I think Frailty, like You Can Count on Me, is one of those “if you don’t like it, you are dumb” movies. First off, it’s an excellent straight horror movie. Carla Meyer, of the SF Chronicle complained that the film didn’t work on a camp level because it was too dark. Uhhhh yeah. See, that’s because Frailty is from a genre of film known as “horror.” Horror films aspire to be dark and disturbing, so when they achieve those aspirations it’s actually a good thing, even though most of us don’t normally like to feel dark and disturbed. Those who dislike Frailty because it is dark should avoid The Shining, the films of Takeshi Miike and posing as professional film critics.
Part of the reason that so many horror films are campy is because making a good horror film is just too hard. Most people who try to do straight horror rely on hackneyed gimmicks that end up being funnily ineffective and therefore campy. Therefore, many directors just go for camp in the first place, so as to avoid looking foolish.
I have to admit, the fact that local gangbangers were driving up and down my street while I was watching this disc may have added to the creepiness I felt due to this film. Nonetheless, I am certain that Frailty has some very creepy scenes. The murder scenes convey the terror of the victims, the terror of the unbelieving son and the apparent lunacy of the dad without gimmicks or bombast. I kept thinking how terrifying it must be to realize that the person who has abducted you is completely mad and honestly thinks that you are a demon. There’s no talking your way out of that. The fact that the Dad is so sincere and kindly but at the same time so evil, is chilling.
Part of the overall creepiness comes from the uncertainty that runs through most of the film. How crazy is Dad? Will he kill anyone? Might he kill his own son? Is he crazy at all? Is Mathew McConaughey telling the truth? All of this uncertainty adds to the suspense, and we never feel comfortable. Great horror.
What is the most recent, good, American horror film besides Frailty? I’m drawing a blank. Good horror films may be the only thing rarer than good comedies, which makes Frailty a rare achievement.
So here’s the big twist at the end. The people being killed really are Demons. Some say this issue is ambiguous, but on his commentary track, writer, Brent Hanley says, “no.” The demons, angels and other mumbo jumbo are real in the world of the film. But that doesn’t change one of the more interesting aspects of the film, which is the depiction of the kind of mentality necessary to be an agent of God. Basically, in order to be an effective chosen one, when you see an angel who tells you to abduct and murder your neighbors, your first response must not be to check into a mental hospital, but to find an ax. Hanley says that the title vaguely refers to the frailty of morality and right and wrong. Think about it this way. In the world of this film, the characters are really killing demons and we are (perhaps) supposed to accept them agents of goodness. But the characters could have the same experiences and make the same decisions in another world and be serial killers of human beings.
Actually, I don’t think it’s that simple. Or maybe I think it’s simpler. In any case, I think this: regardless of whether the victims of the crimes are demons, the “agents of God” are acting wrongly. The fact that a vision tells you that someone is a demon is not enough reason to kill him because you might be wrong. Suicide bombers and the guys who murder abortionists are not just mistaken, they are evil because they act unjustifiably. Thinking that you are privy to God’s will does not give you a license to kill because human beings simply not in an epistemic position to know God’s will no matter what sense experiences they have.
But Salon.com’s Stephanie Zacharek thinks the film fails to deliver moral complexity. Yeah She too finds the film too dark and disturbing. In fact there were several critics in addition to Zacherek and Meyer who complained about the films darkness and violence as well. I want to say more mean and sarcastic things about those critics, but the movie deserves more attention.
One flaw in the film is that the Demons are just regular murderers. It seems like they are bad people rather than supernatural entities, which is a bit at odds with the rest of the film. If this was handled differently I think I could accept it – even if all of the Demons were serial killers. But the final Demon has only killed his own mother and when this fact is exposed, he seems to be paralyzed by fear and/or guilt. The whole thing doesn’t seem very demonic to me. Does ‘Demon’ just mean murderer? If so, why can’t God wait until this last Demon dies to punish him? And what was all the talk about Armageddon being at hand? Many of these problems just stem from the fact that Christianity is stupid, which isn’t the film’s fault. That’s my only gripe though. Frailty is a horror classic. I’m buying this.
I listed to Paxton’s commentary. The usual stuff with some decent incite. I listened to half of Hanley’s commentary, mostly hoping that he would tell us if the demons were supposed to be real. The commentary wasn’t bad. There is still another commentary from the producers and some other stuff as well.
- Overall: 9
- Direction: 8
- Acting: 8
- Story: 9
- Re-watchability: 7
Special Ruthless Ratings:
- Number of times the movie was paused to do something else: 0
- Number of beers needed to fully enjoy movie: Zero. Be sure to finish eating and drinking before the end.
- Number of times since you’ve seen the movie that you had to stop eating soup because you realized that it looked like Asami’s bowl of vomit: 1
- Number of times you wondered how Clean Flicks would handle this one: 5