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Frail·ty, n.; 1. The condition quality of being frail, physically, mentally, or morally, frailness; infirmity; weakness of resolution; liableness to be deceived or seduced.
God knows our frailty, [and] pities our weakness. --Locke.
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.