A movie doesn’t need to star a supernatural slasher, demonic spirit, or zombies, and doesn’t need to be a post apocalyptic death fest for it to scare the shit out of me. Some of the movies that have stuck with me the longest are the ones that never made me fear for my life. Yes I know 99.99999% of the things in scary movies are complete bullshit but that doesn’t mean I don’t check my locks a dozen times before I go to bed because I’m convinced Jason Voorhees only enters unlocked doors.
So why did I choose Frailty as my number 8 scary movie?
So some back story might be helpful. I’ve loved psychological horror, as you will see by my number one scary movie, since my earliest years. The problem with being a true fan of Psycho-Horror is that so many of them are derivative. Yes other horror mediums can be even more derivative but at least in the slasher and zombie genres (as examples) I get the prurient joy of gore and jump scares. Derivative Psycho-Horror is just boring.
All of that is just a long winded way of saying when I was presented with Frailty I was dubious at best and apathetic at worst. Thank Tesla my baby brother Nick, the future scientist and all around good egg, changed my mind.
I first saw Frailty on VHS. I was at the forefront of DVD’s but the copy I watched belonged to my brother so I was at the mercy of his lack of technical sophistication and youth. That is to say he was saving for college and was loathe to spend money if he didn’t have too. So one weekend I slipped the small plastic brick in my last VCR and hit play.
The movie was, to say the least, fucking amazing.
I watched it three more times that weekend and upon each viewing I saw some new awesome detail. The story was fresh and original. The acting was top notch, to me it’s the single best thing Bill Paxton has ever done and I am a serious fan of the man’s work. The plot was complex and the action moved seamlessly from past to present in a concurrent story telling style I use in my own work. And more importantly the first time I watched it I DID NOT see the twist coming.
This flick still blows me away.
If you haven’t seen Frailty I’d like it if you watched it before reading my conclusions. If you have seen it but need a refresher or if you’d rather just get to the end of this essay then I have included the Wiki article with a hyperlink for your convenience. So bone up on the tale and join me at the end.
Frailty – (Wikipedia)
Frailty is a 2001 psychological thriller film, directed by and starring Bill Paxton, and co-starring Matthew McConaughey. This film is the directorial debut for Paxton. The plot focuses on the strange relationship between two young boys and their fanatically religious father, who believes that he has been commanded by God to kill demons.
A man (Matthew McConaughey) enters the Dallas, Texas FBI office one night and introduces himself as Fenton Meiks. He wants to speak to Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) about his belief that his brother Adam (Levi Kreis) is the "God's Hand" serial killer that the FBI have been hunting.
Fenton explains he is only coming forward now because earlier that day, Adam called him to say that he cannot stop the "demons" because there are too many, and shot himself after hanging up. Fenton claims to have buried Adam's body at the Thurman Rose Garden. Doyle is skeptical, and Fenton unfolds through flashback the story of their childhood with their widower father, (Bill Paxton) referred to as Dad.
More than a decade ago, as children, Adam and Fenton lived a bucolic life under the caring attention of Dad. However, one night Dad claims to have had a vision from God that instructs them to find and destroy demons from a list of names provided by an angel to Dad. He's also been provided with special tools: gloves to insulate his hands, a lead pipe to knock the "demons" unconscious, and an ax named "Otis" to "destroy" them. Fenton goes into denial and likens the situation to a bad dream, finding it hard to believe Dad is capable of murder, while Adam wholeheartedly believes Dad to be doing God's work and is keen to help. Dad also tells them that God will protect them from being caught by the authorities and they must keep their activities a strict secret, to be shared by the three of them only.
Soon after, Dad captures his first victim and when he touches her, Dad claims to "see" the sins she has committed before using Otis to "destroy" her. Fenton is horrified but Adam claims he can "see" the woman's sins as well, which leads to Fenton accusing his brother of being brainwashed. The victim is buried outdoors in Thurman Rose Garden, which is adjacent to the Meiks' house.
When Dad kidnaps another victim and orders Fenton to "destroy" him, Fenton flees and informs the town sheriff (Luke Askew). Dad ends up killing the sheriff, blaming Fenton for the act that he believes to be "murder" unlike the previous killings. Dad then tearfully confesses that the angel told him that Fenton is also a demon and must be slain. But Dad has faith in Fenton so he instead locks Fenton in the cellar, thinking that Fenton can be redeemed. After more than a week, Fenton nearly starves to death and is only released when he says he had a "vision of God" and now understands what he needs to do.
Shortly after, Fenton, Adam and Dad track down and capture another "demon". This time, Fenton is given Otis to decapitate the man, but Fenton instead kills Dad with the ax. Fenton then moves to release the captured man, but Adam grabs the ax and slays the "demon", thus completing his father's work as Fenton looks on horrified.
In the present, Agent Doyle is intrigued by Fenton's story and drives him to the Thurman Rose Garden. Once they arrive, it is revealed that the man who has been calling himself "Fenton" is actually Adam, who has been loyal to his father's beliefs since he was a child. However, the real Fenton did end up becoming a serial killer and used the "God's Hand" moniker to ensure Adam knew it was him, knowing that his brother Adam would eventually kill him when Fenton's name appeared on the list. Fenton was buried in the Rose Garden, along with the other "demons" Adam "destroyed" over the years. It is also revealed in a flashback that all of the "demons" killed by Dad were in fact guilty of varied crimes and when Dad touched them, he really had visions of their crimes, visions which could also be seen by Adam.
Adam explains that he lured Doyle to the Rose Garden because Doyle was on "God's list". When Adam touches Doyle's hand, he has a vision of Doyle violently killing his own mother. Adam then uses Otis to kill Doyle before burying him in the Rose Garden.
A day after Doyle's disappearance, agents at the bureau search for "Fenton Meiks", the man with whom Doyle was last seen leaving the building. Agent Hull (Derk Cheetwood), who met "Fenton" (Adam) the previous night, inexplicably cannot remember the man's face and all security footage showing Adam's face has stupefyingly been distorted. The FBI then storm the real Fenton Meiks' house, where they find evidence of Fenton's murders and Doyle's FBI badge, alluding that Doyle could have also been a victim of Fenton.
Shortly after, Hull is seen visiting the office of a Texas sheriff, who is revealed to be Adam Meiks, but Hull does not recognize him. After Adam is briefed by Hull about the recent events, Hull takes his leave. In the last scene, Adam is revealed to probably have a wife who is pregnant with child.
So have you either watched Frailty or skimmed the Wiki pull?
Good, then let’s finish this one up and move on to the next.
So as you can see Frailty is a complex tale of dark psychological horror and mounting darkness. The movie is a great mystery, it’s a superior suspense tale, and it’s a heartbreaking portrait of a family torn apart by a secret. There is epic terror and some bone chilling sequences that have often been copied but never equaled in the years since.
But is it a scary movie?
As anyone will tell you scary is subjective. My wife thinks my fear of zombies and clowns is just precious but her constant fear of leaving the coffee pot on is nothing to joke about. So I will answer this question with a yes and a no because that’s how I roll, all bald and schizophrenic.
No, Frailty is not a scary movie. By this I mean it’s not scary in the classical sense. It’s not a slasher movie, or a true supernatural thriller movie, or some nihilistic kill fest. Frailty is smart and touching and can be enjoyed by nearly everyone. Frailty is never going to be on the lists of banned horror movies.
Yes, Frailty is a scary movie. It is a slasher movie. The reasons for the killings don’t negate a seriously dark and graphic body count. It is a supernatural thriller movie. The juxtaposition between good and evil is definitely grounded in supernatural/religious bedrock. It is a nihilistic kill fest. There is no room for negotiation in this world, the evil MUST be killed, burned, and cleansed from the earth.
So in conclusion, does Frailty hold up?
Yes, absolutely, no fucking question. Get off your butt and get your hands on a copy of this movie. I guarantee you will not be disappointed and if you are… well then blame Obama, everyone else does.