review by KJ Doughton, 19 April 2002

After a rather unsavory start, Frailty develops into anything but that which its title suggests, opting instead to become a strong, good old-fashioned suspense/horror story with lots of creepiness along the way.

Frailty is full of disturbing axe attacks, most of them dealt out in front of preadolescent children.  After painting this unsavory-looking premise, it may seem a bit odd that Bill Paxtonís directorial debut unfolds as a traditional, old-fashioned thriller seasoned with thunderous religious overtones.  With every chunky "thud" of the axe, there are gobs of biblical references blanketed inside a crimson quilt of family values.  Itís Lizzy Borden meets The Waltons. 

Telling the story of a rural Texas widower fathering two upstanding boys until a supernatural force disrupts their idyllic existence, Frailty hacks pieces from such past thrillers as The Dead Zone, The Rapture, The Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable. Paxton sews these macabre cinematic limbs together into a coherent whole, with the same seamless precision practiced by twisted seamstress Jame Gumb sewing one of his fleshy woman-suits from Silence of the Lambs.

"Dad" Meiks (played by director Paxton) is a hard-working, blue-collar papa who puts the fundamentalist fear of God into his two young boys, Fenton (Matthew OíLeary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), through regular church-going sessions. However, his sons become alarmed when the elder summons them together one night and proclaims, "I heard a voice from God. He told me to rid the world of demons."  Eventually, Dad reveals to his sons that The Almighty has sent him a hit list of names to be dispatched with a crowbar and an axe.  Before you can say "Whack Ďem and stack Ďem," heís gathering up local townsfolk, carting them to the family work shed, and chopping them into kindling. 

The senior Meiks orchestrates such slaughter as a family ritual, with both offspring reluctantly viewing all as troubled eyewitnesses who love their father, yet grimace at his seemingly insane handiwork.  Eventually, one boy will betray the father, creating an even more complex web of mystery that is never completely resolved until Frailtyís final frames.

Frailtyís other key story threat involves Matthew McConaghey, who plays a mysterious visitor to the Texas FBI headquarters. Requesting to talk with Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) and claiming to know the identity of an at-large serial murderer dubbed The Godís Hands Killer by authorities, the man suggests that he is one of the grown Meiks boys.  The remainder of the film forces viewers to re-evaluate past information, and judge what forces are really at work here: have the killings resulted from human madness, or has an omniscient, supernatural hand actually willed such gruesome acts? 

Until a terrific final act, where all is laid out bare after some diabolical twists, Frailty takes its own sweet time to wedge its pieces into place. Perhaps Paxtonís slow pacing bogs down what could have been a more tightly knit project.  Even so, the fact that Frailty gradually fleshes out its trio of compelling characters is a refreshing contrast to the rapid-fire, MTV-inspired crosscutting that plagues nine out of ten multiplex features.  

The acting is  first-rate, with Paxton giving a believable performance as a man struggling with the impulse to kill for what he feels is a just, spiritually sanctioned cause.  Previously known for his stints as a character actor in such James Cameron films as Titanic, Terminator, Aliens, and True Lies, he layers his good olí boy, aw-shucks mannerisms with urgent, troubled obsession.  OíLeary and Sumpter are fine as the two boys who must weigh their love of a supposedly righteous parent with their inherent revulsion over his deadly deeds. 

Frailty is a film to be commended in this age of overbloated, corporately tainted "movies" like Pearl Harbor and Coyote Ugly, gaudy production values thrown at the screen posing as stories.  Paxton gives us a real story, and fuels it with conviction and momentum without a bunch of headache-inducing window dressing. In the words of one of the filmís Bible-thumping protagonists, Amen and Hallelujah to that.

Directed by:
Bill Paxton

Bill Paxton
Matthew McConaghey
Powers Boothe
Matthew OíLeary
Jeremy Sumpter

Written by:
Brent Hanley





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