Published Dec 01, 2002Still riding high on his "should have been" Academy Award winning '80s performance as Hudson in "Aliens," and after getting killed in almost every movie he has ever appeared in ("U-571," "Predator 2," "Aliens," "Vertical Limit," "Tombstone," "A Bright Shining Lie," the list goes on) and thus giving rise to the "Paxton effect," Bill Paxton offers his directorial debut with "Frailty."
The story picks up in the present, with Fenton Meeks (played in an understated, creepy, daydreaming but effective manner by Matthew McConaughey, who seems to be in more bad movies than good) walking into the FBI's Southern office and professing to Agent Wesley Doyle (an incredibly cynical Powers Booth) that he knows the identity of the "God's Hand" serial killer, who happens to be his brother (dun, dun, dun!). "Frailty" unfolds from this point on via childhood flashbacks and occasional breaths of the present, with McConaughey's interrogation/ confessional with Booth driving the narrative (à la "The Usual Suspects"), telling the story of how his idyllic childhood with his brother and father (Paxton) came crashing down after his father was "visited" by an "angel" that instructs him and his sons to hunt/kill "demons," which unfortunately look like (are) humans, ultimately giving rise to the God's Hand serial killings.
Obviously his father is going mad, yet while Fenton chooses logic/morality over insanity/zealotry, his brother Adam is convinced to follow his father in his crusade. What plays out as a descent into surreal madness versus religious/supernatural awakening for the duration of the film is unfortunately rendered moot with the film's conclusion, which during one of its last plot twists tips its hand irrevocably to one side, instead of leaving the conflict ambiguous and unresolved, which would have rendered the movie more powerful and provoking.
But "Frailty" has many strengths and much promise for future Paxton directorial endeavours, as Paxton manages to get excellent performances out of the younger Meeks brothers (especially Matt O'Leary, as young Fenton), which is never an easy take with child actors, especially with material this disturbing. Paxton also gives a good performance as the loving father slowly descending into madness; his planning of an abduction/killing as calmly as a family fishing/hunting trip is unintentionally comforting and disturbing. Frailty also makes excellent use of an ominous and accentuating score, a visual Southern Gothic aesthetic that is creepy, dark and dirty, yet is punctuated by moments of serenity, and a minimal use of gore for gore's sake, but still manages to establish terror and suspense. An ambitious undertaking for first-time director Paxton - despite his 28 years in the business "Frailty" is a good movie and a strong debut that possesses a classic thriller/psychological horror look and feel that unfortunately falters towards its conclusion by losing itself among its many twists and turns; a prerequisite in today's thrillers that is starting to harm as much as it helps.