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Friday, March 24, 2017

Frailty

Bill Paxton, who died far too young last month, was the kind of actor that people might not have known his name, but knew him by sight. I was just looking at his filmography and there are movies I forgot he was in. He was kind of an everyman, who never stood out in a film, and instead filled a role perfectly, such as in Apollo 13 or One False Move or Tombstone. He was also the star of the HBO series Big Love, as a Mormon man with three wives.

But I think his greatest achievement was the 2001 Frailty, which I counted as my favorite film of that year. It was, essentially, a horror film, but is also a film about fathers and sons and faith and skepticism.

Paxton directed the film as well as starred as a typical single dad raising two sons. One day he awakens the boys and tells them he had a vision--an angel has told them that the end of the world is nigh, and they must destroy demons. These demons will look like people, but they mustn't be fooled, and will come to them in a list supplied by God.

This is all told by Matthew McConaughey, a grown man now who was one of Paxton's sons. He is telling the story to an FBI agent, Powers Boothe, who is investigating a serial killer called the "God's Hand" killer. McConaughey believes that man to be his brother, and that he just committed suicide. He takes Boothe to the rose garden where all the "demons" are buried.

The brilliant script was written by Brent Hanley, which explores how faith and madness are just two sides of the same coin. The older brother, Fenton, thinks is father is crazy, while the younger brother, Adam, believes in the cause. What are we to believe? We are certainly led to believe that Paxton is mad as a hatter, but a shocking twist in the end makes us review the entire film.

The film delivers horror by having Paxton kill his victims while they are bound and gagged, with an ax. Sometimes I think this is how I will end up, in the basement of some religious zealot wielding a sharp tool, tied up, my mouth covered in duct tape. These scenes are that vivid and that horrifying.

Paxton directed one other movie, The Greatest Game Ever Played, which I don't recall seeing. It's too bad that there won't be more films either directed by or featuring him.

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