Director: Bill Paxton
Cast: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe
Watch Frailty online in the UK: Netflix UK
With his death at the ridiculously young age of 61, it feels like we’ve been robbed of getting a film where we can all singularly celebrate the work of Bill Paxton. A supporting player of true force and director of only two films, there is a sense that he wasn’t truly covered in the glory he should have been. Sure, he’s loved as Hicks in Aliens, the punk in The Terminator or even the hard-ass military guy in Edge of Tomorrow, but his directorial credits paint the image of someone with a lot on his mind, more than those kinds of performances may let on. The first of those is Frailty, a film which shows Paxton as a man of true depth, while also having the filmmaking ability to creep you the hell out.
The story of a religious family cracking under the strain of the patriarch taking God’s work into his very human hands, you might expect a more exploitative picture than what you get. There are twists and chills here, but it’s not all histrionic shouting, even as a Southern father screams at his kids and cuts people up. Rather, Frailty’s a film built on a family that feels real, one which at the start of the story, at least, seems to get one with each other. So it’s all the more upsetting when this is shaken, thanks to the father’s insistence that he’s been given a mission by God, but that this mission doesn’t involve getting a band together.
Instead, he slays demons, with one son believing everything he is being told (which is understandable) and another convinced his father is murdering people (again, fair enough). Bill Paxton is perfect as the man who may or may not be going mad, but always truly loves his children throughout, and Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter are wholly convincing as the two boys caught up in this. Matthew McConaughey also shows the promise his career had before the leaning-on-posters phase, delivering a quiet, intense performance that counteracts nicely with Powers Boothe in their essentially two-handed scenes.
It’s important to note that Frailty’s not perfect. Some of the storytelling beats seem to come off as far bigger shocks to the characters in the film in comparison to those watching – an over-extended epilogue, in particular, beats the drum a little too much – and some of the casting is to type, with Powers Boothe doing the most Powers Boothe performance he’s ever Boothe’d. But aside from these, there’s a heck of a lot of solid work on display.
It’s all done with some wonderful restraint from Paxton in the director’s chair. The moments of violence are brief, with no real gore on display, the scenes depicting his message from God take on archetypal imagery, which feels like it could be the visions of a man who has seen a lot of religious imagery, but could be something else too, and the whole thing is grounded in a reality that makes the conclusion all the more impactful. This is a very good horror-inflected drama, which doesn’t have a lot to say, but tells a story well. Bill Paxton, both on screen and behind the camera, puts in a wonderful shift, displaying talents that feel all the more sorely missed.
Frailty is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.