In the opening scene of FRAILTY, a man calls his brother and tells him that the world is full of demons. He then takes a gun and blows his brains out. Like the film itself, this scene is telling the truth and lying at that same time. The intricate plotting of this disturbing Southern gothic reveals everything and yet, using the audiences preconceived notions, makes each fact a surprise and each fiction a shock.
The story is told in flashback by Fenton Mieks, a mysterious stranger played with effectively eerie calm by Matthew McConaughey. On a stormy
The instruments, found by Dad in an old barn where a beam of sunlight leads him, are an axe, a hefty piece of pipe, and gloves. The list comes in due course, channeled by Dad onto a cheap dime store notepad. Though we are given brief glimpses of Miek’s visions, most strikingly a car chassis that morphs into a gothic cathedral barely containing a sword-wielding angel, the tale is told from Fenton’s point of view. A point of view that serves as the film’s surrogate for us, the audience, as Dad Mieks brings victims home and forces his sons first to watch as he takes the axe to them, and then to help bury them in the municipal rose garden next to their home.
Paxton, who was directed to one of the best performances of his career by Sam Raimi in A SIMPLE PLAN, obviously picked up a few pointers the which he applied to excellent effect as FRAILTY’s director. Shadows, fog, and low-key performances let the surprises and shocks leap out in sharp relief, provoking in the audience a visceral reaction. As the father, he’s full of an earnest, almost wholesome goodness that belies the blood-spattering mission he’s on.
Little by little, everything you assumed, all those seemingly solid facts that we take for granted, become as insubstantial as the smoke that they are going up in. By the end, you will have learned as much, if not more, about your world-view as you learn about these characters and the particular universe in which they live. FRAILTY, the title refers to the human condition, plays elegant mind games with its audience. The clues are there to be seen, but the paradigm they represent hide them in plain sight.