Directed by Bill Paxton.
Starring Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matt O’Leary, and Jeremy Sumpter.
A young man arrives at the Dallas offices of the FBI claiming to have vital information regarding the elusive “God’s Hand” killer who has been terrorising the local area. Speaking with the agent in charge of the investigation, the young man spins a tale of religious fanaticism, murder and family loyalty where the truth is perhaps stranger than fiction.
Earlier this year we bid a sad farewell to the popular cult actor Bill Paxton. From his collaborations with James Cameron including but not limited to Aliens and Titanic, his work in blockbusters like Apollo 13 and Twister to his critically acclaimed performance in the TV series Big Love, Paxton was a supremely talented and loveable actor who will be sorely missed.
So as a tribute to the late Mr. Paxton, today’s edition of October Horrors, will be spotlighting an underrated psychological horror/thriller that served as Paxton’s debut as a director, both serving to highlight his magical talents both in front and behind the camera. This is Frailty.
The thing that struck me about this film is the way that it toys with your expectations.
The story largely told in flashbacks of how “Dad” (played by Paxton) was driven to murder by a belief that God was commanding him to “destroy demons” gives the impression that the film is about one man’s descent into religiously motivated insanity, dragging his sons down with him into the gutter as he commits various murderous acts.
This feeling is only heightened by the film’s framing device, the conversation between FBI agent Wesley Doyle (the late Powers Boothe) and Fenton, the killer’s son (played by Matthew McConaughey) who narrates much of the film, with it feeling like it’s going to also double as a serial killer origin story, albeit one with a big twist that we think we can see coming a mile off.
However, when the twist does come (and no I’m not spoiling it) it’s exactly what you might expect, but it’s also something that completely changes the way you view the entire previous 90 minutes of the film, leaving you to reconsider how you felt about the characters and their actions.
Paxton as a director knows how to grab your attention and hold onto it, with the film being tightly wound and carefully paced so as to keep you invested in the various twists and turns that the story throws at you. The acting is superb, with Paxton himself in the lead role turning in one of his finest performances as “Dad” (his name is never mentioned) a sympathetic and loving man who believes he is commanded to kill by God.
What makes Paxton’s performance so chilling is the way that his character is presented, with him not seeming like a particularly evil man, but merely one who sincerely believes that he is doing God’s work by killing, with his initial hesitation and fear being somewhat easy to empathise with. It’s only as he becomes more proficient at killing that Paxton channels his darker side and creates a sinister image of a man embracing his role as God’s executioner and perhaps enjoying it a bit too much.
Matthew McConaughey, long before he became the rom-com king and loooooong before his re-emergence as one of the finest dramatic actors working today, gives an effective performance as Fenton, the killer’s son who has information on his whereabouts.
With his distinctive Texan droll and silky smooth voice, McConaughey narrates our story in a way that draws you into the story, coincidently in a fashion not too dissimilar to his later performance in TV’s True Detective. Although not quite as memorable as his turn as Rustin Cohle, McConaughey nonetheless gives a fine performance, albeit one that’s a tad underused owing to the flashback-heavy nature of the film.
The young actors who play Paxton’s sons in the flashback portions of the film deserve much of the praise, with Matt O’Leary, in particular, being a sympathetic protagonist as young Fenton, a young boy torn between his love for his father and the moral duty to stop his murderous ambitions. We also have a welcome appearance from the always awesome Powers Boothe (who also sadly died earlier this year) as FBI agent Doyle, with his mere presences never-failing to help elevate even the worst of films.
Led by the late Bill Paxton in one of his best performances, some fine supporting turns from McConaughey, O’Leary and Boothe, a fascinating and tightly wound plot that never fails to fascinate and engage the viewer, Frailty is a film that is perhaps one of the prime examples of an “underrated gem” and I recommend that everyone at least give a watch at least once.
Bill Paxton was indeed a very talented man, both behind and in front of the camera, and his career-best work in this film just goes to what a true talent we have lost.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★