FRAILTY (Bill Paxton, 2002)

I wish more would see “Frailty”. A film of such amazing power, yet a film that can also terrify you. It is a psychological horror film, but it is also a Southern Gothic flick, with character developments and plot points that go so deep within the film’s astonishingly creepy story that the viewer gets an incredible sense of dread from the film’s seemingly authentic nature. Bill Paxton delivers a great directorial debut with “Frailty”. While you watch the film, you are disturbed by what goes on, and you are terrified of what follows after. But it also manages to make you grow close to the family it studies; and also helps one understand how easy a family can fall apart in a moment of paranoia.

Of course, the film doesn’t give away whether it is paranoia or not until the end, but “Frailty”‘s story is so complex and rich and honest, focusing on a strange man named Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey), who stumbles into a FBI Headquarters in order to tell who the “God’s Hand” killer is. This murderer has noted to kill many under the supposed commands of God, and Fenton has the answer to solve the case. Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe), engages in a sort of cat-and-mouse game, as Fenton tells Doyle the story of his father and brother, years prior to the numerous killings, and how his father is majorly connected to the murders.

While half the film shows the game toyed between Fenton and Doyle, the other half is Fenton’s story. Young Fenton (Matt O’Leary) and his little brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are as close as ever to their father (Bill Paxton), who works at a car repair shop, constantly with a can of beer in his hand, treating his boys with more respect that he does so to himself. They’re perfectly happy, living in their Southern home next to a rose garden, and singing “I Got the Joy, Joy, Joy” on their way home from school. It is not, however, until their dad wakes them up one night, that Fenton becomes worried.

The father begins to tell his sons of a visitation he had from God, who told him of demons taking shape as humans, and how they themselves must proceed in God’s own word to “destroy” the said demons. ‘It’s all talk’, Fenton thinks. Until one night, as a shadow passes his window, that he grabs a flashlight, goes outside, and sees his father bringing home a taped up, tied up, battered woman. What pursues, I will not say. But it is terrifying, it is disturbing – and it begins to make Fenton believe his father is sickly demented.

“Frailty” is not for the squeamish, or the faint of heart. It’s a menacing story, and it is strong, and it doesn’t hide from being incredibly graphic. Except, when the film ‘is’ graphic, it doesn’t do so with gore as much as with the edging emotions that begin to fuse between Fenton, his father, and Adam, who believes his dad, and believes that the murders being committed are for the good will of God. The film is also, not afraid to venture into risky territory, as it makes the viewer face religion in terms with superstition, and also reality against mental instability. “Frailty” is daring, and it is brave, and it manages to be so many things in one 99-minute film.

From a technical standpoint, “Frailty” is still rich. It has cinematography that is rich with browns and yellows that give an almost Gothic-look to the film’s flashbacks. And it also has a way with its lighting, to give off a gritty feeling of unease. Young Fenton is trapped in his father’s sick world, and he tries his best to break free from it. The musical score is also a strong feature; switching through many emotions from pain to love to hate to death in a matter of seconds, and does so without being forceful. Paxton’s direction is astounding, as he pieces together a horror film that is never once contrived, and is completely alive and original; however dark and uncomfortable the story and the characters’ situations become.

“Frailty” is a film easy to overlook, and while its final few minutes seem a little unreasonable, deeper thought makes you realize everything is still fashioned correctly, and it still holds that peak of power the overall experience of the film had all along. It’s a very well-told story, and it’s a very well-made film. And when one endures throughout Young Fenton’s journey, they can’t help but to feel so many emotions at so many devastating and distressing moments. For me, “Frailty” is way too powerful to forget and when I watched it, I connected deep into the emotions of the characters and their story, and I never once failed to be moved by the last moments between the family, in the basement of that shed, Fenton holding that ax, and choosing between what he believes is good, and what he believes is immoral.

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~ by jerkwoddjh on May 11, 2009.

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