'The meek shall inherit the earth,' or, in this case to be more precise, the Meiks of Thurman, Texas. A tight little gothic tale has been presented for our perusal, with God, Avenging Angels of Death, ax murders, a dysfunctional family, twists and turns, and the all too frequent little goings on that are created behind closed doors and drawn shades when we think no one is looking or cares.
Matthew McConaughey (Fenton Meiks) comes into the Dallas FBI office on a storm drenched night with a tale that sounds for all the world like the delusions of a person not playing with a full deck of cards. But, as time passes, Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) is drawn into the web of horror that will cascade into a series of flashbacks and present day situations and will leave his life as he knows it, terribly remiss and out of place.
Bill Paxton, who also pulls double duty as the director of Frailty, plays the widowed father of Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) and Fenton Meiks (Matthew O'Leary). His trade as a mechanic brings in the necessary funds to keep their heads above water and to eke out a frugal existence in a small Texas town that could have been Anytown, USA. One night, Dad Meiks, has a vision of an angel sent from God telling him that he and his boys will be called upon to destroy 'demons' that have been sent to permeate the world before its' eventual conclusion. The demon's names will come soon, as will the weapons of eventual destruction. These demons, he is told, take human form, and while the population in general thinks them to be human, they are far off course in their evaluations. While young Adam swallows his father's edict hook, line and sinker, Fenton betrays a gnawing sense of being in a nightmare not of his own choosing. Has his father lost his sense of rational reasoning, or is has he truly been visited from above? The moment that Fenton thinks that he has awakened from a nightmare, he is grabbed by the throat and cast back into the maelstrom of evolutionary turns and twists.
From the moment the first demon has been selected for elimination, until the closing credits of this film, the viewer is drawn into a realm of light and dark that challenges our sense of right and wrong. The innocence of the children is ripped apart, and the sense of dedication that prevails between them is called into question by a father who sees a long range forecast of imminent doom if the earth does not rid itself of evil in its vilest forms. This reviewer was put in mind of two other films, Charles Laughton's Night of The Hunter (1955) and Robert Mulligan's To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). Both films showcased the adult world as seen through the eyes of children and the inevitable conclusions that come out of them. Childhood is left, stripped bare of any pretensions and they are cast adrift with no obvious port in sight.
Frailty is a superbly crafted film, that is shown in ways that become more and more apparent as each frame escapes the reel. The cinematography by Bill Butler is evocative and highly creative with a flair for showcasing evil in shadows and light that thrust precision and deftness in selected combinations. The complexity of various scenes are smoothly transferred with finesse and ease, and Butler's mastery shows in calculated strokes of his camera and mind's eye, as moods are enhanced by the glow of a moon, the beam of a flashlight, the dark of night and the glow of day.
Brian Tyler's score creates an undercurrent of necessary doom and gloom and perdures throughout. Film music has become a critical part of any production and when the director takes the time to consider it as part of the equation instead of as an afterthought, the result is usually a score that hits the target squarely and without blame.
The screenplay by Brent Hanley is compact and he definitely knows his way around the blocks of twists and turns that run concurrent throughout this production. He has conveyed a tale of a simple family subjected to a 180 degree turn and in the process cast the audience into an Old Testament style avenging tale.
Bill Paxton's first directorial effort is a brilliant one. He has that extra something that an artist 'feels' and he gets acting performances that create an ambiance. Young Jeremy Sumpter and Matthew O'Leary are to be commended for not acting like typical Hollywood child actors, with O'Leary slightly edging Sumpter. Without O'Leary's complete believability as a child thrust into a world not of his making, the film would fall apart. Pair this with Paxton's and you have a tag team that bounces volleys off one another as the story unfolds to its ultimate conclusion. Frailty if a film that stays with you and gets under your skin and just when you think you have the mystery solved, you are led down another avenue that looks unlike any you have seen before. Paxton has used little precious screentime showing us the actual murders. Instead, we are shown the callousness and horror through the eyes of those most affected, and it is definitely true that actions speak louder than words.
Frailty is representational of horror film noir; the rarefied air that select films enter when feeling full of grace. See this little gem and realize that good scripting, acting and directing need not cost a king's ransom to hold our attention. We simply need to unlock the door and enter for a tale of woe and terror on an everyday footing.