FRAILTY (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Some Language

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Directed by: Bill Paxton

Written by: Brent Hanley

Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Luke Askew, Jeremy Sumpter, Matt O’Leary

Thought-provoking and tragic, FRAILTY is one of those movies that plenty of people probably ignored on DVD shelves at their local video stores. It barely made its budget back upon release, though it has been praised by many critics. The film works as an unnerving unbinding of the ties between fathers and sons, as well as a horror film that is always stays two steps ahead of the viewer. Working from both behind and in front of the camera, Bill Paxton delivered an original horror film that will stick with most viewers long after its disturbing conclusion.

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Splitting its narrative between the 1979 and present day, most of the story is told through flashbacks. Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) shows up at a FBI building and claims to know the identity of a serial killer at large. When Agent Wesley Doyle probes further onto how he could possibly have this knowledge, he is told the sequence of events that took place in Fenton’s dark childhood. At points through these flashbacks, we cut back to the present to see the situation between Fenton and the agent progressing further.

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You may wonder what exactly made Fenton’s childhood so horrible. His widowed father is a loving, kind soul. His younger brother, Adam, thinks the world of him. That’s why it seems so out of character for their dad to burst into their bedroom in the middle of the night and claim to have received a vision from God. This vision told him that his family was chosen to slay demons that lay hidden around him. These demons look like regular people but are actually an evil that must be destroyed. While Adam is entranced with this idea and totally believes his father, Fenton is rightly skeptical. Their dad begins bringing home “demons” to destroy and things begin to intensify.

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Blending together a dual narrative, FRAILTY could have gone wrong in many ways. One plot could have wound up outshining the other. Even worse, the movie could have never really connected the dots at all by the conclusion. Luckily, the script weaves both the past and present together in a way that makes the viewer beg to see what will happen next in the other storyline as well as the one that they’re currently watching. Intricately connecting in ways that you might not even expect, FRAILTY leads to a series of unexpected surprises in its final act. These revelations make the plot much more tragic, deep, and scary than it appeared.

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Bill Paxton is simultaneously upsetting and terrifying to watch as a father who deeply loves his sons, but also thinks he’s been commanded to kill for God’s will. The struggle between he and Fenton intensifies with each passing second that they are on-screen. The commendable acting by a young Matt O’Leary (DEATH SENTENCE)  and an even younger Jeremy Sumpter (EXCISION) is probably the absolute best thing about the movie. It certainly helps that the material that everyone was given had some real meat to it and was far from the normal movie you’d see a child taking near center stage.

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There are a couple of things that hold FRAILTY back from being absolutely fantastic. These include some shoddy effects. Though the film rarely has moments involving the use of special effects, when it does (on two particular occasions), they look almost laughably fake. Luckily, they aren’t in crucial scenes and don’t turn the viewer away from what’s happening. Also Matthew McConaughey is really bland here. He’s usually a great actor (just look at his work in KILLER JOE), but he’s a bit wooden as the older version of Fenton.

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FRAILTY almost seems like a horror novel being visually told. This is not a problem in the slightest. The characters are well-developed. The twists the movie takes are unexpected. The atmosphere is thick with foreboding and dread. Finally, the story itself is original and clever. This is simply a really cool horror movie that you may not have heard of, but you should check out as soon as you can! Very much recommended!

Grade: A-

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