**** out of ****
A strange and ominous man (Matthew McConaughey) is seated in an FBI office. He introduces himself as Fenton Meiks; the agent whose office he has entered goes by the name of Doyle (Powers Booth). The later has no idea what the former wants. He finds this oddball searching through his stuff when he finally arrives to the office after being called down to meet with Mr. Meiks. The agent is currently investigating a murder case centering on the infamous "God's Hand Killer" of Dallas, Texas. It is highly suggested and eventually confirmed that Fenton Meiks knows his share about the murders committed by this notorious local serial killer.
I suppose it all begins back in Fenton's childhood days; most of which he shared with only his Dad (Bill Paxton) and his younger brother Adam. The father of the two boys works as an auto-mechanic by trade; although at home, his life is devoted to but only two things, and that is his children and God. One night, however, Dad takes the second thing to dangerous and almost surreal new extremes; he comes to the boys' bedroom at night and explains to them that he has received a vision from God.
Dad now believes that he and the kids were sent to earth to slay the demons that freely roam it; disguised by their deceptive exteriors. The father claims to have been sent a special list of the demons that the family must collectively hunt, and so he keeps that close by at all times. He claims that to kill the demons, they must first receive the heaven-sent weapons; one of which is an axe so important that it even gets its own credit: Otis. With Otis in hand, the demon killing spree begins; with Dad getting the first taste of the madness and eventually letting his children in on all the fun. Fenton would rather not explore such dark things; while his younger kin is more willing to follow his dad's beliefs and values. In no time at all, the father has become the God's Hand Killer, in hopes that his sons shall someday take the name for themselves and continue to slay those nasty servants of Satan.
This is precisely the story that Fenton tells the Agent throughout the film. He earns the trust of the man who is of higher power - the Agent - and eventually he leads him to the spot where the Meiks family stared their faith straight in the face. This place of danger and bewilderment comes in the form of a rose garden; it is a location of traumatic childhood memories and silent cries from beyond the grave. A lot happens here whether we're seeing things through the eyes of children (in flash-back form) or in real-time as it's happening in the plot.
I half-expected the film to turn into another generic slasher picture when that trusty bastardization (Otis) reared its ugly (and sharp) ends. An axe is always a sign of danger in a horror movie; someone's got to use it, right? Most of the time, yes, this is the case.
However, my expectations of that turning point where very wrong. "Frailty" turned out to be anything but a familiar and boring excess in both violence and unsympathetic stupidity. In fact, it is a film of great sympathy; and perhaps even great horror. It's being marketed as a film within the boundaries of the horror genre, although it's one of those rare (and great) movies that takes it upon itself to mess with so many conventions that it almost transcends any classification, genre-wise. Paxton's film could be a thriller - because it is thrilling - and it could also be a horror film - because it depicts humane horror with an agenda. But deep down, there's this desire to be a drama; and among other things, I think this is where the film is most successful.
We identify with the childish sensibilities of the brothers; so we understand the pain that they must endure and the change that they are experiencing. I think they both fear their father - who is simply going mad in the head after being deluded by his religious beliefs - although only one out of the two is able to speak up for himself and voice his personal opinions. So there's some good character development that allows us to really connect with the central protagonists. And then there is the father - who is nothing less than a modern example of a great "Bad Dad" in the movies -. He repeatedly manipulates his sons out of his delusion; which is the only thing leading up to the assumption that he is the antagonist of this story. Yet, I feel "Frailty" is such a well-done and skillfully written film; it inspires sympathy for both sides and while we never like the father due to the things he says and does, we never quite hate him either, because we understand where his actions are coming from; his shattered mind.
Horror movies are seldom thought-provoking; just as thrillers are rarely great anymore. Here's a film that successfully makes a winner of itself in all genres that it covers: from horror to thrillers to, yes, even drama. It tells a sad, tragic, traumatic story of religion and how it can delude unassuming victims of psychological torment to committing acts of violence. This theme would have lost its relevance and its power if Paxton had intended to show much of the violence on-screen; but he's more interested in tension and the disturbing things which we cannot see. He wants us to hear, to feel, and to sense; he does so like a true master. "Frailty" is a thriller with emotions unlike any I have ever seen; and a horror film that depicts the horror like a true genre picture should be. It is often silent, discreet, and oh so very smart. I'd say it's about first-rate in every department.