Sunday, December 21, 2014

Frailty (2001)

Alright, last week's review was not very Christmassy. It was, in fact, not at all related to Christmas. But this week I have truly found the meaning of the holiday in a religious horror film that shows the roots of this festive time of year – a belief and devotion to Christ, whose birthday we should all revere and celebrate instead of that fat jolly red bastard who really just represents the evils of American capitalism. 

With that said, this is a movie about a guy who gets visions from “God” that tell him to go murder people who are apparently demons. Now that's festive!

Director: Bill Paxton
Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaghuey

This movie and I have a long history together. See, I used to rent a lot of horror movies at now-defunct video rental giant Blockbuster. I became fascinated early on with horror movies, and often would try and rent random ones that nobody ever heard of in an attempt to find a really, really good one. Most of the time, these movies turned out to be complete shit. Other times they were mildly okay with flaws. Sometimes, though, I'd get a really good one. They were rare, but it was worth the effort. This was one of those few choices.

We start this one off with an FBI agent, Wesley Doyle, receiving a visit from Matthew McConaghuey's character, Fenton Meiks. It's painfully obvious this was before McConaghuey was a household name, because rather than be starstruck, Doyle is just confused as to why this weird guy is coming to his office in the middle of the night with stories about serial killers.

You shoulda seen the time George Clooney came to his office and started talking about sports statistics!

Fenton says he thinks the killer may be his brother, Adam. When asked why, Fenton says he used his incredible reasoning and deductive powers – while he was sitting on the couch getting wasted off his ass, Adam called him, made some damning comments about how the world was full of demons, and then shot himself in the head. I know, that really took a lot of deduction, right? He must be a super sleuth.

This is when I have all my best revelations too.
Do all serial killers HAVE to keep a board with newspaper clippings of their crimes? Seems a bit counterproductive...

As this was apparently a huge murder case in this city, Doyle asks Fenton to take him out to this garden where Fenton claims to have buried Adam. I guess they have to do it now rather than just asking Fenton for the address and going out with a proper forensics crew in the sunlight like sane people. That would just be too much of a hassle. No, of course they have to do it now! For dramatic effect!

In the car, Fenton reveals one of his many magic powers – when he speaks, the movie goes into Super Flashback Mode, to when he and Adam were happy little children in an idyllic small town. Their father is played by Bill Paxton, who comes home one night and tells his children that God has spoken to him and wants them to start “destroying demons” as part of a holy mission about the end of the world or something else silly like that. Rather than just start planting fliers on cars or screaming about it in front of college libraries during finals week, I guess Paxton is just a special kind of crazy who starts plotting to do it immediately.

The best time to manipulate your own children is when they're clearly half asleep!

Yeah. I guess there was no qualms about killing people from this apparently normal guy, huh? Not even a sliver of doubt? You could say he's just that into doing whatever God says, and as we don't know this character, you could be right about that. His brain, like many fervently insane zealots, is really just a black void with an Etch-a-Sketch in it waiting for God to use His hands to form ideas upon it.

What follows this is several scenes of two children watching Bill Paxton kill people. While I'm sure that's exciting for Paxton, for those looking for that good old Christian spirit, it is a bit of a buzzkill. I must say, this is not doing its Christian duty at all.

I guess Adam, the younger brother, actually buys into all the bullshit Paxton is spewing about it being a calling from God. Usually you have to buy a kid a few video games to make him believe your holy murdering crusade, but Paxton doesn't look to have much money at all. Huh. Must just be a persuasive guy then.

For all the strangeness of these murdering scenes, I do have to give the movie one thing – it is quite creepy and unsettling to watch these scenes. With Paxton's dead-eyed stare and creepy 'enlightened religious zealot' cadence to his voice, followed with the grisly implications of the bodies being chopped up in that basement, it's pretty gruesome and chilling.

However, I do have to call the movie out for one of the strangest scenes in it – when young Fenton runs across town to the sheriff and tells him his dad is killing people, the sheriff just flat out doesn't believe him and mocks him as a liar. Why? Doesn't it at least merit checking out? He's accusing somebody of MURDER. I get that you're a small-town sheriff and you'd rather be doing the crosswords or humping your secretary than solving crimes. I get that your most devious cases usually just involve some kid drinking too much at the local bar. BUT COME ON. IT'S A MURDER CASE. You gotta at least look into it!

"I'm halfway into a bottle of Wild Turkey and was in the middle of watching the hockey match. How dare you disturb me for your petty causes like 'murder' and 'upholding the law of the land'?"

Even though the sheriff believes Paxton when Paxton says he isn't killing people, the sheriff goes and checks in the shed outside anyway. There's nothing there now and the sheriff still thinks Fenton is a liar, but Paxton comes in anyway and kills the sheriff with an ax. Why? He was on your side! With law enforcement like this, hell, I'd just start dropping decapitated bodies on his fucking lawn. Not like he'd care! Why kill him? He's your greatest ally in this killing spree and you just got rid of him.

Then Paxton locks Fenton up in this hole in the ground for a week until Fenton 'fesses up to believing in God and their murder-mission. Hell, stick me in a place like that for a week and I'd cop to seeing JFK murdered by aliens in flying saucers. I don't think this is quite a confirmation that Fenton is exactly on your side, Paxton – but I guess a guy who thinks God is instructing him how to kill people isn't really the sharpest pencil in the drawer.

I'm sure nothing bad will happen after this. Nope. Nothing!

The murders continue on their merry paths, until Fenton finally has enough and gives ole Paxton the ax:

"On second thought, maybe I shouldn't have believed you were on board with my religiously inspired killing spree! I guess I'm a real idiot!" 

Unfortunately, Adam takes over and kills the guy they were originally trying to kill. Boy, this sure isn't putting the Christ back in Christmas at all!

Not your grandfather's Christmas Story! Actually this movie doesn't take place around Christmas. Why am I trying to hammer this joke in?! WHY AM I SO UNFUNNY?!?

Then we go back to the present times, where Fenton reveals to Agent Doyle that he was really Adam Meiks all along, and Fenton was another serial killer altogether. It's here that the movie shows us there really were supernatural religious elements in play all along – they weren't just Paxton hallucinating. To demonstrate this, we see Adam now magically knowing that Doyle murdered his mother years and years ago:

The funniest thing about this scene is the fact that an old lady died. No, I'm kidding – it's that the movie never fucking explains why Doyle, who is apparently a regular FBI agent now, would kill his mother! Was it a bout of temporary insanity? Was she evil too? Is he just a sick fuck who needs to be locked up? I dunno. The movie never tells us. It's pretty much just a shockingly poorly written excuse for Adam to lure Doyle out there and tell him this whole story.

In addition, we also learn that while the guy we thought was Fenton was really Adam, the real Fenton was a serial killer, too! Yup. I guess that crazy gene runs in the family. Why did he become a killer? Because he was traumatized because his daddy was one? I dunno, it isn't very well fleshed out or established. I guess everyone in this universe is a serial killer! Call the world the Killerverse for all I care. Say that the old lady down the street kills orphans in the middle of the night for shits and giggles. Say the receptionist at the FBI building murdered her whole family last week and nobody found out. Go crazy!

After that we see Adam is actually the sheriff of this town now.

His opponent in the last election was the town's local pedophile. Because the only choices in this world are bad and worse!

I love this movie's stance on law enforcement. The only cops we see are a) a non-caring dipshit who doesn't even see accusations of murder as a big deal, b) a guy who killed his mother and c) a God-powered religious serial killer who makes Dexter Season 6 look like child's play. That's lovely. I'm sure the cops watching are just overjoyed at that!

This movie is still pretty frigging good. It's a solid thriller with good performances from the kids, especially given that they have to carry so much of the film. Paxton and McConaghuey do serviceably and the story is very solid overall. The fear comes from watching Paxton believing he's exactly right in murdering these people, and especially goading his young sons into it. That kind of thing could probably happen in real life, and things involving terror to children are scary as shit.

There were a few points I can see now aren't all that good, sure. Like the numerous holes in the plot whenever law enforcement is involved – come on, that sheriff should have known SOMETHING was up. And I guess the film is really weakened by the reveal at the end where you see McConaghuey and Paxton really did have some kind of supernatural powers to see people were evil. That kinda makes it too much like a Christ propaganda film of sorts...I mean, it still works overall, but the effect is a bit less, is all.

I would have preferred it remain more ambiguous as to whether or not there was anything supernatural. For that matter, keep it all in the past. Don't even show us the present at all, or if you have to, make it very minor parts at the beginning and ending. The scariest part of the film is the middle bit where you see Fenton and Adam as kids – just make a whole movie about that, from their eyes, and don't make it too obvious whether God really is telling them to kill demons or not. That would just be a better flick, and I'd find it even scarier than I found this.

Overall though? Still a good horror movie. Go check it out!

Though, now that I think about it, this wasn't very related to Christmas either. Huh. I guess the idea of God telling people to murder in his name isn't the part that those Christians really wanted Christmas to be about. My bad!

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