The late Bill Paxton’s directorial debut captures religious fanaticism in a suspenseful and compelling way by playing with the film’s narrative while giving the film an authentic Texas feel. Frailty is a real old-fashioned horror film they simply don’t make anymore.
Not all serial killers are bad people. Some of them are family men. When you can get your kids involved, then you have something special to hand down from generation to generation. You grab the family axe and begin to sharpen it around the friendly roaring fire. You then find an unsuspecting victim in the neighbourhood grocery store parking lot and take them back to the house. This is God’s work, you see. Some men commit murder for the greater good. It’s a family thing.
Dad Meiks (played by the late Bill Paxton) loses his wife and maybe his mind. The loss of a loved one has left him broken, while he barriers himself doing the aforementioned God’s work with his two young sons Fenton (Matt O’Leary, who you have seen in as recently as Skyscraper) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter, pre-Friday Night Lights as J.D. McCoy). Their father, he claims, was visited by an Angel who has delivered the good news: He has been given orders from God that he must hunt down demons who are on earth disguised as human beings. The Meik’s clan trick their fellow citizens, get them back to the house, and confirm if what they captured is a demon or not by touching their victims; only then will they be granted a vision telling them if they need to be destroyed (I don’t have children, but this sort of team-building exercise with your kids, I imagine, are what morally-confused parents can only dream about). Adam looks up to his father, as any young child would do. Fenton has turned an age where he starts to question his father’s intentions. Soon, they will be known as, “The God’s Hand Serial Killer”, and all they need is a little faith that they will now put in God’s hands.
Frailty was actor Bill Paxton’s directorial debut. He wisely sets the story in his home state of Texas, God’s Country, and there is no other place to set this tale of religious zealotry gone horribly wrong. For a state with signs that say, “Welcome – This is God’s country; please don’t drive through it like hell”, he captures a real sense of mood and tone that elevates this psychological horror thriller with an element of fanaticism above the average horror fare. Paxton also casts all Texas actors (Powers Booth, Mathew McConaughey, Paxton himself) in the lead roles and the script by Brent Hanley (who shockingly has only written 2 other works produced since this film: an episode of Masters of Horror and a short film called Day 72 with Sarah) tows the line successfully, particularly with being well-plotted enough to keep you genuinely guessing how the film will turn out. Combine that with a superior sense of time, place, the religious elements, and Paxton’s film has an uncommon power.
Bill Paxton only directed one more film after Frailty, 2005’s The Greatest Game Ever Played, and that’s a shame. Frailty is a real old-fashioned horror thriller that simply isn’t made anymore (or maybe isn’t considered horror at all). He captures religious fanaticism in a suspenseful and compelling way by playing with the film’s narrative and giving it an authentic Texas feel. It may not be the slasher **** audiences are so fond of today, but it builds enough suspense to race the pulse with a slow burn of horror thrills that you begin to watch between your fingers, instead of resorting to a lazy jump scare or two. Frailty finished in my Top Ten List of 2002, and still packs a chilling punch to the gut that stands the test of time today. You can find it for free if you have Amazon Prime; go seek out Paxton’s film and see what a talented filmmaker he really was.
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M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.