HELLABRATION DELUXE! Thirty-One Days of SHOCKTOBER: Day Fifteen – 10/15/18

10/15 – 2001: FRAILTY

When the world lost BILL PAXTON, it didn’t just lose an endlessly talented, gifted actor. It turned out that he was one helluva director as well, whose abilities behind the camera will now never be fully realized. But at least we have one great example of what we could’ve expected, in the only film he helmed before his untimely passing: FRAILTY.  If you love thrillers with premises and endings that will keep you up with the lights on, and talking about it with friends and family for weeks after seeing it, FRAILTY will be more than happy to oblige you.  There have been similar films about faith, religious mania, and how someone affected by both could have trouble separating the real from the unreal. But this is a movie that goes a whole lot farther than that…

Fenton Meiks (MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY in one of his best performances), walks into an FBI office one night and announces that he has important information on the man known as the “God’s Hand Killer”, a statement that immediately grabs everyone’s attention. But Fenton also states that he won’t speak to anyone but the lead investigator on the God’s Hand case, one Agent Wesley Doyle (POWERS BOOTHE).

Doyle immediately turns all of his attention to Fenton, who confesses on the spot that he just finished burying his brother, Adam, in the family rose garden, “just like he promised”, since it was Adam he fingers as the killer the Feds are looking for.  After confirming this by contacting the office of the sheriff of the town Fenton is from, he asks exactly how Fenton knows that Adam was the “God’s Hand” Killer.  Rather than answer him directly, Fenton shifts gears, and by way of explanation, begins to tell the agent all about his dark family history.

It was up to widower Dad Meiks (PAXTON) to raise his two sons alone. But things begin to careen off the rails, when late one night, Dad wakes up his sons to tell them that he has received a message from God, via an angel: he and his family have been chosen to become “God’s Hands”, and to rid the earth of demons – demons disguised in human form. Where the younger boy, Adam is psyched to have been given such a task – kind of like a superhero – the older Fenton had pretty much determined that his father’s cheese done slid off his cracker, (as Stephen King would say.)

As much as Fenton hopes this is just a crackpot idea that Dad has that will eventually be forgotten…no dice. Dad soon starts collecting things that he was ‘shown’ he should use to prepare for their ‘holy mission’: an axe, some rope, a length of pipe – things a serial killer would use. And not long after that, things get even worse: now, Dad has an actual list of people that “God” has tasked them to take out.  To Fenton’s growing dismay, things begin to escalate – especially when Dad brings home the first victim. It’s then that a battle of wills begins between father and son, with the youngest caught in the middle.

The story alternates between Fenton’s flashback tale, and the uneasy bond he forms with Agent Doyle. The resulting climax isn’t just jaw-dropping, you will want to see this twice, maybe three times, just to confirm what this movie is asking you to do at its very core – more of an act of suspension of belief, rather than disbelief.

A labor of love for Paxton, BRENT HANLEY’S incredible script offers more of a reversal/”fake-out” version of THE SIXTH SENSE’S stunning climactic twist reveal, and you can tell from the way that he crafted the picture, Paxton was looking forward to the intense shock to the system that audiences would experience at the end. And he was right, because I have only seen FRAILTY once, yet that ending still haunts me.

He is amazing as Dad Meiks, so surefooted and iron-willed, armed with this “mission from God”, while MATT O’LEARY and JEREMY SUMPTER as the younger Fenton and Adam, respectively, give very well-modulated performances for child actors.  McConaughey portrays Fenton as one cool customer, and Boothe does a wonderful job of portraying the blinkered Doyle, who is so determined to get answers about the identity and whereabouts of the “God’s Hand” Killer, he never contemplates for a second that getting the answers may not be the triumphant achievement he’s expecting.

FRAILTY is part of the legacy that Bill Paxton left us, of a talent he was only beginning to explore. I’m saddened by the fact that we won’t get any new films from him as a director or actor, but grateful that we have things like this to remember him by.


Posted by Samuel Glass

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