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Monday, March 23, 2015

FRAILTY -- DVD Review by Porfle

[NOTE: This is one of my first reviews, which was posted at the now-defunct back in 2005. Contains spoilers.]

Every once in a great while, if you dig deep enough in Wal-Mart's budget DVD bin, you find buried treasure. The other day I was rummaging through the mass of crummy movies, cringing whenever I touched a particularly rancid one, when suddenly I saw it: FRAILTY. For $5.50? Now that's a deal!

FRAILTY (2002) is the directing debut of Bill Paxton, best known as Pvt. Hudson in ALIENS, and he does an excellent job. He also stars as "Dad" (we never find out his name), a widower raising two young sons in rural East Texas. He's a good father, and strives to provide his boys Fenton and Adam with a stable, happy life. The three of them form a close, loving family which seemingly nothing could tear asunder.

Until late one night, that is, when suddenly the light in the boys' bedroom snaps on and they wake to see Dad at the door, shaken and profoundly disturbed. He tells them that he's just been visited by an angel with a fiery sword, delivering a message straight from God. A war between good and evil is coming, the angel told him, and there are demons in the world. Dad has been chosen to be among those on the side of good, whose task will be to seek out these demons (who look just like normal people) and destroy them. Soon he will be given three magical weapons (which turn out to be a metal pipe for disabling the demons, a pair of work gloves to allow him to touch them without seeing visions of their past evil deeds until the time for this has come -- and an axe) and a list of seven names -- the first seven which must be dispatched. Dad has no doubt whatsoever that he has seen this vision, and that it is absolutely real.

The younger son, Adam, is excited by the news. "Does this mean we're like superheroes, Dad?" he asks, eager to get started. But his older brother, Fenton, finds it all a bit hard to take, fearing for Dad's sanity and the fate of their family should such a plan actually be put into motion. He hopes that all of this is just a bad dream, or some weird anomaly that will pass away on its own. Until the night he wakes to see Dad outside his window, carrying what appears to be a writhing, blanket-wrapped body into the tool shed...

All of this is told in flashback one rainy night in the office of an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) by a strange visitor (Matthew McConaughey) who claims to be the adult Fenton. He says that he knows the identity of the killer responsible for a recent string of violent murders, and that the killer is his own brother, Adam, now carrying on Dad's holy quest to rid the world of demons. Boothe is skeptical at first, but little by little the story begins to sound more believable. At last he agrees to accompany Fenton to the old rose garden beside his boyhood home, where he claims the bodies are buried...but at the end of this journey the FBI agent will find more than he ever bargained for.

FRAILTY is a top-notch mystery/horror/thriller that had me riveted from beginning to end. The performances are excellent -- Paxton, unfairly maligned by some critics throughout his career, has never been better, and the two boys (Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) who play Fenton and Adam are very good. McConaughey and Boothe add a great intensity to their scenes together, and it's nice to see two Texans (who both hail from the same town less than ten miles from where I'm sitting) investing their characters with such regional authenticity. They're aided by a great script by Brent Hanley and a production team that includes master cinematographer Bill Butler, whose lighting and skill with practical effects greatly enhance the visual mood. The supporting cast, especially Luke Askew (the hitchhiker in EASY RIDER) as the town sheriff, are also fine.

The DVD itself is a real keeper, with two documentaries, deleted scenes, a trailer, a photo gallery, and three seperate commentary tracks that are all among the best and most enthusiastic I've ever heard, with lots of interesting facts and anecdotes, and nary a dead spot. Paxton's director's commentary is the best, but there's also a track by screenwriter Hanley and a production commentary featuring three participants -- and in all three cases, the speakers keep talking through the closing credits instead of clearing out as soon as their obligations have been fulfilled. For $5.50 (or $9.98 as it's listed on Amazon), this DVD is a steal. [NOTE: Amazon is currently offering the DVD for $5.00 and the Blu-ray for $6.55.]

FRAILTY contains many acts of extreme violence, but Paxton wisely cuts away before we see them -- the events depicted are creepy and upsetting enough without the need for graphic detail. The story will have you guessing until the end -- has Dad suddenly gone totally insane? Or did God really give him a vision, and a horrible task to fulfill, as he claims? Will Fenton be able to prevent the ghastly carnage that is sure to ensue if this "vision" is carried out? And what of the younger boy, Adam, who believes every word of Dad's story without reservation?

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