Religion is always a hot topic and one that is rarely dealt with in a straight fashion. Some of the best horror films have been based on religion and beliefs. The Exorcist, Omen, The Wicker Man, and Rosemary's Baby are just a few of the popular ones. With the exception of Omen, all of these deal with generic demons or religions that pass over the Christian God and Devil (as antagonists) and ruffle fewer feathers because of this. Even The Exorcist, which is as much a film about faith, strays by relying on a demon called Pazuzu. This is not the case in Frailty. It dares to go where few mainstream films have by dealing with God directly and the things a person will do for their faith.
The film starts with a man (Matthew McConaughey) claiming knowledge about a string of serial killings that have been referred to as the 'God's Hand' murders. His story relates back to 1979 and his childhood in a small Texas town. The main part of the film is told in flashback and follows Fenton and Adam Meiks as children. They live alone with their father. Their mother died during childbirth and they seem to be normal in everyway. They look after one another and generally seem to be a normal family.
All that changes when their Dad (Paxton) wakes them in the middle of the night telling them that God has sent him an Angel and a vision. He's been instructed that God has chosen them to be a family of demon-slayers and they will receive three special weapons. The younger boy, Adam, believes his father's words and Fenton, the older brother, doesn't. The next morning they are wondering if it was all a dream until their father reminds them not to tell anyone.
As time passes, their Dad continues to receive his visions. They lead him to the magical weapons (an axe, pipe and a pair of gloves) and send him the first seven demons that he must kill. In order to do this, he must capture the person, bring them to his house and lay his hands upon them. When he does this they will be able to see their sins and the demon will be revealed.
More time passes and they think less and less about it until their dad doesn't come home one night. He arrives much later carrying what looks to be a body. As Fenton goes to investigate, his Dad invites him and Adam out to the shed to watch what he is about to do. It's at this point the film becomes truly terrifying. The audience is forced to watch their father's actions a through their eyes. They don't know who or what to believe.
The older boy Fenton believes that their dad is crazy, but Adam says he can see what his father does and seems to understand everything. As they boys continue to question their father's actions, they are divided. Fenton believes it's wrong, but Adam believes his father. The bigger question is revealed as the boys watch and episode of the religious cartoon Davey and Goliath. Davey wants to know why if God controls everything why did he let him have an accident. To this question, Davey's Dad replies that God only shows us and then we make the choices.
Giving the rest away would spoil the incredible tension and development in the film. The rest of the movie explores the relations between a father and his sons, issues of faith and belief in religion. Does faith justify actions, no matter what they are? Are these demons really people? Will the son forsake the father or save him? As the film nears it's conclusion, a few obvious twists and turns appear. They work well in the story, but could be seen coming.
Despite that, the ending doesn't pull any punches and leaves the film with most of its power and likely controversy. A revelation that seems to explain some things actually poses more questions on religion and responsibility than previously thought. An attempt to explain certain aspects intensifies the ambiguity of the situation. How you view this will likely depend on your own personal faith and that's an amazing quality in a film today. Rather than a processed monster or reaction they dare to let you create your own demon and ending. The film is as powerful as you let it be. It's what you personally want it to be.
On DVD the film plays as well as it did in the theater. Upon a second viewing, small details make themselves more obvious and subtle nuances in the performances show through. The motif of hands is prominent throughout the film, a fact that only made itself apparent during the second viewing. The film is every bit as powerful and creepy as it was in the theater and is a perfect addition to any collection.
The Video: The 16 x 9 transfer is well done. The subtle light and darks in the film are conveyed perfectly to the home setting. The washed colors of the flashbacks and other scenes are flawless, with no image degradation or pixelation. The blacks are dark and full and contrast is balanced perfectly. There isn't a noticeable flaw in the transfer.
The Audio: The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound makes use of the rear speakers a few times and the score by Brian Tyler fills the speakers perfectly. The vocals are easily audible and overall sound quality is as good as you could want.
Extras: This single disc edition is packed with great features and all of them are worth viewing. Included on the disc is an episode of the Sundance Channel's Anatomy of a Scene. For those unfamiliar, the show takes one scene from the film-in this case the drive from the FBI office with McConaughey and Boothe-and deconstructs it from script to screen. Every phase of the production is covered, from the score, set design, editing and more. Lots of details are revealed and you'll learn that the headlights behind the car are really to flashlights taped to a stick. The second documentary is one filmed on and around the set that presents a more general look behind the scenes. It offers a few interesting facts and delves into the methods that Paxton used when directing the film and his influences.
There are three commentary tracks packed onto this single-disc edition and all are excellent, with Paxton's standing out as the strongest. He offers up tons of information regarding the little details in every scene, as well as revealing all the details about the production. He readily admits to his strengths and weaknesses and rarely pauses during the commentary.
The second commentary is from part of the production staff and key players. The film's main producer David Kirschner and cinematographer Bill Butler offer up more behind the scenes details and facts than anyone can hope to remember. Livelier because of the number of people involved, it's still not as interesting as Paxton's commentary.
The last commentary track comes from first-time screenwriter Brent Hanley. Another interesting commentary, he offers up an outside and new perspective to the filmmaking process. Since Paxton had Hanley on set for most of the filming he also offers up his take on the whole process as well.
Last up are three deleted scenes. All three have commentary with Paxton and he explains where each was in the original cut and why they were cut. He subscribes to the school of thought that every shot should move the story and that's why a few of these scenes were cut. None are terribly bad in a way that some scenes are and could have easily worked in the film, but would have likely slowed it down. Also included are storyboard and photo galleries that show many of the images used in making the film.
Overall: Paxton has produced a fine film and Lions Gate has given it the treatment it deserves. Packed with features and produced with care, it adds up to a great DVD that should be included in every collection. A throwback to classic horror and suspense, Frailty offers a taut look at a serial killer and his motives that may or may not be altruistic.