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  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
from Film Forum, 04/18/02

Actor Bill Paxton turns in his second performance as a director with the horror film Frailty. The movie is gaining raves from horror fans and mainstream critics, while religious press critics are troubled by the film's plot.

Bill Paxton plays a gentle, loving father who wakes his two sons in the middle of the night to tell them that God has charged them with a holy mission—to hunt down and kill demons in the world. The older of the two boys struggles, emotionally and psychologically, as his father draws the three of them into violent acts of supposedly righteous retribution. Matthew McConaughey plays one of the boys, now grown, who relates to a police officer this chilling tale, right to its troubling and shocking conclusion.

The film has raised the ire of religious press critics chiefly because it portrays faithfully religious people as murderous maniacs. And the film's implication that God might indeed require his followers to behave so wickedly isn't going over too well either.

The USCCB's critic explains that the movie "terrifies, because it takes a good thing like faith and doing God's will, and warps it beyond recognition." But the film fails even in its horror because of "narrative holes that require the audience to fill in the blanks and a few all-too-convenient details that become harder to believe once some thought has been given to them."

John Adair (Preview) writes, "While plenty of good, evangelical lingo about faith is spouted throughout the story, the film joins others that cast religious believers in a strong negative light, since most of the pious phrases come from the killer." But Adair agrees with Carole McDonnell (Christian Spotlight) in observing, "It definitely leads to heavy discussion after its ending."

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) condemns the whole package: "It's often amazing how apparently intelligent people can seem so theologically dense sometimes. That's why the false, abhorrent theology in Frailty is so painful. Not necessarily because the movie will be a very popular one and, hence, lead many people astray, but especially because it represents such a silly waste of good brain power." Snyder adds, "God would never tell someone to commit this kind of horrible vigilante justice, no matter how reprehensible the crime."

I sincerely doubt many moviegoers will be led astray. The horror genre is famous for entertaining us with twisted "What if?" questions. Frailty offers us a fictional world in which God might not be a compassionate and merciful deity. Upon seeing that vision, perhaps viewers will find the reality of God's love will seem more appealing and even more plausible. Frailty's premise echoes those Old Testament stories in which God orders the chosen people to destroy heathen nations. Does God ever compel believers into acts of "righteous rage"? Does he who said "Thou shalt not kill" approve of vigilante justice? Holy wars? Capital punishment? Such questions have kept theologians busy for centuries.

Mainstream critics are impressed by how the film's effectiveness, considering its low budget and its avoidance of extreme violence and onscreen gore.

Roger Ebert doesn't find Frailty so far-fetched. He has encountered presumptuous believers who are quicker to judge others than they are to exhibit Christ's love. "There was just a glimpse of this mentality on the day after 9/11, when certain TV preachers described it as God's punishment for our sins, before backpedaling when they found such frankness eroded their popularity base. Heaven protect us from people who believe they can impose their will on us in this world because of what they think they know about the next."

from Film Forum, 05/09/02

Some Christian critics have taken aim at the recent horror film Frailty for being anti-Christian. But in an article at Canadian Christianity, Peter T. Chattaway says the argument is presumptive.

Chattaway quotes Ed Vitagliano, director of research for the American Family Association, who wrote in a review at Agape Press that Frailty casts Christians in a negative light. Vitagliano declares that the movie proves Hollywood is "out to get" Christians." Vitagliano says, "We find this film—at least the description of it—to be a further indication of the fact that Hollywood, for the most part, has a vendetta against Christians, especially Christians who hold to the absolute truths of scripture."

Chattaway responds that there are several problems with this claim. "First, if Vitagliano is responding only to a 'description' of the film, then it sounds as though he is passing judgment on the film before he has even seen it. If that is the case, then he is speaking out of ignorance, and it is somewhat ironic when he complains later on that Hollywood always portrays Christians as 'loud-mouthed' and 'self-righteous.' Learning to think critically about films, and about art in general, is a necessary skill in this media-saturated age, and no one is helped when self-appointed culture warriors condemn obscure movies they've apparently never seen."