To get into the mind of a serial killer can be close to an impossible task. With everything going on in the world, there can be many triggers that can change a seemingly normal and functioning mind into that of a psychotic and murderous lunatic. This is the strongest part of the film Frailty, the directorial debut of the well known character actor Bill Paxton and the feature screenwriting debut of Brent Hanley. This movie made a big mark when it was released in 2001, with people like James Cameron, Sam Raimi, and Stephen King all hailing it as one of the best horror films to come out in years. This is a powerful movie that would’ve been a perfect psychological thriller if it wasn’t for a god awful ending that has the potential to spoil the entire experience.
In the present day, FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) is called into the office late one night because a man calling himself Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) says he has important information on the serial killer known as the “God’s Hand Killer.” According to Fenton, his brother Adam, who has recently committed suicide, is the killer. The evidence for his claims dates back to 1979, where the younger Fenton (Matt O’Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are living a simple yet happy life with their widower father (Bill Paxton). That happiness is destroyed one night when their father claims to have been visited by an angel with the instructions to collect a grouping of holy weapons then find and destroy demons that are walking the earth disguised as humans. As the bodies begin to pile up, the young Fenton becomes more and more uncomfortable with his father’s “mission” and knows that somehow he has to put a stop to it. In the present time, as an older Fenton recants this story, Agent Doyle begins to suspect that something isn’t right with this mysterious visitor in the night.
The first two thirds of this movie are really something special in the most dark and twisted kind of way. What we have is a brutally clever and psychological story about a man who seems to lose all sense of reality, and in doing so completely shatters the psychological well being of his two young sons. This makes for a very interesting story that was made scary by its realism. Anyone who reads up on serial killers knows that for a lot of them, God is a major factor in their twisted psyches. This isn’t to say that all serial killers murder people because of God, but there have been instances in the past where the phrase “God told me to do it” has been uttered. It didn’t have to be God that made Fenton’s father feel the need to kill. The whole point of interest is that he went from a normal human being to something a whole lot worse, but Frailty almost plays this in a way where we don’t want to hate the killer.
As I was saying, and let me really emphasize this, the first two thirds of the movie are note perfect and part of the reason is because of the superb acting on display. Matthew McConaughey doesn’t really have a huge part, but his acting is entirely believable and appropriately eerie. Bill Paxton steals the show as the perfect father who’s own supposed mental breakdown changes him into a totally different person. The part that Paxton is in is complicated, having the duty to portray a serial killer who the audience is supposed to understand and feel for in a way. He is still totally off the walls and makes for a frightening human being. Even the two kids, Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter, do commendable work, which I really wasn’t expecting.
All’s going well so far. Then… Oh, then… A third act comes along that ruins the movie in a way that an ending has never done to me before. I don’t want to spoil anything, although it’s really difficult not to. There’s so much I want to say about this god awful joke of an ending. To summarize, let’s just say that it takes everything that was really cool, scary, and interesting and completely throws it all out the window for some bullshit twist. Ever since The Sixth Sense, it seems almost obligatory that psychological thrillers of this kind have some kind of twist to them. Well, the difference between The Sixth Sense and Frailty is that the twist of Shymalan’s masterpiece is tricky and thought provoking instead of stupid, like what we see in Frailty.
I don’t want to say that Frailty is a bad movie solely because of the ending, because that wouldn’t be fair. In all honesty, Frailty is an above average psychological thriller that people seem to have forgotten. It deserves the praise that it’s gotten from people like Sam Raimi and Stephen King, but I can’t help but be really bothered that someone thought the ending was a good way to wrap up the story. I don’t want to dissuade anybody from seeing Frailty because it really is a good experience, just be ready when the ending completely throws you off due to the writer’s need to try to make the movie more thought provoking than it really needed to be.