Review: FRAILTY (2001)

For years, I’ve been meaning to see Frailty, the thriller directed by and starring Bill Paxton (Near Dark, Nightcrawler) also starring Matthew McConaughey (Reign Of Fire, Killer Joe). Given that Bill Paxton is no longer with us, having tragically passed away at far too young an age of 61 in February 2017, I felt it important to finally watch what is considered by some as one of his best works, Frailty.

It’s true that Frailty is a small-scale, underrated little gem of a thriller movie. Frailty documents the rise of the “God’s Hand” killer, a man by the last name of Meiks who received divine insight from God and His angels about a list of people whom he was meant to “destroy” because they were demons, in 1979 in Texas.

At the beginning of the film, we meet a young man who introduces himself as Fenton Meiks at the FBI office of an FBI agent called Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe, Sin City). Wracked with guilt, Fenton Meiks proceeds to explain the extraordinary tale of the “God’s Hand” killer to Doyle and how this man was actually his father, and how he was complicit in his father’s crimes. It’s worthwhile to mention that multiple times throughout Frailty, Bill Paxton’s slaughtering madman of a character does not consider himself a “killer”. He considers himself “destroying demons”.

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I think this is a helpful distinction to make when you’re planning to shank people in the grocery store parking lot in broad daylight with an axe named “Otis”. It’s not mentioned whether or not the film was actually based on a real situation and a real killer. Which I think is does the film a service, as that is a storytelling device that many films suffer from nowadays. The only trite storytelling device the movie uses that I dislike is the overdone narration. But I suppose that makes the transition between flashbacks and present-day a bit less jarring. Making the movie palatable for just about any audience.

Instead, Frailty simply plays up Bill Paxton’s performance. Directing and starring in your own film is a tonne of work, but Bill Paxton is in fine form here. While I so enjoyed him in Twister, Aliens, and so many other movies in the 90s Twister is one of my favourite movies in my youth, I also had a gut feeling that Bill Paxton was meant for so much more than just action films. That he could also do serious character dramas as well. And I am not disappointed here in learning that he can. Dad Meiks is a widowed, loving, sincere father who cares deeply for his two well-behaved prepubescent boys, tucking them in at night.

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Both boys, Fenton (Jeremy Sumpter, Peter Pan) and Adam Meiks (Matt O’Leary, Stung), clearly idolize him. They don’t even need to be reminded to eat their greens. In the beginning, and honestly, throughout the entire movie, though, he behaves like a serial killer. He also never quits the ‘loving, paternal father’ act and is absolutely convinced that he’s acting of God’s will. While watching Bill Paxton bare his teeth in a hideous grin as he slices into his victims with his axe, I reflected how rare it is to find a good performance like that in a movie nowadays.

Matthew McConaughey’s performance should be commended here too, of course. In the weirdness of Magic Mike and all the horrific sequels it spawned, I really forget that some people don’t view McConaughey as eye-candy. They still view him as a character actor meant for character roles. This movie certainly cements that view. I didn’t forget his performance in A Time To Kill. I don’t think he’s lost any of his ability between Frailty and A Time to Kill.

Now, with Magic Mike, yeah, he might just be doing that stuff for a paycheck. It’s hard to really dissect McConaughey’s role in Frailty without giving away a twist or two, but suffice it to say that while the film is a slow burn, the payoff at the end is great. M. Night Shyamalan should be more worried about his works with an ending like Frailty.

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I’m dating myself by saying this, but Frailty is one of those late ’90s, early 2000s horror flicks that one of my childhood best friends enjoyed growing up and always encouraged me to watch it. This best friend of mine, he, raved about the film, quoting Bill Paxton’s lines and lauding his completely straight performance. In finally getting around to seeing it myself for the first time, I hoped that it wouldn’t leave a bitter taste in my mouth. Like what passes for usual horror/thriller fare these days: fantastic visuals, but ultimately, bad writing and a very empty plot does.

I was pleased to see that Frailty checked none of these boxes. 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. Ultimately, making it potentially more frightening when you don’t actually see the kills, if that kind of horror film is for you.

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Where to watch Frailty
Our Score

3 thoughts on “Review: FRAILTY (2001)”

  1. Absolutely LOVE this movie and hands down,its one of my Top 50 films I have seen in my lifetime. Its is a powerhouse of a film and man,that ending… never see it coming!! Paxton was so great here,completely playing against type…..great film to watch and review…..

    1. It’s a great film and it’s stood upwell over the years, It’s hard tyo believe it’s almost twenty years since it came it. It’s a pity Paxton didn’t get to direct more films.

      1. I so agree with you…Frailty got great reviews when it came out but I don’t the studio was really behind it,word of mouth helped made it into a cult film and people are still discovering it even today.

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