Lionsgate // 2001 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 24th, 2009
Only demons should fear me...and you're not a demon, are you?
Horror (or really any genre) works best when totally divorced from hype, because it's the rare feature that can actually live up to the exclamations of every third person that "this is the best film of the year/decade/millennium." Luckily for horror fans, Frailty, the directorial debut of Bill Paxton, did a modest bit of business before debuting with a decent DVD and sinking into obscurity. This is a good thing because Frailty is too good to deserve being ruined by hype. If you haven't seen it yet, and you have any appreciation for cerebral thriller/horror hybrids, then do yourself a favor and stop reading: just rent this Blu-ray disc and thank me later.
For those already familiar with the film, I'm happy to say it still holds up remarkably well despite the sea change in horror wrought by Saw and its ilk. I'm not so happy to say that there's very little reason to shell out for this hi-def upgrade, but for fans who've never purchased the flick it's the way to go.
The God's Hand killer has been plaguing Texas for quite a while when Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey, Dazed and Confused) walks into the office of the agent in charge of the case (Powers Booth, Tombstone) saying he knows who the killer is: his brother, Adam. To convince Agent Doyle, Fenton tells the story of how he and Adam grew up. Their father (Bill Paxton, Titanic), who raised the boys alone after their mother died in childbirth, received a vision from an angel saying that their family would be tasked with killing demons, demons in the form of human beings. Although Fenton is skeptical of his dad's mission, Adam goes merrily along as the killings start. Agent Doyle must unravel the connection between Dad Meiks' visions and his own God's Hand killer.
Horror can often be broadly categorized into those stories which challenge our bodies (the slasher/killer/monster movie) and those that challenge our minds (the demon/supernatural/insanity movie). Frailty falls firmly into the latter camp. Although the audience witnesses several murders in the film, the fear is not that the Meiks will come after us, but that if they're right, if demons live among us, then the world is a lot less safe a place than we thought.
In that way, Frailty is exactly the kind of story Stephen King has been using now for decades: take a couple of (pre-)adolescents and show them (and, by extension, us) just how many malignant and mysterious forces are behind the world of their parents. It's a great idea to hang a story on for several reasons, the main being it's something we can all relate to. Sure, not all of us have parents who are convinced that angels want them to kill, but I suspect that most people went through a period in their lives when the wider world of adults was a scary place where mysterious, illogical things happened. In fact, Frailty is only a horror movie because it's angels and not alcoholism that divide Fenton and his father. If the strange ideas came out of a bottle instead of divine intervention, then this would be a serious drama with award potential.
Credit should go to Paxton and his crew for treating the film like a serious drama despite the horror/thriller bent. The film could easily have devolved into a bloodbath, but Paxton took the high road, giving the film a more measured, creepy vibe. He's obviously influenced by Hitchcock (as he admits in the supplements), but the film doesn't feel "hitchcockian" in the way that word is commonly used. Instead, the film feels more organic, and the occasional fits of violence combine with the subtle power of the actors to create a film whose atmosphere hangs around long after the credits have rolled.
Now for the bad news, or at least the "eh" news: this Blu-ray disc is a simple port of the previous edition with slightly (and I emphasize slightly) improved audio and video. Owing to its low-budget origins, and the specific "look" of the film, Frailty is not a particularly impressive hi-def experience. Detail is generally higher than on the DVD, but the whole picture has a "soft" look that seems intentional but ensures that the added resolution doesn't do much. Some of the darker scenes aren't handled well, either, especially those in the rose garden. The DTS-HD track sounds fine, but with only a few exceptions the audio is mostly dialogue-based.
All the extras from the original DVD have been included as well. There are three audio commentaries. The first is from Paxton, and he's the most articulate and informative about the production and its origins. If you only dip into one extra on this disc, his commentary is the way to go. There are two other commentaries, one from the producers and one from the writer, which aren't bad but aren't as informative and on-point as Paxton's. There are two featurettes. One is a clip-heavy making-of, and the other is an episode of "Anatomy of a Scene" from the Sundance Channel that covers the car ride with Fenton and Agent Doyle. Both are interesting, but the "Anatomy" featurette gets more into the meat of the shoot. There are also some deleted scenes with optional commentary from Paxton which are worth watching, in addition to some storyboards and a photo gallery.
I don't want to spoil Frailty for anyone by suggesting it's the greatest movie ever, but it is a solid little cerebral horror/thriller beast that deserves a wider audience than it seems to have earned. Luckily for newcomers this Blu-ray disc is packed with nice extras and a solid (though not earth-shattering) hi-def presentation. For those who already own the initial DVD, I can't recommend an upgrade. Frailty simply doesn't benefit that much from increased resolution and all the extras are repeats.
Frailty is not guilty, even if this Blu-ray isn't for the faithful.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery