ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 25, 2002
Hollywood marketing departments seem more desperate than ever to find sources for the hyperbolic reviewer quotes they splash across TV screens and newspaper ads. There’s no need to rely on established critical outlets like the New York Times and the Village Voice when they can magnify a sound bite of Larry King fawning over some celebrity pal or scour the Internet for fan-run sites that are quick to proclaim damn near anything as “THE BIGGEST THRILL-RIDE OF THE YEAR!”.
But the people pushing the new fright flick Frailty took a different, supposedly more honourable approach to hard-sell promotion when they used only quotes from three influential genre heavyweights in their ads. “Electrifying!” praises James Cameron. “Edge-of-your-seat entertainment!” spouts Stephen King. “The most disturbing horror picture I’ve seen since The Shining!” declares Sam Raimi. Unfortunately for the paying moviegoer, only Raimi’s rave turns out to be justified. Frailty is disturbing, all right, but then so is sticking needles in your eyes.
And I wouldn’t recommend either.
The film’s plot is delivered in confessional flashbacks by a burned-out fellow named Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey), who unravels it in a statement to the FBI agent (Powers Boothe) investigating the notorious “God’s Hand” serial killer. The tale picks up with a 12-year-old Fenton living an idyllic small-town Texas life with his nine-year-old brother, Adam, and their sensitive, salt-of-the-earth mechanic father (Bill Paxton, who also makes his directorial debut).
Everything is going fine until one night when Dad is visited by an angel that shines off of a trophy in his bedroom and entrusts him with the mission of destroying “demons” that pose as ordinary men and women. That’s when things get real ugly real fast, as Pop starts kidnapping and butchering folks, making sure his poor kids are front and centre when the double-bladed axe flies.
It’s extremely unsettling to see the young innocents drawn into their father’s diabolical psychosis, and as the bodies pile up, you feel more and more sickened by the plight of the children—but that’s about it for viewer involvement.
Near the end of this uncompromising but misdirected film, some plot twists are revealed that put a new slant on things, but by then it’s too late to start contemplating the themes of redemption, underlying evil, and holy justice.
You’re left just trying to unhinge the image of a grown man coaxing a terrified boy to plunge an axe into the neck of a cowering, bound victim.