Frailty Takes Family Dysfunction to the Extreme
By Kate Antognini

Frailty opens with a familiar scene: a strange man shifts nervously in his seat in a police office as he prepares to unleash a harrowing tale. The man, played by Matthew McConaughey, informs a detective that his brother is responsible for the “God’s Hands” murders that have plagued the area of Texas for years. But it’s not that simple. In fact nothing in Frailty is simple.
The movie, directed by actor Bill Paxton, takes the logic of religious fanaticism to its frightening end. It explores what happens when a man truly believes that God has enlisted him to kill. Told mostly in flashbacks, Frailty continually dashes the viewer’s expectations. It might have been another Seven, but instead delivers something more disturbing.
In flashback we see two siblings — the younger McConaughey and his brother — happily trotting home from school, as they cut through a garden that resembles a manicured version of Eden, complete with roses and shafts of afternoon light. The garden later takes on grave significance.
That night the boys’ father tucks them into bed, whispering, as he shuts the door, “I love you guys.” Hours later, the lights in the bedroom suddenly flick on, and the family’s innocent existence is forever shattered. The father charges in and tells his sleepy sons he has just gotten word from God that they are to kill “demons” in human form. When the older son protests, his father insists, “this is our job now, son. We’ve got to do this.”
Dad receives his second sign on his drive home one day, when he notices a ray of light descending on an old barn. Mesmerized, he stops his car, enters the barn and discovers the sun-shafts alighting on an axe stuck into a tree stump. He carries this God-sent weapon home and soon uses it on his first “demon,” a young nurse, as the boys watch helplessly.
Frailty reminds us how much children are at the mercy of their parents’ ideologies. The father defends the murders to his skeptical, older son with impeccable logic: “We don’t kill people, son, we destroy demons.”
And Paxton succeeds in making his character, called only “dad,” seem both sympathetic and frightening; it is clear that he is a gentle and kind father who truly believes that he is doing God’s work. Interestingly, the film allows us to see some of his visions — including a fiery angel equipped in medieval battle gear — as if to hint that Dad may actually be on to something.
Frailty is quiet, but it works on many levels. While the story of the past develops, the present gradually creeps up on it and the two collide in a pivotal final scene, in which McConaughey leads the detective to the demon burial ground at the center of his childhood garden (now in ruins). As the two men wade through a deep thicket that has swallowed fallen statue pieces into its thorns, the removed detective is unexpectedly forced into the story.
Last year Frailty made a blip on a few art-house screens and then quickly disappeared into video-store obscurity. Why? After all, it has all the requisite elements of a juicy thriller. Perhaps it simply went too far. Frailty isn’t as easily digestible as many of today’s thrillers — it hurts on the way down.
Frailty is now available on video and DVD.


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