Rated: R for violence and intense situations
Directed By: Bill Paxton
Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matthew O’Leary, Jeremy Sumpter
Parental Notes: Although “Frailty” is not extremely gory, its intensity and subject matter make it appropriate for older teens. There are a few sequences with somewhat graphic violence and numerous horrifying situations.
The story sounds like something out of one of those true crime books: widowed, religious father of two uses axe to kill “demons” and brainwashes his kids into helping him do it. The plot of “Frailty” is as classic as the characters in it, and while it doesn’t feel new, it does feel nice and creepy.
Dad (Bill Paxton, who also directed) is a great guy. He works as a mechanic to support his family, and takes great care of young Fenton (Matthew O’Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), his two boys. He’s as pure and good as home-made apple pie, which makes it all the more terrifying when he tells the kids that they’ve been chosen by God to destroy demons. He doesn’t change after that announcement, he’s still the same old Dad. He drives the kids to school, tucks them in at night, and just also happens to use a lead pipe and an axe to dismember demons.
Fenton doesn’t buy it. He’s sure that his Dad’s a murderer, “not right in the head,” but he can’t persuade Adam to leave with him. Adam has taken to their new life like a duck to water, and won’t listen to Fenton’s insistence that the “demons” are actually regular people.
Most of the story is told in flashback, as a grown-up Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) tells the FBI agent in charge of investigating a series of brutal murders the story of Dad’s killings.
Unlike most horror films, “Frailty” is far from gory. Paxton relies on suspense and fear of what’s about to happen rather than showing in unpleasantly graphic detail what happens when you take an axe to a human being. Not to say there isn’t any gore at all, of course, but it’s severely limited. The true horror of the film comes from Dad’s ability to murder people in front of his children.
Paxton carries the film easily, both in front of and behind the camera. Dad is a guy whose simplicity and goodness give way to apparent madness and evil without any external change. Paxton avoids the pitfalls of scenery chewing and under acting, and draws the two young actors playing the children along with him.
Where the film falls apart is in the last twenty minutes, when several plot twists are introduced. The film’s ending is creepy, but leaves the audience wondering what they’re supposed to think about Fenton, Adam, and Dad. That lack of moral clarity is at odds with the old-fashioned-scary-movie feel of the rest of the film.
Even so, “Frailty” is a good film for those who like their movies scary but not necessarily soaked in body fluids. It isn’t for the faint of heart or those just looking for some light entertainment.