Review Date: January 19, 2003
Released by: Lions Gate Films
Release date: 9/17/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
"The most disturbing picture I've ever seen since The Shining
". Now with a quote like that comes raised expectations, especially when it is said by horror legend Sam Raimi. The film in context? Frailty
, the 2002 sleeper by actor-turned-director Bill Paxton. As are many director's debuts, this film was praised upon its initial release. Most of the praise came from friends and past associates, but it was still praise nonetheless. Now, thanks to Lions Gate, Frailty
has made its way onto DVD in a loaded special edition. Is the film worthy of the praise its been getting, or is the praise merely in respect to Paxton as a person?
The film begins with Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey
) sitting in an empty police station. Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe
) enters, and asks Fenton what the problem appears to be. Fenton confesses to him that he knows who is responsible for the recent slew of murders by the unnamed "God's Hand". It was his brother. "Facts like this don't come that easy", Doyle gestures, but when Fenton begins to describe the past leading up to this confession, the pieces begin to fall into place, or do they?
The film jumps back to 1979, where it stays for most of the film, with Fenton and his brother Adam skipping through the local rose garden in front of their house. They are good kids, and live with a caring and gentle father played by Bill Paxton. Their peaceful and loving relationship is offset however when Paxton has a dream which he believes was transmitted by God. The dream tells Paxton that there are demons in the world disguised as people, and Paxton has been chosen to kill them and clean the world of sin. He begins doing his duties, involving his sons in the process, and all their lives become greatly affected.
Back in the present, Fenton confides in Doyle that he knows where the bodies have been buried, and they thus go on a journey to find them. Like the darkly lit scenes in the film though, there are still several shadows and unknowns in Fenton's story. There is still plenty of back-story as well as future revelations to be exposed in the film. Frailty
twists and turns like a snake until it slithers upon its disturbing conclusion.
is a rich and disturbing modern gothic, laced with inspiration by Hitchcock and other masters of the macabre. Shot with lengthy pans and atmospheric lighting by cinematographer Bill Butler (Jaws
, Child's Play
), the film creates a convincingly stark past and present. Even the desaturated and golden look of the 1979 frame has a degree of mystery and disturbance to it. This is a dark film, and no matter what the scene, the film always seems ominous and distressed. The look of the film is very masterful and it really helps develop the sinister and involving story.
Scripted by Brent Hanley, the story manages to slowly creep up on the viewer while at the same time keep them on the edge of his or her seat. The pacing is slow, but the material absorbing, and the story never feels drawn out or plodding. I questioned in my review of The Believers
at what point does religious devotion go to far, but did not really find an answer. The Believers
brought up ideas which it could not answer, Frailty
makes not this mistake. The idea of acting as a punisher for God is not merely a setup for violence and gore in this film, in fact there is hardly a drop of bloodshed in the picture at all, although it feels like there is. This is a film that uses the idea of religion to create an affective story with real characters, it doesn't just use the idea to drive its story like in The Believers
Nothing in this film seems forced. Even in the twisty conclusion everything unfolds with ease and plausibility. Bill Paxton is so confident with the merit of the story that he allows his film to progress with a pace that emphasizes suspense, not resolution. He keeps the viewer guessing, even though in most cases they already know what is happening. We wait for the payoff of each scene, but nothing is really shown. The payoff comes through the craft of the film that is able to satisfy emotions with its serious and labored direction. Paxton lets the camera dwell in close up on the characters, showing what they are really feeling, while moments later lets the camera dwell in the dark, in mystery. Every shot, composition and line of dialogue seems to have a subtext identifiable through multiple viewings.
This isnít a film with a lot of action or even a lot of ideas. But the focus and development of its central theme of sin and disbelief allows the material to really leave an impression. Paxton really deserves recognition here, not only for his assured directorial debut, but also for his performance as Dad in the film. His transition from a rational loving father to a vile servant of God is done with such an admirable restraint that he is able to do what few actors can do. He is able to create pathos for his character, even while he goes through with his disturbing actions. We care for this character, as we care for the film. His character is reserved and composed, just like the filmís presentation, and it is a joy to witness.
Few films these days seem to be competent enough to tell a story that isnít about action or violence. Frailty
is about violence, but it doesnít need to show it to be effective. It is about Fentonís story and how it unfolds. Many have balked at the filmís ending, saying it is a cop out and too far fetched. The real problem though, is that this film ends at all. The way this film tells its story is so involving and compelling that one wishes it would never end. I think that is the best compliment you can give Frailty
Lions Gate presents the film in a crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Given that the film was shot recently, the print is free of any defects and very sharp. Depth and lighting is a key factor in this film, and thankfully this transfer presents both clearly and exceptionally. The greens of the rose garden are very vibrant, and the blacks of the shadows are as deep as ink. The edge enhancement is kept at a minimum, and the transfer looks very film like. Bill Butlerís compositions look just as good here as they did in the theater, kudos to Lions Gate.
is presented in a lively Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and it sounds great. There is an active use of the surrounds, be it passing cars, fire, the cracking of wood or the swing of an axe, it all sounds great. There are a few very tense moments that are sustained in the rears by the filmís shrilling soundtrack. The film is slow moving, but remarkably the audio seems to always contain a considerable amount of depth. It is very engulfing and really builds the suspense throughout the picture. It is not as action packed as most recent 5.1 tracks, but neither is the film itself.
Lions Gate is relatively new at the DVD medium, but based on their sensational special editions for Monsterís Ball
, Rose Red
and now Frailty
, they are quickly proving themselves to be one of the best independents in the market. The most substantial extras on the disc are three screen-specific audio commentaries. The first is will Director/Star Bill Paxton, and it is the best track on the disc, although all of them are solid. Right from the Lions Gate logo he is bursting with information and really has an admiration for his film and all involved. By listening to this commentary, one really respects the ideas and control he appeared to have over every facet of the film.
Editor Arnold Glassman, producer David Kirschner and composter Brian Tyler compose the second commentary. This is a smorgasbord of opinions by three very different people involved in the filmís production. They play off one another nicely, and they all seem to be having a good time. The third commentary is with the writer, Brent Hanley, complete with a southern drawl and all. He isnít quite as active as the other participants in the other commentaries, but he still has a fair bit to say about the film. He spends most of his time talking about the story and the motivations of the characters, even bringing up Ebert & Roeper in the process.
Next up are two featurettes, "The Making of Frailty
" and "Anatomy of a Scene". "The Making of Frailty
" is a nice 20 minute look into the filmís production. Almost all of the cast and crew are involved at some point in this featurette, giving plenty of different opinions on the movie. There is also a storyboard to film comparison included in the featurette, as well as a bit of time spent dealing with lighting the car scene. The car scene is destructed much further in the "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette, which ran on the Sundance channel. It runs 26 minutes, and it is a great look at how that car scene evolved from concept to finished product. Behind-the-scenes footage of the directing, lighting, shooting, and editing are included here, and the featurette subsides with the finished product of the scene in the film. This is one of the best looks into the filmmaking process Iíve had the pleasure of seeing.
A very interesting batch of deleted scenes are included on the disc with or without commentary with Bill Paxton. There are four clips that tally 9 minutes, creatively named: "Bible", "Tape", "Digging", and "Protect Us". The scenes are very good on their own, but Paxton explains why they just donít fit in with the finished film. Also included on the disc are three short but sweet storyboards, one for "Magical Weapons", another for "The Angel" and the last one for "The Sheriff".
There is also a photo gallery on the disc that features around 50 well-photographed stills from the film. Rounding out the disc is a full screen theatrical trailer for Frailty
, and also trailers for The Dead Zone
TV series and Liberty Stands Still
accessible by the hidden Lions Gate logo on the main menu. There is enough material to keep one occupied for hours, and thankfully everything on here is well worth checking out.
Great film, great DVD. Frailty
was one of the best films of 2002, with great performances, plotting and presentation. It certainly lived up to the intense praise it received from people like Raimi and Stephen King. The audio and visual transfers are cream of the crop, and the supplements are diverse and interesting. Given that this is a film that warrants multiple viewings, this is easily a recommended purchase to any horror fan out there. If you donít buy this DVD then you might just be a demon.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - A
Sound - A-
Supplements - A
- Running time - 1 hour 40 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Audio commentary by director Bill Paxton
- Audio commentary editor Arnold Glassman, producer David Kirschner (I) and composer Brian Tyler
- Audio commentary by writer Brent Hanley
- "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette from the Sundance Channel
- "The Making of Frailty" featurette
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Bill Paxton
- Photo gallery
- Trailers for The Dead Zone and Liberty Stands Still