- Bill Paxton as Dad
- Matthew McConaughey as Fenton Meiks
- Powers Boothe as Agent Wesley Doyle
- Matt O’Leary as Young Fenton
- Jeremy Sumpter as Young Adam
A film that practically radiates a creeping sense of dread and shock yet keeps it in a plausible prism, Frailty is a dark and haunting psychological thriller marking the directing debut of Bill Paxton, that examines the destruction of a family through fanaticism and the relationships between father and sons.
At FBI headquarters, seasoned agent Wesley Doyle is surprised when a haunted looking man by the name of Fenton Meiks enters the building wanting to speak with him. Once he has established who this man is, Fenton reveals that he has knowledge regarding a notorious serial killer, referred to as God’s Hand who has been of large for a long time but has never been caught. Fenton claims to know this because the killer was his brother Adam, who he tells Doyle committed suicide this very night. Doyle begins to listen to the story that Fenton relays to him. Back in the 70’s, Fenton and his younger brother Adam were growing up in a small Texas house with their widowed father. He was a good father who looked after his kids and made them feel safe. That is until a fateful night when the father speaks of having being visited by an angel who appoints him as a divine force to seek out demons and kill them. Fenton as the older brother is extremely resistant to the idea of what he considers nonsense, while Adam as the younger sibling who idolizes his dad believes what he says. These claims by the father become very dark and twisted as he sets about attempting to find these demons who look like humans. The two children are then subjected to watching and helping him kill people who are on the list he acquires from an allegedly celestial source, slowly warping the way these boys see their father. Events came to a head when young Fenton couldn’t cope with standing by and watching these events unfold and his younger brother become as fanatical as his father. Yet as Fenton continues his recounting of the events that shaped his traumatised childhood, Doyle begins to question parts and gets the feeling that there is indeed more to the story than at first appears.
Bill Paxton directs with an assured touch and respect for the source material; playing scenes out in a natural way and bridging the gap between the thriller elements and the disquieting and stark drama at the centre of it all. Paxton doesn’t go for predictable here, cleverly employing various twists and turns that are jaw-dropping to witness and . The story could have easily slid into utter absurdity, but Frailty is delivered with precision and unsettling command that make sure any such fears are quickly allayed. Frailty often gets described as a horror movie and while there are certain references to this, I personally place it as a psychological thriller rather than outright horror. For starters, the main bulk of the film is charting the ways that family is accountable for shaping us and the implications of what we see can survive for a lifetime. There is precious little gore in Frailty, with Paxton excellently employing the less is more approach and leaving a lot to our own imaginations, with a healthy dose of ambiguity thrown in. If this film had gore galore, it would have destroyed the psychological drama at play as well as cheapened an intelligent story. The film is chilling from start to finish mainly because there is an air of possibility and reality to it, tempered with allusions to something metaphysical that are best embodied by the drained cinematography that steeps this exercise in a spooky atmosphere from the get go. Perhaps the most disturbing thing in the film is watching as the patriarch becomes so enveloped by his obsession and supposed visions, that he can’t face reason and becomes a force of disquieting unraveling. The film undoubtedly has a depth and layered feel to it, functioning as both a creepy evocation of a family forever altered and a mysterious thriller that conceals as much as it reveals. I mean I think everyone can relate to the feeling of the two kids in Frailty, as we all as children have usually looked up to our parents and obeyed them. No family is perfect, but the susceptibility of children plays a large part of this film, following the kids as they are forced to endure their father’s deranged ways and be party to his madness. There are those in the audience who will find some of this film hard to digest, yet it never sets out to be a comfortable watch and firmly establishes this from the start. The low hum and staccato ambience of the score perfectly match the gradual unearthing of the past and the shocking impact of it.
As well as being on directing duties, Bill Paxton successfully leads the cast with a memorable performance. Essaying the role of the father whose actions ultimately changed and traumatised his children, Paxton brings out such a steadfast belief that the character believes he is really doing the work of God and not actually harming anyone. This is probably the most effective thing about Paxton’s work; he doesn’t play the part as a horrible father who is a brute and outright monster, at the start he is a very amiable and relatively calm person. As the movie progresses, you can still see that he loves his children but is so obsessed by the alleged visitation and message that it harms them in the process. Paxton makes the role his own and displays great command of the work, both in front of and behind the camera. Matthew McConaughey marvellously conveys shell-shocked and haunted trauma as the man retelling his story, yet gives off a hint of elusive mystery to deepen the proceedings a plenty. In a supporting turn, Powers Boothe is rightly understated listening to the shocking story with both a trepidation and the feeling that something is not quite right there. He is essentially an extension of the audience and how we react to hearing this tale. The two boys(Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) playing the kids whose lives are altered by their father’s blind devotion and zealous beliefs are both incredibly convincing, especially Matt O’Leary as the older and more mature Fenton, whose caught between the care for his father and his shock at the atrocities that occur.
A film that engages the brain as it unsettles and keeps you on your toes, Frailty is superbly executed with perceptive direction from Bill Paxton as well as a cast that he heads.