Matthew McConaughey is made out of birds! I knew it!
It's not often that a horror movie can make you question your ideas of right and wrong. Heck, it's not often any movie can do this. Horror movies aren't always known as though-provoking or emotional. The average person thinks of horror as a violence-fueled orgy of corruption that is ruining our youth. We all know that's not true (well, for most movies), but we horror fans can sometimes be hard-pressed to produce examples of movies that have a profound effect on a wide audience. I think I may have found one.
Frailty is a 2001 psychological horror movie directed by and starring Bill Paxton (Apollo 13, U-571) as Mr. Meiks and Matthew McConaughey (A Time To Kill, We Are Marshall) as Fenton Meiks. On a dark and stormy night, Fenton Meiks enters the Dallas FBI office and tells Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe, Deadwood, 24) that his brother Adam is the God's Hand serial killer. Fenton explains that he is coming forward now because Adam recently killed himself. Doyle is initially skeptical and Fenton tells him of their childhood. One night, their father (Bill Paxton) told them God had spoken to him and given him the task of rooting out demons and killing them. Mr. Meiks uses an axe that he was led to by a shaft of light and employs his sons Fenton and Adam in finding and killing these “demons”. They bury their first victim, a young woman, in the rose garden next to their house. Adam readily believes his father while Fenton is extremely skeptical. He is scared of his father, but tries to stop him numerous times. Angered at his insolence, Mr. Meiks forces Fenton to dig a large hole in the yard and then places a shed over the hole, using it as a type of prison. Fenton finally goes to the town sheriff who doesn't believe his story. When he arrives at the Meiks' home, Mr Meiks kills the sheriff and puts Fenton underneath the shed. Fenton is kept in the makeshift prison for a week and nears starvation until his father finally releases him when he has a vision of God. Are these the visions of a mad men or could they actually be true and is Fenton Meiks really who he says he is?
The family that slays together stays together
There are a lot of risks taken in Frailty that most other horror movies would have shied away from. This is Bill Paxton's directorial debut and he does a great job. It's always iffy when an actor decides to get behind the camera, but Paxton is able to weave an interesting and complex movie. The horror in Frailty is more psychological and internal than your average horror movie. That's not to say there isn't a few jumps and some violence, but those are just the bloody icing on the terror cake. (I'm trademarking the term “Terror Cake” right now.) It's not scary in the traditional sense with more of the fear coming from anxiety and tension. The movie is fairly low-budget but manages to tell a good story with what it has. It surprises me that I've never heard of this movie, but I can see how it would fly under the radar with it's lack of explosions and monsters.
The character development is slow and steady, complimented by very good performances from Paxton, McConaughey, and Boothe. The two young actors who played young Fenton and young Adam, Matt O'Leary (Brick, Live Free Or Die Hard) and Jeremy Sumpter (Friday Night Lights, Peter Pan) both shine in this movie as they give their characters a sense of realism not felt in a lot of horror. Frailty succeeds because it manages to question one's feelings and beliefs. What is good and what is evil? What is right and what is wrong? You think you know how the movie is going to play out and are then legitimately surprised when things are finally revealed. I thought I had everything figured out in Frailty and was almost proven right until the moral rug was pulled out from under me. The movie does run a bit too long and is slow at times. Frailty probably could have ended about 10 minutes sooner and left more to the audience's imagination.
He died doing what he loved: holding his crotch
Frailty isn't your typical horror movie. There is some action and bloody violence, but it's the implications and suspense that really make the movie frightening. Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughey both put in very good performances while the two child actors make the movie. The movie manages to make the audience both think and feel, not an easy accomplishment for a genre known for it's gore and special effects. If you prefer your horror with lots of gore and over-the-top creatures, Frailty isn't for you. If you like slow, creeping anxiety and good twists, it's worth digging to find this hidden horror.