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:: Frailty

Bill Paxton, a regular in the films of James Cameron and Sam Raimi, makes an impressive directorial debut with Frailty, a disturbingly sinister gothic thriller in the same vein as the chilling Seven, etc, in which religious mania becomes a justification for murder.
In Dallas a vicious serial killer known as God's Hand is at work. Late one night a man named Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) walks into the office of FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) claiming to know the identity of the killer. At first Doyle is sceptical, but Meiks tells him a strange and disturbing tale from his childhood twenty years earlier, when Fenton and his younger brother Adam were raised in a small Texas town by their widowed father (Paxton), a mechanic. One night their dad has a vision in which he believes that God has charged with a special mission to destroy demons who exist in human form. Youngest son Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) willingly embraces this monstrously messianic mission, while Fenton (Matt O'Leary) doesn't share the same fervour for the task.
There are some confusing elements to the plot, which largely unfolds in a series of extended flashback sequences that are not resolved satisfactorily. The ambiguous nature of the film's “shock” ending also raises a number of questions.
But Paxton's handling of the material is skilful, and he shows considerable restraint with such potentially blood thirsty material. Paxton uses light and shadows to effectively build an unsettling and menacing atmosphere, and the opening credit sequence is also effectively unnerving. Frailty is highly evocative of Charles Laughton's only directorial effort, The Night Of The Hunter, one of Paxton's favourite films, which was clearly an influence here.
Paxton draws superb performances from his two young stars, who are involved in the film's more disturbing scenes, but who carry themselves with a surprising maturity and confidence that belies their relative lack of experience. O'Leary (currently seen in the unnecessary sequel Spy Kids 2) is wonderful in a difficult and complex role as the reluctant accomplice who is punished for not sharing his father's visions. Sumpter (currently in Queensland working on a new version of Peter Pan for director P J Hogan) is also very good in a difficult role.
Paxton brings a sympathetic quality to his role as a father confused by his God-given mission. McConaughey brings an enigmatic quality to his role as the adult Meiks and the film's narrator.
For various reasons it's taken this genuinely creepy 2001 thriller a couple of years to reach our screens, but Frailty is a superior effort and has well been worth the wait.

Screening on general release.