“I think they pulled it together in a way only Texans working together could.”
David Blocker – Producer, Frailty
Well, those Texans certainly did bring it together in a unique fashion, and Lions Gate has packaged it in an excellent DVD release. Bill Paxton’s directorial debut captures a family’s descent in dementia in 1979 in a performance that is surreal and believeable. The everyday and the unexpected are blended into a nightmare world where the mundane and supernatural are superimposed…and inseparable. Therein lies the fear of Frailty – the implication that dementia can ride in to any family (in the form of a winged angel spewing fire), and wrap itself in a guise of normalcy that renders it routine.
For me, however, surrealism and juxtaposition wear thin quickly as a plot device and sole source of horror. Given that the Paxton strives to keep the setting fundamentally mundane, I quickly found myself craving more action, or some increase in tension within the family. Event Horizon, for instance, created a similar gothic mood, but kept viewers better engaged with liberal doses of special effects and action. As it is, Frailty delivers as a disturbing cerebral thriller, but don’t enter into it expecting an edge-of-the-seat horror movie. Paxton has made a fantastic first effort, but still lacks the sense of timing and empathy with the audience that makes a film truly watchable.
Lions Gate has wrapped an excellent DVD release around Frailty, befitting the movie’s high quality and level of appeal. Audio and video are excellent, and the movie is well supplemented by a full stable of features.
Audio is competent, but not exceptional. The 5.1 track creates a good environment and transmits Brian Tyler’s ethereal score effectively. There’s not a great deal of fast moving action in the film, so little is needed in the way of spatial positioning. Expect principally environmental sounds from the sides and dialog from the fronts.
This movie must have been a challenge to master: colors, saturation, black levels, and so on are perfectly executed through day, night, or vaguely sepia-toned 1979. Take a look at the deleted scenes
Bill Paxton’s Commentary: Paxton is an involving speaker, with plenty to say about every aspect of the movie. Even if you do not generally listen to commentary tracks, have a listen to Paxton’s commentary on the title sequence – the source of the pictures, the Hitchcock references, and Paxton’s general thought process are great to listen to. One interesting item that emerged through listening to different commentaries is that Paxton was not originally fingered for the director role; he was sourced by producer David Kirschner for the father role, and took it upon himself to sell himself into directorship as well. Listening to Kirschner’s commentary, the producer seemed rather taken aback by Paxton’s intrapreneurship, and seems to suggest that he let Paxton direct to keep him in his role and was only comfortable with the decision much later. Paxton’s commentary makes no allusion to what may have been a source of tension, and he clearly considers himself in absolute control of the movie. Presumption, or the natural confidence of a successful debut? You be the judge.
Production Commentary: This track features miscellaneous comments from Arnold Glassman and David Kirschner (producers), and Brian Tyler (score). Tyler has probably the most interesting comments as he discusses the decision making process for given pieces of music. Of particular note is the decision not to use music for chronological placement – have a listen: very little 1979 music made it into this movie. The best segment in the commentary comes at 46 minutes when they discuss a screening held for James Cameron. (Spoiler Warning) At the time, Paxton’s demonic visions were interspersed through-out the movie, communicating to audiences that he was in fact experiencing visions when he touched people. Cameron’s suggestion was that leaving the visions to the end would keep people guessing as to wether or not Paxton was insane or legitimate, and add a whole new dimension of suspense to the film. The production team took the cue and the movie was re-cut to its current form.
Anatomy of a Scene (Sundance Channel): This is an over produced and ultimately fluffy documentary. It attempts to breakdown the “modern day” scene of the movie (as the tie that chronologically binds the movie together), but offers little in the way of substantive analysis beyond the occasional insightful remark.
The Making of Frailty: Another documentary, this one is a bit more substantial than the Sundance offering, but not by a great deal. This one focuses primary on the production team, and the original conceptualization of the film. Discussion is regrettably restricted to sound bites – most of the participants have trouble communicating entire ideas. Nonetheless, this documentary is worth a watch for a good overall view of what went into the film. Of note: Kirschner’s repetition of his surprise at Paxton’s offer to direct – this one sound bite appears in about four different places.
Features Summary: Features are rounded out by a third commentary track (by the screenwriter), and rather weak storyboard and still galleries. All told, an excellent set of features, characterized by an even mix of quantity and quality.
A decent movie and a well executed DVD release make this presentation a worthy addition to any horror, suspense, or Paxton collector’s shelves.
Special Features List
- “Anatomy of a Scene” Documentary
- “The Making of Frailty” Documentary
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary
- Writer’s Commentary
- Director’s Commentary
- Production Commentary
- Still Gallery