Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Frailty

MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language

Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Thriller
Length:
1 hr. 40 min.
Year of Release:
2002
Bill Paxton in “Frailty”. Bill Paxton in “Frailty”

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Luke Askew, Matthew O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter | Directed by: Bill Paxton | Produced by: David Kirschner, David Blocker, Corey Sienega | Written by: Brent Hanley | Distributor: Lions Gate Films

The film “Frailty” sits firmly and strongly in four basic film categories. First, it belongs to that neat subset of films which I call Southern Gothic: films like “Places in the Heart” or with actors like Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall. Films that serve up real old-fashioned Southern storytelling.

It also belongs to the “black humor” category: films so dark and twisted they put “Death to Smoochy” to shame. Thirdly, it belongs to that unique American film tradition: the religious epic that masquerades as true crime. Or is that vice versa? The true film that masquerades as religious epic?

And finally it belongs to the category of films that leave the viewer wondering, “Huh? Okay, what happened?” It succeeds in all categories and—although, I could guess several plot points a mile before the bend—it is engrossing. That said, I must also add that “Frailty” is one truly uncomfortable film to sit through. Not because it’s about human frailty, family tradition and sin, but because I find anything that hints of child abuse unsettling.

In 1979, two young Texan boys Fenton and Adam are told that their dad (Bill Paxton) has a mission from God: he is to kill demons masquerading as people. He must also train up his children to fight the enemies also. So what are we dealing with? Religious psychosis? Demonic deception? God’s wishes? Or is the narrator cracked? And why is Dad telling the kids about his mission? After all, when is the right time to tell kids about the knowledge of evil and their vocation to fight it? Depending of course if one actually believes in the devil, which I do. But whatever happened to good old fashioned exorcism? Does God really want to murder people?

The central question in the film is this: What exactly do you know? The question is asked by Wesley Doyle, an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) of the narrator Meeks, played by Matthew McConaghey. And of course the question is asked of us, the audience. Here is a story of a guy with a mission from God, a guy who hears God telling him that certain folks are demons who should be killed. Most Christians believe that God speaks to His people. But the average Christian will raise an eyebrow when told God wants murder. After all, God does ask some strong stuff from His prophets. But murder? And yet: who is one man—or one society—to judge another Christian’s calling? One person’s idea of a great Christian film might be seen as irreligious by another. And as for murder, there are suicide bombers, abortion clinic bombers, the Baptist minister who created the KKK (and its flaming cross) back in 1900, the folks in the Aryan Nation, Andrea Yates, and others who feel that murder has been somehow ordained by God for a higher purpose.

We might doubt our prophet Dad because he is never seen in church. And we Christians are wary of prophets who are not in some Christian organization. But of course, John the Baptist was called to be an outsider. So perhaps we may be wrong. Other avengers and superheroes, folks like Buffy and Superman, usually have some spiritual back-up: friends who believe in them. But this family lives in utter isolation, without relatives near or far. But even that can be excused.

We spend the movie wanting the dad to be right. Or to be caught. If he is right and we’re in a horror picture, then we’ll excuse everything. If he’s wrong, then he better be destroyed soon. And so we keep hoping his son will murder him. (Sadly, movies often have us wishing for strange things which we would never wish for in life.) But what really disturbs us during the entire movie—whether the prophet is right or wrong—is that he shares his mission with his kids. This makes us feel as if we’re watching a bad case of religion as child abuse.

The movie is aiming for ambivalence. We are supposed to feel off-kilter and wobbly on our feet. But the film doesn’t give us any scenes that show God’s action in any normal way. For instance, there is no sweet church lady who gives food and cookies to the poor. That might have been a nice balance and would show God working in a less murderous way. Even the gospels don’t show Jesus alone doing God’s work. We see John the Baptist.

“Frailty” has a twisted happy ending. I smiled. But many viewers of this film won’t smile. They will be offended at the films’ take on religion. Either the hero has won in the end, or he has not. Either God is working busily among humans in a twisted murderous God-with-us kind of way. Or the devil is winning. Or, even worse, God doesn’t exist. Or if He does exist, He doesn’t care.

While this flic does have graphic violence, scenes of mental child abuse and profanity, I still must admit I liked it. It definitely leads to heavy discussion after its ending. But take caution—many Christians looking for moral entertainment will not feel favorably toward “Frailty”.

Viewer Comments
Neutral—As Paxton’s first film, this shows him to be a director of considerable promise. Created on a very short timescale, with an admirably low budget, Frailty exposes Hollywood’s big-budget extravagansas time and again with its tight plotting, effective camerawork and assured acting. However, that is not to say that the film is not without its flaws. In my opinion, both as a Christian, and as a film goer, I found the ending to be a disappointment. As a film goer, I wished that the choice had been made to keep the ending ambiguous, though I appreciate that the artistic choices made were braver. As a Christian, I found the image of God portrayed, when viewing the film as a whole, to be utterly heinous.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Ian, age 24
Neutral—This movie was good, and kept you guessing the whole time. The only problem that I had with the film would be the end… if you are planning to see this film, you may want to stop reading this review right now, because I am fixing to give away the ending for a reason. SPOILERS… SPOILERS! STOP READING NOW IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF SEEING THIS FILM… Okay. Throughout the film, you come to believe that the father and his son in the film are just nuts. God would never tell anyone to kill another person in such a manner! At the end, it totally twists, and it turns out that they weren’t nuts. The whole time, God had actually been telling these people to kill! I couldn’t believe that, and for me, it ruined the movie. You could take it another way saying that it was a demon who was telling them all this, and that Satan was the one who was giving them all of the visions and lists of people to kill. I dunno. I was disturbed by this film. It is definitely not for children. I wouldn’t recommend it to new Christians…
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 3]
—Adam, age 19
Negative—Your guest reviewer was most accurate in commenting on this movie. I found it very anti-God. The scene were disturbing and fit the Hollywood genre once again in portraying Christians as irrational wackos! I would not recommend this movie to anyone…My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 3]
—Kathryn Cooley, age 48
Positive—What a powerful, enthralling piece of film. “Frailty” is a brilliant film. It reminded me a lot of Seven, an even better film, because it presents an alarmingly similar idea-that God would choose someone to wipe out the evil in this world. I love how in both films, not once do you see these characters talking to God or ACTUALLY conversing with an angel. It shows us some images, but NEVER stays around long enough for dialogue. I love that. I think it is a clue. Also, there are no scenes IN any church. Two children walk by one, not even acknowledging its existence. On the flip side, a young boy sings a Sunday school song, and certain elements fall into place that seem difficult to pass off as coincidence. This is what makes the film so great. It’s like K-Pax, in that it presents both sides very equally, and leaves it to the viewer to decipher what it means. It gives information, that’s all. Sometimes, explanation are warranted, (such as my favorite film of last year, Memento). But not this one. I know exactly what I think, and why I think it, but I’m not going to write it down, that destroys all the fun! What I will say is that there are powerful themes and ideas presented by “Frailty,” which also has wonderful acting from the entire cast. The movie inspires much discussion, always a plus in film; and Bill Paxton does a tremendous job in his debut as a director. I loved this movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Jason Eaken, age 18
Neutral—This was an average movie. The only reason it received all the great reviews was that the reviewers thought is was anti-religious. I don’t know where the stereotype of the religious serial killer came from. I can’t think of a single example. Religious mass murderers (Jim Jones, Osama) yes, but no religious serial killers. Anyway, after I saw this movie and realized how incredibly average (average acting, average story telling, average cinematography) it was, I went back and read the reviews instead of just looking at the stars. Ebert said it proved how dangerous religion was. The high ratings show more about the raters than the movie. It would have made a pretty good television movie of the week, but don’t spend good money on it.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 2]
—Lois F. Smith, age 44
Positive—Wow. This movie was stirring. For the whole film I felt that it was a sick twist on God, on the Christian religion. I felt like it was just some way to convey that there are sick God fearing fanatics. But its not. The end is all about glory, all about the Lord’s prominence, and all about Truth. It scared me that it was showing that something like that could happen, but it gave me great comfort in knowing that God was ultimately in control. If you want to see an example of the promise of God, check this film out. Just don’t forget, we’re not all prophets and demon killers. If you are sound of mind, I would recommend it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Kelsie, age 20
Positive—What an intriguing movie! I wasn’t sure what to think of it when I first left, but it grew on me. My friend and I talked the whole 30 minute ride home about how it went, what it made you feel… what the point of the whole film was. I wasn’t sure I liked it. After thinking about it for two days, I decided I loved it! It is theologically wrong, but it’s fiction. We don’t have to take it as fact. Matthew McConaughey is great, and so are the kids that portray young Adam and Fenton. It won me over. I’m a fan.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Donna, age 19
Positive—A friend and I went to see this film on our “Mom’s night out.” We were looking for something out of the ordinary, and we both felt that we certainly got it. At one point in the film, I commented to her, “This is why a LITTLE BIT of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.” What I meant by that was that certainly, if the father in the film had taken the time to filter what he was being “told” by reading God’s Word and applying it, he would have seen that Jesus would never have wanted him to take matters into his own hands in the way he was doing it. I felt that the acting was superb, and the film was certainly suspenseful. I would agree with the reviewer that the most disturbing aspect of the film (right up there with the persistent feeling of, “But God would never ask a person to do that!”) was the mental and sometimes physical abuse of the children. The thought of someone warping little minds in such a horrific way is deeply troubling. That said, I’d say that, taken in perspective, this film was a good horror, suspense film for ADULTS ONLY.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3½]
—Susie, age 34
Negative—Frailty, “What is Frailty about?” I asked my friend. Not knowing what this movie was about I said why not. I just want to say that I was very disturbed in viewing this film. I know that there are films that are just about murders and such but this film is so wicked. For an example the father of Adam and Meeks claims to receive a message from God telling him to kill demons incognito. The other thing is that you see Adam the boy taking an ax and murdering an innocent man. I’m not surprised as to see why some people watching the movie exited. The false truth about this movie is the so called “God’s mission.” This movie puts a very bad image of God and His calling. If I [had known] the story about Frailty I would [have passed] this one up.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2½]
—Vince, age 23

I am wondering if we saw the same movie. I have seen movies with gore and violence my whole life, but this is really the first time I found myself praying for the salvation of the writer. I understand that John the Baptist was a bit odd for his culture, but I can’t remember him ever taking an ax to someone’s torso. Is our God so weak that he would need a person to sort out the “bad guys” for Him? If the angels dare not say more than, “the Lord rebuke you,” I am to expect Man to be our Savior. Give me a break.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Jason Bien, age 26

Comments from young people
Positive—I enjoyed this film in an artistic sense, but a “fun” movie it is not. I would like to remind anyone who says that it’s a “sick twist on God” or is a “truly heinous depiction of the Lord” that THIS MOVIE IS BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS (or so the producers say). If a man receives a message from “God”, and it tells him to kill someone, then it is not a message from God. The entire movie, I knew this, and I was not bothered by much (other than the violence, which… well, I’ve seen worse, but the little kid killing a guy threw me a bit), although judging by the reactions of those leaving after the film was done along with reading many of the reviews that others have posted that many were offended by it… I can understand why, but I disagree.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
—Peter Jurmu, age 16
Positive—I think this movie was really good apart for the cussing and violence it was good. It has you guessing through the whole entire movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Jesiah D. Hansen, age 16