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Lions Gate presents

Frailty (2002)

"Only demons should fear me. And you're not a demon... are you?"- Dad (Bill Paxton)

Stars: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey
Other Stars: Powers Boothe, Matthew O'Leary, Jeremy Sumpter
Director: Bill Paxton

Manufacturer: Crest Digital Media
MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language
Run Time: 01h:39m:38s
Release Date: 2002-09-17
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-A- B+


DVD Review

Religious extremism is a frightening thing for those who don't subscribe to it. It's easy to discount end-of-the-world cults like Heaven's Gate. Most Americans have no problem calling the misguided (and misunderstood) religious fervor that led to the 9/11 attacks utter insanity. Many religious leaders claim knowledge of what must be done in life to wind up in the right place after death. Some of these people are called fanatics—David Koresh and Jim Jones were demonized by the mainstream press (for obvious reasons). But what if one of these extremists was right? In Frailty, a surprisingly smart thriller from actor/director Bill Paxton, a ordinary man believes he's been called by God to enact His will, and he's so convinced of his calling, he'll kill to carry it out—and ask his two young boys to do the same.

The boys are Fenton (Matthew O'Leary) and younger brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter). Their normal lives are shattered when their father (Paxton) enters their room in the middle of the night with wild eyes, excitedly telling his sons of a vision from God. He says that an angel visited, telling him of the end of the world, explaining that his family had been chosen to act as God's servants on earth, called to destroy demons disguised as people. The impressionable Adam quickly accepts what his father has told him, but Fenton fears for his father's sanity. "Dad, these are people's names," he says when he sees his father's list of "demons."

Dad is a fascinating character. He's not an abusive father—by all accounts he's a peaceful man, and he loves his sons dearly. But he's been called. When Fenton objects, he simply tells him "This is our job now, son.". He doesn't think of himself as a murderer, even after he collects the first victim, a young waitress, and kills her in front of his boys. He's simply destroying a demon as God commanded.

Much of the film is told through flashback as Fenton (played, as an adult, by Matthew McConaughey) visits an FBI agent (Boothe) with the body of his dead brother in tow and a story to tell the agent, who is investigating a serial murderer known as the God's Hand killer. Long flashbacks illustrate Fenton's struggle to pull his father from his delusions. "I knew it was wrong, but I loved my father," he says.

Frailty is the most intelligent horror film in ages. It's sad, haunting, and fascinating. The twists and turns of the plot never fail to entertain, and I'll do well to remind you that even stories told in flashback can surprise you in many ways—witness The Usual Suspects. But this film is about more than just watching the story unfold. We're always questioning the events—is Fenton telling the truth? Dad claims that he knows a person is really a demon when he touches them—his hands reveal their true nature. Is he right? Are the visions real? We see them, but through whose eyes? It's rare to find an intense thriller that's so wonderfully ambiguous, even when it ends.

Paxton, who has, in recent years, become something of a punching bag in Hollywood (Saturday Night Live accurately dubbed him the "poor man's Bill Pullman"), has more than proven himself to me with this directorial debut. He pulls wonderful performances from child actors in difficult roles, and does a fine job in front of the camera himself. He tells the story with remarkable subtlety, realizing the power of restraint. Frailty has moments of violence, but no real gore. It's terrifying, but not explicit. Along with cinematographer Bill Butler (The Conversation), writer Brent Hanley, and editor Arnold Glassman, Paxton has crafted an elegant ode to gothic horror and a remarkable, unpredictable film.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Lion's Gate has done a nice job with this transfer, creating an image that is very smooth and film-like. Most noticeably, black level is quite good (essential for such a dark film). Shadow detail in these darker scenes if fairly good as well, though I suggest watching in total darkness, as it can be a bit difficult to make out the detail in darker scenes otherwise. In other scenes, colors look natural, if a bit on the muted side—likely the intent of cinematographer Bill Butler. Edge enhancement is thankfully absent throughout, and I noted only one brief instance of aliasing. Very fine work overall.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Though the soundtrack isn't frequently flashy, this 5.1 mix does much to enhance the atmosphere and add to the film's creepiness-factor. Dialogue is anchored in the center channel and always clear, while the rest of the front soundstage expands nicely to support the score, with nice directionality for sound effects. The surrounds offer plenty as well, enhancing the score and handling subtle immersive effects like rain and rustling leaves.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Liberty Stands Still, The Dead Zone: The Series
4 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Bill Paxton; editor Arnold Glassman, producer David Kirschner, composer Brian Tyler; writer Brent Hanley
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:11m:35s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still Gallery
Extras Review: Lion's Gate has produced a nice special edition for Frailty, quickly proving themselves the indie studio to beat when it comes to the creation of a pleasing DVD for an independent film.

Three (3!) full-length commentary tracks are offered, each featuring different members of the creative team behind Frailty. The first, with actor/director Bill Paxton, is probably the most compelling. He describes his involvement with the picture, and outlines his directorial style, but focuses, for the most part, on acting and character motivation. He also offers some cute on-set anecdotes about the child actors. The crew commentary, from editor Arnold Glassman, producer David Kirschner, and composer Brian Tyler, covers some of the same ground as Paxton's chat, but it is nice to hear from Tyler, who offers his take on composing suspense music without being too obvious. Finally, screenwriter Brent Hanley talks about taking the story from concept to screenplay, again covering some of the same ground as the other two tracks (but this one is still worth a listen, if only to hear how director—and friend of Paxton—James Cameron influenced the editing of the script). All three tracks are generally very interesting, but I wouldn't recommend listening to them one after the other, as, again, there is a bit of repetition betwixt them.

The Making of Frailty, with a running time of 20 minutes, is a better than average HBO-style featurette. There are, of course, the requisite film clips and talking head interviews with the actors and director (all of whom describe the story and the characters they play), but there's also some great on-set footage, as well as a lot of information about casting and finding the right director for the material. I especially enjoyed the clips of Paxton goofing around on the set with the actors who play his sons. Anatomy of a Scene runs a bit longer, at just over 25 minutes. An episode of the Sundance program, this documentary takes an in-depth look at the craft that went into creating the climactic final scene of the film. It's very informative, with nice interviews with Paxton and cinematographer Bill Butler, but it's also quite spoiler-heavy, so make sure you've seen the film before you watch this one.

Four deleted scenes are provided with optional commentary from Paxton. He explains why they were cut (mostly for pacing), but I appreciate their inclusion here. All of the scenes offer worthwhile character moments, and two feature some cute humor from the younger boy (deleted to keep tension high and pressure building).

A photo gallery offers around 40 stills, and storyboards are provided for three scenes: Magic Weapons, The Angel, and The Sheriff. The theatrical trailer is also included, along with a trailer gallery (accessible only by highlighting the Lion's Gate logo on the main menu) with clips for Wesley Snipes' Liberty Stands Still and the first DVD release of The Dead Zone: The Series.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

Bill Paxton proves himself as a director with Frailty, a subtle, thoughtful, gothic slasher that's easily the most chilling film of 2002. Finally, a movie lives up to its compelling premise, as does the DVD from Lion's Gate.

Joel Cunningham 2002-09-15