Although sometimes classified as horror, 2002's "Frailty," from actor-turned-director Bill Paxton, probably lands more directly in the dark psychological thriller category, despite its truly horrific subject matter. The killings portrayed in the movie are not especially graphic, no more than what's shown on TV shows like "CSI," but the repugnance of the acts increases exponentially due to the involvement of children.
The film begins with Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey, "Killer Joe") telling FBI agent Doyle (Powers Boothe) that he knows the identity of the God's Hands serial killer, and that it is his brother Adam, now dead. From there, flashbacks, primarily back to the Meiks boys' childhood, comprise the majority of the film. The motherless young Fenton (Matt O'Leary, "Mother's Day") and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter, "Excision") live happily with their father (Paxton) until one night, Dad experiences a sudden, life-changing vision that redirects the course of all their lives.
Done on a shoestring budget, with neither of the main actors (Paxton and McConaughey) ever appearing on screen together, Paxton created this remarkable debut, which tautly draws one in to seat's edge, sends one's heart racing, and eventually ends with deliciously unexpected twists. Set in Texas, native Texan Paxton chose other Texans (both McConaughey and Booth) to people his film.
With excellent acting all around, most strikingly from young O'Leary and Sumpter, this film sparks discussion and leaves a lingering impression. Best watched without knowing any more about the plot, the name "Frailty" misleads, as the film packs quite the punch.
To date, Paxton has only turned his hand to directing once more, with 2005's biopic "The Greatest Game Ever Played," about Francis Ouimet, the first amateur to win golf's U.S. Open.