On February 25th, 2017, the film world lost the great Bill Paxton. Known for iconic roles in films like Twister, Tombstone, and Apollo 13, genre fans know him best as Pvt. Hudson from Aliens and Severen from Near Dark. His place in those films gave each one this adrenaline shot. From Hudson’s endlessly quotable dialogue (“Game over man.” “Absolutely badasses!” “How long do I have to stay in this chickenshit outfit?”) to his stepping up and taking on a horde of xenormorphs. His shining moment in Near Dark is in a bar where he acquaints himself with a couple of “finger-licking good” patrons and a bartender who is not so keen to seeing his customers’ throats torn open. There’s a vibrant energy he brings to his characters. Just in the one shot when he pushes up his sunglasses and jumps on the bar top and begins to kick the beer glasses.
While his performances were always noteworthy, he made a mark behind the camera in 2001 with Frailty. Films about religious extremism already have a built in “pressure cooker” kind of feel to them. It just depends on how well executed it is and how far a particular character gets lost into their own paranoid delusions. With Frailty, Paxton shows how one father’s quest to rid the world of demons turns from visions of angels to the murder of “demons” disguised as humans. It’s the slippery slope that once you start, you can’t turn back from it.
Off-setting this world of angels and demons are his two sons. Fenton, the son who sees his father as a murderer and Adam, the son who stands by his dad through his beliefs and visions. Both sons represent narrative choices the audience can make. Is Paxton a deranged murderer or is he doing God’s will? It’s a concept that is wisely contained because of its small budget. Unfortunately, this was a movie that wasn’t really sought out as much. It’s a film that isn’t so much as unrecognized as it is unknown. Like a ray of light that shines through the roof of a shed onto a stump with an axe and gloves, let this little review guide you toward its path.
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