This summer, Adventures in Movies! had an episode examining true crime documentaries and movies. It quickly became our most downloaded episode. (A position it still holds today.) This also marked the first time Blake would bring up 2001’s Frailty. In the months since, he has managed to bring up the movie multiple times on various episodes. Recently, I moved to Bryan, Texas and wouldn’t you know it? A beautiful historic movie theater called The Queen Theater was actually showing the movie! It was as if I had received a message from the heavens.
Frailty is the story of Fenton and Adam Meiks and their father. Told by the adult Fenton, the majority of the movie takes place in 1979. The young Meiks brothers are awaken one night by their father. He tells them he has been visited by an angel. The heavenly visitor sent a message that the Meiks men are agents of God on a mission to destroy demons disguised as people. The movie examines faith, morality, truth, and acceptance.
Bill Paxton does a magnificent job in a dual role. As the father of the Meiks clan, he displays devotion in a number of ways. Most obvious, is his blind faith to his religion. Frailty lets the audience decide how much they want to believe. Whether the Meiks patriarch truly saw a vision becomes irrelevant. Paxton speaks his lines with conviction and sincerity. There may not have been an angel that night, but it is clear that Meiks has convinced himself he is doing God’s work. This is typical serial killer scripting that Paxton is able to make frightening and believable.
Mr. Meiks is also a very devoted single father. Nice little touches such as never naming him (his character is listed as “Dad” in the credits) increases his importance as a father figure. Meiks cares for his two boys deeply. In a sad and touching scene, he is even willing to defy his religion in order to save his son. Frailty could have gone with the typical religious zealot father who abuses his children archetype, but instead make him a genuinely caring dad. Paxton does a wonderful job of showing love and concern for his children.
Frailty was also Paxton’s directorial debut. Though there are some noticeable first time director moments, it is a well shot movie, for the most part. Particularly good is Paxton’s use of lighting. The scenes in which Meiks is guided by a heavenly hand see certain objects bathed in a holy light. It should not work, but Paxton makes sure to not overdo things. Even better, there are subtle clues as to what may be causing the visions. (A war picture on a dresser; welding sparks in a garage.)
The story is very engaging. Matthew McConaughey plays the adult Fenton. The movie is his story. Frailty is basically told in chapters. This adds to the tension as the drama builds with each modern day break. Adult Fenton clues in the audience as to what is going to happen next. However, he never gives anything away. Plus, there is the question of how he ended up talking to an FBI agent to begin with. It is basic storytelling that shows it does not take lots of bells and whistles to keep people interested.
Frailty is one of the most underrated horror movies of the 2000s. It tells a powerful story that is depressing and intriguing. Bill Paxton does a wonderful job in front of and behind the camera. It also does a excellent job of showing the various relationships in a person’s life. I can see why Blake keeps mentioning this movie every chance he gets.
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