Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ten Statements About....FRAILTY (2001)

This may not look like a weapon of divine retribution...
“You're my son, and I love you more than my own life. But you know what's funny about all of this, Fenton? I'm afraid of you."

1) One of the brilliant things in a film filled with brilliant things is Bill Paxton’s performance as the unnamed patriarch of the Meiks clan....because he is able to convey that he’s a good father even as he becomes obsessed with his new calling in life.  This makes his decision midway through the film thoroughly logical (even as that decision may have led to both his fate and the fate of his sons).

2) I have to wonder if writer Brent Hanley is a fan of writer Jim Thompson; not only does the film have a narrative feel similar to Thompson’s work, part of the film’s resolution seems to quote an aspect of one of his most famous (and twice filmed) novels, The Killer Inside Me.

3) I am so grateful that Paxton knew that the violence in the film needed to be implied.  If we actually saw the ax murders on screen it might distract from the fact that this film is purportedly a psychological character piece about how one person copes with the rest of his family being, in his mind, thoroughly and utterly insane.
...but this man would disagree....

4) One thing I did not care for is how Hanley cements the bulk of the film as happening in 1979.  Given the universalities of the themes this film explores, the way the film stops so Adam and Fenton Meiks can debate about whether they should go see Meatballs or The Warriors or who’s the funniest character on The Dukes of Hazard distracts from the story while adding nothing.  The script would have been better served to keep the time frame ambiguous, to give the past segments more of a ‘fairy tale’ feel.

5) God bless Powers Boothe.  He’s one of those rare actors who can look like he’s working both sides of the fence in the same damn flick and never look like he’s faking one or the other.

6) You know why Matthew McConaughey is so perfect as our narrator?  His eyes have such a haunted look to them throughout the film.  Even though Paxton makes it pretty clear early on that this is an unreliable narrator film, McConaughey manages to make us forget it every time we look into his eyes.  After all, there’s so much pain in them, how can we not believe that he went through the horrific moral quandary depicted in his tale?
Sometimes family advice is not good advice...

7) This film would not work without the effective performances by Luke Askew and Jeremy Sumpter.  The twist that fuels the third act would not have worked without one of them creating enough of a resonance with McConaughey’s performance that we take something said in the present day as gospel.

8) I guess one of the reasons I found the twist so effective is how Paxton makes sure to make the trappings of Pa’s obsession seem so ordinary. When these three divine weapons turn out to be an axe, a pair of workman’s gloves and a lead pipe, we tend to downgrade the grandiosity of his delusions.  And by downgrading him, we are taken off guard when we realize the nature of what is really happening.

9)  I’m sure a lot of people balked at the supernatural element that’s introduced in Act Three...but even though Paxton gives us reasons not to believe there is the supernatural in this world, at no point does he ever definitively say there is no supernatural.  When the presence of the superatural is revealed, the moments where it presents itself in the first two acts do not contradict this new information.

10) I don’t know which is goofier--the dream that results from moonlight shining on a trophy, or the dream that shows a fully armored angel emerging from the undercarriage of an auto....but maybe that goofiness is intentional, and plays into the impact Paxton wants the big reveal to have.

Overall...a very nuanced horror film that addresses the concept of morality emphasizing atmosphere over gore, cleverly directed and well written.

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