Frailty (2002)
Directed by Bill Paxton

Starring Bill Paxton Brad Berryhill Derk Cheetwood Luke Askew Powers Boothe Vincent Chase

Both Paxton and McConaughey got back to their horror roots in this great movie about religious paranoia. Paxton had small parts in "Aliens" and "The Terminator," while McConaughey had one of his first roles in the mesmerizingly awful "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation." Paxton scooted up to the big chair to direct this film, scripted by first-time screenwriter Brent Hanley, who obviously made good use of growing up in the religious South.

McConaughey plays a drifter who shows up in the office of an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) in charge of a serial killer case known as "God's hands." Unshaven and unkempt, McConaughey claims he knows who the killer is, and begins telling the story of his childhood, when he and his brother were raised by a friendly, beer-drinking, country-music-listening, religious father (Paxton). Their life was normal at first, even though their mother had passed away. But one evening, Paxton woke his boys up, telling them he had had a vision from God: The world has been taken over by demons, he tells them. The end times are here. He and his two sons have been assigned by God to seek out and destroy demons who look and act like human beings, but are something else entirely. The family slowly becomes more and more dysfunctional from there. It isn't long before Paxton starts bringing home "demons" ordinary people with ordinary lives and axes them to death, doing what he can to enlist his sons in what he claims is God's work for them.

"Frailty" is easily the best totally "adult" horror film to emerge in years. By "adult," I mean it operates without any need for the supernatural, a mostly male cast (no screaming females in distress) and a straight story that honestly seems to come out of today's serial killer headlines. It's only during the last act that "Frailty" truly becomes a horror film in the classic tradition. I'm not going to explain why for obvious reasons. "Frailty" also marks a new, straight-ahead kind of horror film, not unlike "Session 9," which also had an all-male cast and dealt with the supernatural is as if it was a mental illness issue. Like "Session 9," there's no real gore in "Frailty" (except for the very end) and almost no humor.

Paxton is perfect as the father who tries to teach his children how to be good citizens, while also giving them advice on how to properly axe to death a kidnapped "demon." Hanley's script does a wonderful job of capturing the agony of living with someone who has somehow gone insane: They look, act and talk the same way they did before they went mad. It isn't until they start talking about demons or angels that you realize you're dealing with someone who's one or two clowns short of a circus.

Like any genre film produced after "The Sixth Sense," "Frailty" comes with its share of twists and turns at the end. It's one flaw might be that there is just one twist too many a twist that you can in fact see coming. The film plays about five minutes longer than it should. But aside from that, the film's just about perfect. Not a date movie by any means, but a perfect, thinking man's fear film.

And, as if to keep a good thing going, they even left room for a sequel.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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