Mention the movie Frailty to people and you will get one of two reactions: either they will squint their eyes in puzzlement because they have never heard of it, or their eyes will get wide because they know what you're talking about.
Despite the seemingly random and nondescript title, this is one of the most underrated psychological horror movies of all times. People that see it are generally impressed, but it still remains relatively unknown - even though it was released at the turn of the century (2002). It has never escaped cult status to get the recognition it deserves.
Let's look at some of the odd and conflicting things that make the movie both highly respected and highly unknown.
It was well-received across the range of critics.
It had a low budget, but also had real actors.
It was made for $11 million, so it had a limited theatrical release. But it co-stars Matthew McConaughey and Bill "Why Don't You Put Her in Charge" Paxton. It was also Paxton's first directorial effort.
It has a unique story.
The movie is about two grade-school boys, Fenton and his little brother Adam, living with their single dad in Texas. It's a very loving family, and Dad cares for his sons deeply. Then one morning, Dad tells his sons that he got a vision from God and now he is on a mission to destroy demons. He tells Fenton and Adam that they must help him. The problem is, the demons look like people, and only Dad can tell whether they are human or not.
This is a new take on "children in peril".
I suspect that this is one reason that the movie has not become more popular. The two boys are very young, and they are thrown into a situation that is far beyond their ability to cope with. While Adam fully supports his father's mission, Fenton thinks his dad may be turning into a psychotic serial killer. He is less willing to help his father out. Dad is not happy about this. It's hard to watch the boys come to grips with the situation.
This is an existential nightmare that cuts to the core of faith, family, and God.
Religious people may have a hard time with some of the messages of the movie, especially the emotional and psychological journey of Fenton. It asks questions about the limits of parental authority, and what you would (or should) do for your family. It also makes some controversial points about the nature of faith, and even the existence of God.
It has two of the best child acting performances that I've ever seen.
Jeremy Sumpter plays Adam. He's been getting work on the indie scene ever since, although he became fairly well known for playing J.D. McCoy on the Friday Night Lights television series.
Matt O'Leary is the best actor in the movie, playing Fenton. He's had constant work in movies after this, but has never gotten a mainstream breakout role.
This movie doesn't need gore to be shocking.
The script and the acting are tight and tense, and there are multiple levels of sadness and horror. The movie is a great example that when you have an effective story, you don't need lots of blood in order to be disturbing.
It refuses to give you an easy answer.
The movie goes to great pains to not directly tell you if Dad is actually on a divine mission, or just insane. You have to decide for yourself. There are a few whiplash twists that make you rethink everything. The last five minutes kind of tells you what's really going on, but I've seen the movie four times and I'm still chewing on the ending. And the title.
It's a unique film that will probably never gain widespread appeal.
This is a bold, unflinching contemplation of the terrors of faith and the trauma of childhood. It's a legitimate "hidden gem" of American cinema, and will probably always remain that way.
What do you think? Does this movie deserve more than cult status, or should it stay obscure? What are your theories about the meanings of the movie?