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.