3 stars

by Stephen Notley

"Frailty." It's not a title that really says a whole lot. Isn't it that movie where Bill Paxton starts getting messages from God telling him to start killing people, because they're really demons in disguise, while his two sons freak out that their dad has become a serial killer? Yep, that's the one.

This is Bill Paxton's directorial debut, but the direction is nothing fancy. Workmanlike is the word. To be sure, it's good work -- simple, controlled, with straightforward shots and camera angles that tell the story. You're not going to see any camera fly-throughs of an axe cleaving somebody's brain, but you will see a lot of very functional work with kid actors and himself, Bill Paxton, as the star.

There are really two movies here, and while neither of them is exactly *scary*, per se, there's stuff that works in both of them. The big movie, the bulk of the film, is all set in the past. See, in the present, Matthew McConaughey goes into a police station and tells them he knows who the God's Hand killer is. Who is it? asks the cop. My brother, says McConahey. Would you care to explain that? asks the cop. Ah, well, when I was a kid, my Dad was Bill Paxton, and one day he... and off we go to flashbackland.

As I say, Bill Paxton as a Dad with a creepy new mission from God isn't really scary, but he's... well... creepy. You don't usually see serial killer movies with a whole serial killin' family, and when you do, it's usually in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vein, where everybody's in on it and grooves the murdering. Here, it's realer. Dad just goes nuts one day, and he sets out calmly, caringly getting his two sons on board with his serial killer delusions.

Some of this movie's ads compare it to The Shining, which is a pretty bizarre comparison. If anything, Frailty is the anti-Shining. If The Shining is all about a father who hates hates *hates* his family, Frailty is about a dad who loves loves *loves* them. Paxton's best work in this movie is in front of the camera, and he really sells this Dad character, full of good-Dad firmness and reasonableness. He truly wants his sons to understand how important his mission is, to join him, to help him, because to him it's totally real.

You expect him to go flakey, for his crazy religious obsession to fly out of control and leave him stalking young Matthew McConaughey with a pair of hedge clippers. But he doesn't. He's kindly and caring  and moral-seeming throughout, making sure to draw the ever-important distinction between killing people vs. destroying demons. True, it's a little hard to believe what he's saying when he's down in the cellar chop-chop-chopping up his next duct-taped, squirming victim, but Paxton makes it work.

Eventually, all the Bill-and-his-kids stuff comes to a head, and then we move on to the second part of the movie: that is, the twist. The twisty stuff in Frailty, naturally, all revolves around Matthew McConaughey's present-day goings-on, and while it's not scary, it's kinda... interesting. Your typical thriller twist ending makes the audience go "Ohhhhh... I get it." This one's more like "Uh-wha?", then you take a few minutes to kind of figure it out, and then it's "Um, okay, sure." Like most good movies twists, it inverts most or all of what you've seen before, and... well, I'm not going to say any more about it. If you're curious, see the movie.