Frailty (2001)


It’s indicative of the kind of veteran Bill Paxton is that he would choose “Frailty” as his first directorial outing to bring to audiences in 2001. Paxton approaches Brent Hanley’s script with a brilliance and very low key delivery that keeps “Frailty” one of the best horror mysteries ever conceived and yet one constantly over looked. This is a film where even McConaughey manages to shine in his lead performance, and I’m rarely one to endorse his acting abilities. “Frailty” is one of those horror movies that sneak up on you, presuming to be one kind of animal, when it’s a whole other sinister animal entirely.

After a string of serial murders, a man confesses to the FBI that he is Fenton Meiks, the brother of the “God’s Hands” killer, Adam Meiks. Fenton explains that his brother contacted him before committing suicide, and incapable of fighting the “demons,” he took his life, Fenton gives him a merciful burial in a rose garden where the answers lie. Powers Boothe, as Agent Doyle, agrees to drive Fenton to the burial site, prompting Fenton to explain the twisted history behind the Meiks family, and how the “God’s Hands” serial killer was born. Bill Paxton wisely plays mostly a supporting role as the father of Fenton and Adam, who lives a normal blue collared life with his two young sons. Though their lives are mundane and routinely Christian, events soon spiral out of control. He confides in his sons that he’s been given orders by God to exterminate the Demons on Earth that threaten to destroy humanity.

Given signs by his God, he is equipped with an axe, a lead pipe, and a pair of gloves, which allow him to do his holy work, and patiently awaits orders by an angel. Through an unusual list, he’s convinced he is a warrior of God, but his sons quickly have their doubts. Especially Fenton who is horrified by his father’s acts, which involve knocking out seemingly random individuals from the city, kidnapping them, and murdering them with the axe. Fenton’s brother Adam and their dad are resolute in his mission, insistent that though his job is hard, it must be done. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes to convince Fenton of his purpose. Much of “Frailty” relies on the unconventional, and half truths that allow audiences to uncloak the mystery of the film without feeling as if they’re being deceived or patronized. It’s a sketchy concept to put to film, but Paxton shockingly pulls it off without flaw.

Especially considering he accompanies the ace direction with his mesmerizing performance as the man who is either given an enormous purpose, or is a lunatic. Paxton and writer Hanley evoke a very “Rashomon” template of storytelling for their thriller, relying heavily on flashbacks and slight of hand to tell us what we should know, and never the truth. This works surprisingly well, as the narrative never feels disjointed or half hearted. Every plot point and device are intricately placed to deliver a gripping horror story that will leave you asking questions, even when it’s fully resolved its entire story with a nice little bow. “Frailty” is a wonderful and consistently shocking horror mystery that tests the perceptions of audiences and grabs you with its final hook. I’m almost glad we never saw a sequel since Paxton’s film works on its own as a powerful punch to the gut that will leave you with mouth agape.