie 5 stars
1/12/03 othree good ole fashioned serial killer americana, solid 4 stars
12/23/02 E-Rock If there really was a God, he'd have prevented this stink bomb from reaching theaters... 1 stars
12/23/02 NoMargin Worst film I've seen this year 1 stars
12/16/02 Jim Thought-provoking mind fuck. YOU'RE not a demon, are you? 4 stars
12/15/02 Uter All too realistic depiction of intolerant fundamentalism taken to its logical extreme. 5 stars
11/26/02 Jarran Heywood Excellent film, original subject and well played out. 4 stars
10/15/02 Josh a terrific debut from Bill Paxton. A chilling piece of work. 5 stars
10/11/02 Stefany this film was thrilling, original, and powerful 5 stars
9/30/02 amandanine Did "Dad" get a hold of Santa's "naughty and nice" list? Stupid story. Predictable movie. 2 stars
9/24/02 PROFWOOD1 excellent & thought provoking. A real gothic gem 5 stars
8/25/02 Monster W. Kung Tiresome first part, absurd second part. Not vert good at all. 2 stars
8/16/02 alien Candace: that doesn't make it a bad movie. I waited too long to see this. 5 stars
8/11/02 Film Guy This is on of the top 3 best movies 5 stars
7/30/02 beany The best horror film in years 5 stars
7/12/02 Mr Math Candace: You're wrong. It implies he THINKS he was in the right. Solid flick. 4 stars
7/04/02 Kyle One of my all time favorites... 5 stars
6/18/02 Candace Troy Powers Didn't any mouth-foaming adorer catch on? It implies the brutal killer was in the right! 1 stars
6/14/02 Ashley Corpening What Scott Weinberg calls "surprised satisfaction" I'd call more like aghast dismay. 1 stars
5/15/02 Lexy Z I expected more than what I got. This creepy film was, like the reviewer said, flawed. 3 stars
5/13/02 Georgio The story is out of control. It makes it very frustrating. 3 stars
4/28/02 Ricky Wasn't very scary, but it was still a very good movie. 5 stars
4/27/02 Chuck&Fran Very Good Movie, but don't expect a horror movie in the traditional sense. All acting supu 4 stars
4/26/02 mohaamed what a great movie... it was so complete and fulfilling... and it was actually goddamn good 5 stars
4/25/02 Brian Kissinger A great film. Paxton did a great job both in front of and behind the camera. 5 stars
4/25/02 soulfood69 Provocative entry in the serial killer genre with a great ending 4 stars
4/24/02 LaTissa Miller I loved this movie. I left the theater wanting to see it again and Bill was awesome. 5 stars
4/23/02 Danielle Ophelia Ow! I'm so glad my friends talked me into seeing this with them. 5 stars
4/22/02 puckfreak Lame, boring, and pretty predictable. 2 stars
4/22/02 malcolm almost as disturbing as 'Natural Born Killers,' what film did Lucky watch? 4 stars
4/21/02 Romance Reader Daring and well-acted. Kudos to those kids! 5 stars
4/21/02 Film Dude Guess what, you can burn in hell Lucky! This was the best movie I've seen in years! 5 stars
4/21/02 Gibbo Wonderful - compelling drama - terrific ending. 5 stars
4/21/02 Film Guy This was a dark disturbing yet Excellent film 5 stars
4/21/02 ajay I haven't seen Bill Paxton this good since Aliens, "Game Over, Game Over!!" 4 stars
4/20/02 Nick2k saw it for the second time, and its still good baby! 5 stars
4/20/02 J Lefy me with some VERY mixed feelings, not the worst thriller. But not the best either. 3 stars
4/20/02 God Fucking fantastic film! I knew it would be great! 5 stars
4/20/02 Holly Hansen Lucky's right......IT SUCKS!!!! 1 stars
4/19/02 Styopa plodding, predictable, unscary. TOTALLY UNSUBTLE. 2 stars
4/18/02 epixsavior more of a high thought provoking drama with near brilliant story 5 stars
4/18/02 NoRefill Not disturbed. Interested and slightly intrigued, but not freaked out. 3 stars
4/17/02 gs44 LAUGH OUT LOUD FUNNY!!!!! 3 stars
4/16/02 gyro_44 Deeply disturbing; outstanding debut from Paxton 5 stars
4/15/02 Nathan First movie in years to freak me out 5 stars
4/14/02 Keith Very good horror film. 5 stars
4/14/02 Greyjack Very good, rock solid until the very end---pacing for the epilogue felt slightly off. 4 stars
4/13/02 JB I really didn't know. I even laughed at the trailers. Best of the year so far. 5 stars
4/13/02 Michaelb14 Disturbing on Several Levels 5 stars
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  12-Apr-2002 (R)



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