FRAILTY (2001) Reviews and overview

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‘No soul is safe’

Frailty is a 2001 American-German-Italian psychological horror film directed by and starring Bill Paxton (his directorial debut), and co-starring Matthew McConaughey.


The plot focuses on the strange relationship between two young boys and their fanatically religious father, who believes that he has been commanded by God to kill demons.

Feeling divinely justified in committing a series of axe murders he urges his two young sons to assist him in the killings–a living nightmare recalled in flashback by one of the now-adult sons (Matthew McConaughey) to the FBI agent (Powers Boothe) who is investigating the murders.

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Fenton Meiks visits FBI Agent Wesley Doyle claiming that his brother Adam is the “God’s Hand” serial killer Doyle has been hunting. Meiks says Adam has committed suicide, prompting Fenton to fulfil a promise to bury Adam in a public rose garden in their hometown of Thurman. He begins to tell Doyle about the boys’ childhood and suggests that the bodies of the God’s Hand victims are buried in that rose garden. Meiks continues telling Doyle his story as the two drive to Thurman.

When the brothers were children, their father told them that he’d been visited by an angel and tasked by God with destroying demons disguised as human beings. As punishment for his initial disbelief, he demands Fenton dig a root cellar. He explains that this mission is now the responsibility of the three of them and must be kept secret from all others.

The father’s modus operandi is to wait for the angel to give him a list of names of those who must be destroyed. He then abducts an individual from the list, takes them to the family home and, with his sons present, touches them, which, he says, grants him a vision of the crimes the demon has committed. He then finishes the victim with an axe and buries the body in the rose garden…


Critics were generally favourable, even enthusiastic over the directorial debut of actor Bill Paxton, in a religious-themed horror drama. I fear I was apostate on that count.
It is a dark and stormy night, appropriately, when Fenton Meeks (Matthew McConaughy) shows up at FBI regional headquarters in Texas seeking an audience with Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe), the lawman in charge of the long-running “God’s Hand” serial-murders, gruesome homicides with religious overtones. Meeks claims to have inside knowledge of the case, mainly that his fanatical younger brother Adam was responsible.

However, Adam is no more, leaving Fenton to tell their tale. In the late 1970s little Fenton (Matthew O’Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are shown raised lovingly in the hinterlands by a widowed auto-mechanic father (Paxton), when, suddenly, the father announces he has been visited by an angel who warned that Armageddon is near, and the Meeks family must destroy “demons” dwelling secretly among humanity.

Soon Mr Meeks is bringing home average citizens whom he dispatches with “holy weapons” (including an axe named Otis) in front of the two boys. Little Adam buys into the bloodletting, but Fenton does not, resisting his father’s firm exhortations to go forth and slay in the name of the Lord.
One need not be a True Prophet to predict much of what happens next, right down to the laborious “surprise” ending contrived to whip the prayer-rug right out from under the unwary viewer, although anyone conversant with the horror genre will be well ahead of the game. Screenwriter Brent Hanley’s twisted take on faith raises a few shudders, in an adolescent heavy-metal-album-cover way.

Yet, oh my brethren, you may get more of a theological frisson from novelists Dean R. Koontz and his The Servants of Twilight or Brian Moore with Cold Heaven (both of which were made into mixed-success films). Moore gets a slight onscreen tribute here. One could also name any number of straight-to-video B-movies featuring crazy slashers with Bible-based motives. But best not.

What ungodly power Frailty does possess comes from the vivid, distinctly uncomfortable depiction of a child being dragged into a pit of madness by a reasonably appearing yet deranged adult. Actor-director Paxton wisely underplays the elder Meeks; he is a warm, sedate, down-home-rural simple Christian than the stereotypical foaming fundamentalist, and his finesse with fellow actors crosses over to strong juvenile turns by O’Leary and Sumpter. Nor does Paxton go overboard in the gore department, regardless of Otis the Axe.
I’m afraid I could not side with some reviewers who called this material equal with The Exorcist in combining horror and religion. Possibly quite offscreen the heavily Christian-fronting presidency of George W. Bush and apocalypse talk in the aftermath of the September 11th Islamist attacks fed the zeitgeist may have fed into the good notices. A grotty black-and-white Skyald “horror-mood” comic-book story from the 1970s makes a better comparison with Frailty, according to my own critical scriptures.
Charles Cassady Jr, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

“Religious thrillers are hard to pull off. The Ninth Gate and End of Days were hardly what one would consider powerful movies. Instead of being driven by effects and action, Frailty holds your attention with utter disbelief. You can accept what is happening, but do you want to?” Eye for Film

“A resoundingly old-fashioned and well-crafted study of evil infecting an American family, Frailty moves from strength to strength on its deceptive narrative course. Though Brent Hanley’s script feels like it’s based on an account of white Anglo-Saxon serial killers run amok in middle America, it’s a genuine invention…” Variety

“Paxton did really well with his directorial debut, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. By focusing on three main characters, he has created a taut thriller that doesn’t rely on various red herrings to keep you interested. Though there are a few places where we can tell this is his first film, Paxton creates a thriller that digs deeper than many horror films that came before or after it.” Classic Horror


Buy Frailty + Saw on DVD:

Frailty is not a conventional horror movie, but it doesn’t pull punches. I was never overly scared while watching the film. But something atmospheric about the film’s score, its tone and the musical stings drew me in. What you don’t see in Bill Paxton’s kills is what sets the mood for the movie.” Voices from the Balcony


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Cast and characters:
Bill Paxton – Dad Meiks
Matthew McConaughey – Fenton Meiks/Adam Meiks
Powers Boothe – FBI Agent Wesley Doyle
Matt O’Leary – Young Fenton
Jeremy Sumpter – Young Adam
Luke Askew – Sheriff Smalls
Levi Kreis – Adam Meiks/Fenton Meiks
Derk Cheetwood – Agent Griffin Hull
Missy Crider – Becky Meiks
Alan Davidson – Brad White
Cynthia Ettinger – Cynthia Harbridge
Vincent Chase – Edward March
Gwen McGee – Operator
Edmond Scott Ratliff – The Angel
Rebecca Tilney – Teacher


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