Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 10/31/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.


This week’s Friday’s Featured Film post provided me with a choice. Do I take the Reformation Day route and review Luther, or do I go the Halloween route and review something a bit scarier? Since I’ve already done a Reformation-themed post, I’ll go the secondary route and take a look at Frailty – a small and largely unknown horror film from 2001. Despite being a Halloween rather than a Reformation Day-themed pick, the movie is not devoid of theological significance, and it’s one that Christians who are fans of the horror genre will likely find quite fascinating – as well as disturbing.

The movie begins with Fenton Meeks (Matthew McConaughey) walking into the office of FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe). Doyle has been hunting the notorious “God’s Hand” serial killer, and Fenton has come to confess that the killer is his brother, Adam. In response to Doyle’s questions, Fenton tells the story of his childhood, which is presented in extended flashback and comprises the bulk of the film. When Fenton (played by Matt O’Leary in his younger iteration) was entering his teenage years, he and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), who was about 10, were being raised by their dad (Bill Paxton, who also makes his directorial debut). Their father was a hard-working, loving, God-fearing, blue-collar single dad doing his best to raise the boys. One night, however, everything changed. The boys are awoken in the middle of the night by their father, who says that he has received a vision from God. God, he says, has informed him that the end of days is near, and he and the boys have been tasked with destroying demons. The horrifying catch is that these demons will appear to be people. An angel will give them the names of those who are to be killed, and he will provide the weapons (an old axe and a lead pipe) to be used. As the three kidnap their first “demon” for the slaughter, young Adam blindly follows his zealous father while the horrified Fenton suspects that his dad isn’t a holy executioner but a madman.

Without getting into spoilers, the film is basically the story of Fenton and Adam’s different reactions to their father’s actions, and what effects those reactions have on their lives. It is here that I found a very interesting theological issue arising – namely the importance of normative revelation (i.e. Scripture) to the life of faith. I can’t get into too many specifics without spoiling things, but I’d be interested to hear what others who saw the film have to say. If you’ve seen the movie, leave me a comment and we’ll discuss. If you haven’t seen the film, consider the comments section a spoiler zone. As a piece of entertainment, the movie is a fantastic success. Paxton’s rookie effort behind the camera is a great one, and his terrific portrayal of the elder Meeks lends some sympathy to what could have been a caricature of a character. The boys are pretty good for child actors, and their innocence only makes the film all the more disturbing as they watch their father slaughter his victims. The movie is about as dark as they come, thematically, and the cinematography conveys the sense of unease and dread palpably. Let me warn you – if you are turned off by horror films or graphic violence, best leave this one on the shelf. However, if you like a good thriller and are tired of the gratuitous, self-indulgent, cookie-cutter slashers that seem to hit the theaters on a weekly basis anymore, let Frailty give your nerves a jolt and your brain some questions to ponder. - **** (out of four)

Frailty is rated R for violence and some language.


Darius said...

Great movie, I was enthralled by it.

Darius said...

A couple comments... one, you need more readers; you have a nice blog. I may add a link to yours (both as a reminder for me to check it and as a referral). Two, the "graphic violence" isn't really very graphic, almost 100% of the violence is done off-screen.

I agree about the importance of Scripture in one's faith walk. The two sons were basically the two ends of the spectrum; one recognized that murdering these people (no matter how evil they actually were) went against God's law, the other believed (like the prophet in 1 Kings 13) that God can contradict that which He has previously clearly said. The biggest discussion point I thought the movie kinda pointed to was whether Adam or his Dad were morally justified since their "victims" were in fact guilty of horrible evils. It was an interesting twist to the movie that God (or some supernatural being pretending to be God) actually sent them lists of actually evil people.

As a side note, have you seen Identity with John Cusack? It's a personal favorite of mine of the suspence/horror genre.

D.J. Williams said...

Thanks for the compliments.

Yeah, the violence in this one is mainly off-screen. The movie feels much more Hitchcockian in it's horror than today's gratuitious splatter-fests. Of course, the involvement of kids in the killing did make the whole experience a lot more disturbing. That's what I was really trying to convey in my disclaimer.

Yeah, the twist at the end puts a different spin on things, doesn't it? For me, the most interesting thing was the fact that I think the movie's most important point is actually counter to what the makers intended. I think the movie was intended at least partially as a polemic against "blind faith," but the movie actually ends up showing the importance of adherence to the Bible - without normative revelation, Adam and his dad were absolutely justified in what they did. When I was younger, I remember hearing a pastor (I can't remember who) remarking that he was absolutely convinced that a demon could appear to him in angelic splendor and pronounce something contrary to God's word. This movie made me think of that. For a person who believes in God, without normative revelation and with experience as a guide, anything goes, essentially.

D.J. Williams said...

Oh, and per Identity, I saw it in the theater and it was one of the most brilliant thrillers I've ever seen - until the very last twist with the kid. Honestly, that killed it for me. The whole thing with the characters being multiple personalities was nothing short of brilliant and I remember thinking "this is an absolutely amazing movie," and then that last scene happened and it felt like the oldest horror-movie cliche in the book. I could almost hear the writer saying, "Wait, this is a horror movie! It can't end with contemplation! We have to have a freaky ending!" To this day, I haven't been able to watch it again because of the sour taste the ending left in my mouth. I actually left the theater angry that they had ruined a near-perfect movie.

Evidently, you weren't bothered by it, so I'd be interested to hear your take, because I really want to agree with you.

Darius said...

Re: Identity

I guess I didn't come away with the same impression you had, though you are making me rethink the movie. The first twist (multiple personalities inside the head of the bald psycho killer) was absolutely brilliant and a great payoff after confusing the heck out of me for 3/4 of the movie. I usually can spot the twist, but I was not expecting that one. Then the last scene I thought was okay since everyone thought they had the movie figured out and it was going to end nicely when, in fact, he merely killed off all the good personalities. You might be right, though, maybe it's just a bad cliche of an ending.

The poem that they begin and end the movie with still haunts me to this day.

"Going up the stairs,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd go away."

D.J. Williams said...

I couldn't agree more with the first twist. It was genius. Just having this conversation has me wanting to go back and watch the movie again to see if I see the ending differently. I may do that.