In 2002, Bill Paxton released his directorial feature to the masses. What audiences got out of the film was not at all what they expected going in. Of all the actor-to-director stories that have happened (Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Ron Howard, Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, and soooooooo many more), Bill Paxton’s Frailty is one of the best directorial debuts from an actor that I have ever seen. Since it’s the month of Halloween (that iconic holiday based off of witchcraft and devil worship), and horror is my favorite genre, I think a horror review is in order. Don’t blame me for the lack of horror reviews this month, for some reason Hollywood dropped the ball and forgot to exploit use the opportunity to release some scary movies. For the record, I didn’t see Ouija 2 because the first movie destroyed any interest I had in the franchise.
Frailty is directed by Bill Paxton and written by Brent Hanley. Stars-Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, and Jeremy Sumpter. Premise-A father (Paxton) explains to his sons that God has (supposedly) revealed their divine purpose, to hunt down and destroy hidden demons. Years later, one of the sons (McConaughey) confesses to an FBI agent (Boothe) that his brother is a serial murderer the agent has been hunting for.
The many subjects that Frailty juggles is staggering, but the really impressive thing is how well the movie is made. The script, the cinematography, the acting, the religious themes, the horror, everything is just… brilliant! I guess we should start with the basics, because the story is going to take quite a while to cover.
I have to admit, I’m disappointed that Paxton didn’t go on to direct more movies because his understanding of the art form is flabbergasting (yes, that is a word)! The use of lighting and shadows in this movie rivals that of some of the best noir films of all time, the pacing is suspenseful and transitions fluently, and the performances are authentic. People say McConaughey doesn’t have any talent, but those people clearly haven’t seen Amistad, A Time to Kill, or Frailty. He narrates some of the story through (very well-utilized) flashbacks and every second he is on screen, you are trying to figure out “what’s up with him.” His performance is very reserved and calm so you can’t tell what he’s going to do. The rest of the cast is great as well. Sumpter gives one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen in a horror film, and Paxton’s likability feels genuine since he plays a single father who believes that he has been given a monumental task from his Lord.
Before I get into the story, I need to make this very clear; Frailty is a religious movie. No, not the Miracles from Heaven or God’s Not Dead kind. This movie is a psychological horror that uses religious themes as building blocks to support the story, not as a preachy message. This is the type of movie that many people (most of them immature) would instantly call preachy or pretentious without even watching the whole thing. Here is what Paxton and his sons are supposedly assigned; they must hunt down and destroy (not kill) demons. They are given 3 weapons (one is an axe), and a list of “human beings” to find. Most of the tension in the movie comes from the uncertainty. Are these people humans or demons in disguise? Trust me, the movie does an excellent job of keeping you (and the characters in the movie) guessing.
There is also an honorable amount of relatable drama in this horror. Much like The Visit, there is an emotional connection between the characters and the audience because the characters are just as confused as we are. Sumpter plays one of the sons, and he is the skeptic of the movie. He doesn’t believe his father, and they grow apart spiritually, emotionally, and convincingly. You’ll find yourself caring for these characters, which is a crucial step that is often forgotten in horror movies.
Frailty has 2 twists, the first becomes more predictable as the movie goes on, but the second twist is a doozy! The movie pulls a Rashomon on you since you can’t be entirely certain that the perspective of the story is correct. Since I really want you to watch this movie, I won’t spoil it, but just know that the horror of the second twist is devastatingly effective and very thought-provoking.
By no means was this movie a flop, it grossed $17 million (on an $11 million budget), and received a 4/4 from Roger Ebert himself. However, it was released in the same year as Spider-Man, Scooby-Doo, Ice Age, and Attack of the Clones (all very goofy), and Insomnia, Red Dragon, Signs, and The Ring (much more popular horror movies). Then there is the religious aspect, to which some people have made very “tasteful” jokes involving 9/11 and God telling people to murder others. I’ll say it again, Frailty does not push an agenda, it tells its original story and doesn’t hold back for the sake of not offending anyone. Heck, there is very little blood or gore. Even if you don’t agree with the themes, you can still be disturbed by Paxton’s excellent direction and some terrifying suspense. Frailty gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.