FRAILTY ($25) is a tense and an intense thriller, as well as being a surprisingly assured directorial debut from actor Bill Paxton. In some ways FRAILTY is an old fashioned movie, insomuch that there is little blood and gore on display, plus there are allusions to films like HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE and STRAIT-JACKET, in which bloodless axe murders were prominently featured. Still, FRAILTY comes like a bolt out of the blue- a genuine surprise of a movie that provides jolts, while it firmly holds the viewer in its grip. Told in flashback, FRAILTY plays like a little southern gothic with its tale of madness, religious mania and serial killings that span two generations.
On a rainy Texas evening, a man named Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) walks into the FBI office and announce that he knows the identity of the long sought "God's Hand" serial killer. Fenton then recounts the tale of his childhood, in which his seemingly normal widowed father announces in the middle of the night that he has been visited by an angel who has told him that he has been chosen by God to rid the world of demons that have taken human form. What follows are Felton's childhood recollections of the abductions and brutal axe killings that came at the hands his father, as well as the effect that his father's mania has on Felton's more impressionable younger brother Adam. As gruesome and disturbing as FRAILTY sounds, the film rises well above my description of the material thanks to assured performances from McConaughey, Powers Boothe as FBI Agent Wesley Doyle and Bill Paxton as the boys' father. Additionally, much of the film's weight is carried on the shoulders of young performers Matthew O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter, who portray Felton and Adam. Both of whom deliver natural, unfettered performances, which goes a long way to enhance the story’s believability and to give it a must more disturbing edge.
Lions Gate Home Entertainment has made FRAILTY available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a very good-looking transfer of a modestly budgeted film. In general, the image is sharp and well defined. There is a bit of softness here and there, but nothing really worth noting or complaining about. Colors have a solid level of saturation and the flesh tones appear quite natural. Blacks are pretty pure and the contrast is generally smooth. Shadow detail is good, but not quite at the level of a larger budget movie. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts well concealed.
FRAILTY features a very effective Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. The entire sound field is pretty active, although not with the kind of sound effects that draw attention to themselves. There is a lot of subtlety in the sound design, as well as effects that highlight the film's more intense moments. Additionally, the mix is rather ambient and natural sounding much of the time, with the surround channels enhancing the film's sense of atmosphere, as well as providing fill to Brian Tyler's musical score. Dialogue is crisp and always completely understandable. The bass channel is solid enough to give the necessary oomph to key moments. There are no other language tracks on the DVD, but there are English and Spanish subtitles included.
Animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's stylishly somber interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of supplemental features. Like the movie itself, the supplements are something of a surprise, as FRAILTY the DVD features three separate audio commentaries. On the first track is director/star Bill Paxton, on the second is producer David Kirschner, editor Arnold Glassman and composer Brian Tyler, while the third features Brent Hanley. All three commentaries look at the material from different perspectives, but the average viewer should definitely start with Paxton, and then decide if they want to continue on to the other two tracks.
The Making of Frailty featurette runs just under twenty minutes and is stronger on content than a typical program of this type. Anatomy of a Scene is a twenty-five minute program from the Sundance Channel that focuses on the complexities and the movie magic behind one of the film's key sequences. Over eight minutes of deleted scenes are also included on the DVD, and they are viewable with the option of director's commentary. A still gallery, storyboards and theatrical trailer close out the DVD's supplements.
FRAILTY is a surprising good gothic thriller that proves that small movies have the capacity to outshine the over-budgeted blockbusters that Hollywood has made into their bread and butter. This standout directorial debut from Bill Paxton will probably get more exposure on DVD than it did in the theater, which is fine since Lion's Gate has produced a disc with a solid presentation and a strong supplement section. If you missed FRAILTY in the theater, don't miss it on DVD.
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