Frailty is a striking and original film. It defies any easy description or pigeonholing. Maybe one could consider liken it to a supernatural version of John Hustons Wise Blood (1979) a film about crazed religionists in the American Bible Belt. Or perhaps something like an existential take on the avenging angels of The Prophecy (1995), as maybe seen through the tortured religionism of Lars von Triers Breaking the Waves (1996) where the miraculous is couched in very ambiguous terms as to whether it is real or delusional (and where the films eventual coming down on the side of the reality of it reinforces an insanely crazy religious worldview).
Frailty is a film where all the effect is not carried by Bill Paxtons direction which is unexceptional, even at times banal but through the unique, way-out originality of the screenplay. This comes with a darkly compulsive fascination and a conceptual wildness that is quite unlike any other film out there. Consider the themes the film juggles a widowed father deciding that he is being guided by God to kill demons that exist in human form; the bulk of the films drama centring around a young boy who rejects all concept of God and engages in a titanic battle of wills against his fathers insane vision of Gods will; while the film itself sits on a line of ambiguity as to whether the demons and divine visions are real of delusional. It is a film that inhabits a highly disturbing headspace. It is all the more effective for the understated nature of it Bill Paxton refuses to indulge in any cliché horror moves, shows little blood, and concentrates not on the killings but in the battle of faith between father and son. The scene that Paxton makes into the dramatic centre of the film where young Matt OLeary is locked down in the cellar by his father to await a vision from God is highly disconcerting. The film is made all the more disquieting by the alarmingly patient and rational everyday performance given by Paxton himself as the boys father.
Where Frailty falters somewhat is when it comes to its ending. [SPOILER ALERT]. It is here that screenwriter Brent Hanley tosses up a grand twist in revealing that the narrator of the flashbacks throughout the film up to this point is not the person we thought he was. It is a twist ending that Hanley has entirely borrowed from The Usual Suspects (1995). It is an effective surprise but one that makes us all too aware of the contrived nature of the charade that has just been pulled on us. Why would someone go to the elaborate extent of telling such a story to the FBI and tell it from the point-of-view of someone else? It is given a sort of rationalisation as to why but it is only there to jolt us out of what we thought was the case and never makes much in the way of motivational sense. The dramatic intensity that Bill Paxton has placed into the scenes we have just seen also makes this revelation less believable if this is after all the other brother narrating then it fails to seem plausible that he could put so much emotional conviction into relating his siblings vehement opposition and atheism to his own point-of-view.
Bill Paxton subsequently went onto direct one other film with the golf drama The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005).
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay at this sites Best of 2001 Awards).