2002, R, 100 min. Directed by Bill Paxton. Starring Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matt O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, Luke Askew.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 12, 2002
What is it about Texas and gothic horror tales? Do we just breed 'em strange and lethal in Texas? Or are the movies responsible for creating this warped mythos of the Texas psycho killer? Probably, it's a mutually supportive arrangement, each side supplying ample material for the other to embellish. Ultimately, who would know better about these things than the three Texas actors at the heart of Frailty: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, and Powers Boothe? This movie, in which Paxton stars, also marks the actor's directing debut. The script by newcomer Brent Hanley is a doozy. It tells the fictional story of a notorious serial killer in Texas who goes by the name God's Hand. Boothe plays the FBI agent in charge of the investigation. To say much more about the plot risks giving away too many of its twists and turns. It's one of those narratives that keeps spiraling until the very end. But along the way, we're privy to a tale of horrific proportions -- one that involves elements of religious perversion, child abuse, and yes, several axe murders. It's grisly stuff -- and made all the more disturbing because of its naturalistic look. Its gothic excesses come into play in such things as the story's extreme father-and-sons conflict, which is cast in the mold of the story of Abraham and Isaac and the constantly pounding rain that engulfs the characters. Paxton strikes just the right tone of ambiguity as he thrashes back and forth between playing the benign widower and doting father and the benighted demon slayer. McConaughey and Boothe play an intriguingly cagey game of slowly revealing themselves to each other, while O'Leary (Domestic Disturbance, Spy Kids 2) does an amazingly good job of portraying a kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Unfortunately, Frailty suffers from several logical narrative lapses in the screenplay and may have a few too many twists for its own good. What Paxton, his actors, and esteemed cinematographer Bill Butler (Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) have accomplished, however, is more dependent on mood and atmosphere than logical throughlines. More than any other film, Frailty calls to mind Steve Kloves' Flesh and Bone, another Texas chiller that relies on a “sins of the father” motif, a drenched visual style, and excellent performances to relate its troubling but imperfect tale. Frailty, too, chills to the bone -- and beyond, but for pure excitement it's best not to look far beneath the surface.