Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Frailty (Paxton. 2001)

"Only demons should fear me. You're not a demon are you?"


Frailty is a rare movie that is actually darker than its subject matter would lead you to believe. That’s saying something, because this is a movie with a very dark plot. Two brothers – 7 and 10 – live with their father in a small Texas town. Everything about their lives is normal; they live in a ticky-tacky house near the community rose garden and their routine very rarely changes. At night, the three meet up for supper and then some television time. Dad tucks them under the covers and kisses them goodnight. Every day. The same…

That is, until their father is visited in his sleep by an angel with a troubling message. The boys wake up to hear that their family has been chosen to be weapons for God in the war against demons. God has bestowed three weapons upon the father – an ax, a pair of gloves and a lead pipe – that are to be used in the murders of demons in a human form. The angel, who we never hear from, has a very particular and clear set of instructions and was very descriptive in how these killing should be done. The poor kids are then exposed to an entirely different world. Nothing is happy anymore. Their father kills people. 

Or at least that is the mindset for one of the two boys. Fenton (Matt O’Leary) is the older of Dad’s (Bill Paxton) two sons and he doesn’t quite buy into the idea that God wants their family to murder people. He is convinced that his father is crazy and tries desperately to make his younger brother, Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), think the same way. Adam has no reason to distrust his father. When Dad touches the demons he can see vivid and graphic scenes of why they deserve to die. Fenton cannot see them, but Adam can. The audience never does learn if Dad really can, so there is a chance through clever screenwriting that Dad is delusional and Adam is blindly following him. Or maybe they’re both sane and Fenton is crazy? You never really know…

Either way, the entire concept of people being murdered by God’s will is a tricky one. There are references in the Bible to God being excruciatingly vengeful, but the Commandments tell us not to kill. There is an understated scene where the two boys are watching religious cartoons. The little clay-mated boy asks his father why God would allow bad things to happen. The Dad responds by saying that God cannot force anyone to do anything, but rather he gives people the ability to make choices for themselves. The boys watch this until their father walks in to tell them more about their unavoidable mission from God. Mixed messages, much? 

The father and Adam continue to kill “demons” while Fenton protests – though he is often forced to participate. Seemingly normal looking people are brought to their home, tied and muffled, and then ax-murdered. God is protecting their father from being caught. Or is Dad just crazy? Paxton’s performance does not give the audience any hints to the answers, and the constant twisting of the plot keeps everybody on their toes. The story is told by Matthew McConaughey in a flashback, but even that circumstance is not what it seems. Nothing in Frailty is concrete. The audience never stops piecing things together and they are left guessing even at the end. 

One thing I really appreciated about the movie was the fact that there was almost no blood. Don’t get me wrong, the film is full of disturbing imagery, but there is nothing “gross out” about it. Even with the numerous ax-murders, Paxton (also the director) decided to use the inherent discomfort that comes with the action to frighten the viewer. This is not a movie that needs jump-scares and gore. It sticks inside your brain and makes you think. It is only scary because it seems so real. Could this same scenario happen to you? I guess it depends on which God you believe in, vengeful or forgiving. I massively prefer the forgiving God. 

Killing demons has been a much used device in storytelling for many years. People can get behind characters like Buffy, Blade and the boys from Supernatural. Hell, a mass amount of people see Dexter as a good guy – and he kills PEOPLE. What makes Frailty darker than it may seem is the fact that the father’s destiny to kill demons is taking place in front of his young children, and these demons happen to be human. A happy childhood is turned upside down and obliterated by a duty handed down by the Creator. What would you do? Praise God…

Frailty: B

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