Fenton Meiks’ mother died giving birth to his younger brother, Adam. All his grandparents have also passed on, so just he, his dad and his brother are left. But they’ve managed to settle into a comfortable and secure existence nonetheless. Deep in the heart of the Bible belt, an osmosis-absorbed religion and good old masculine camaraderie build a cozy nest for a father and his two sons. But their stable life is upended when, in the middle of the night, Dad gets a vision—apparently a heavenly one—containing a mandate to slay demons.
The instructions, delivered to him by an angel, are very specific. The Lord will provide weapons and a list of targets, and the Meiks men are to hunt down their evil victims and kill them. There’s just one problem. According to Mr. Meiks’ instructions, the demons are living among men, disguising themselves as humans. Adam, at about age nine, buys it totally. Fenton is not so sure. To him, and anyone not operating under his father’s maniacal zeal, it looks like they’re performing random acts of violence, killing strangers and calling it the Lord’s work. Through a series of flashbacks, a grown Meiks unloads on FBI Agent Doyle the grisly tale of how his father’s fervent "faith" turned his family into a killing machine.
positive content: The Meiks are poor, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. They care for each other in a practical, manly way. Dad works as a mechanic. Fenton and Adam are inseparable at school and they help out at home. And every night they have dinner together before Dad tucks the boys into bed (Adam gets a kiss, but Fenton is "too old" for that). So Frailty starts out looking like a picture of wholesome family life, but that warm setting quickly becomes the framework for a disturbing tale of manipulation and murder.
spiritual content: Though the Meikses are never shown going to church or reading the Bible, it’s clear Mr. Meiks considers himself a Christian. He speaks often of "God’s will," "the Lord’s work," and his instructions from the angel who visits him. There is no way to misinterpret this movie as the story of just any old religious fanatic. It’s clear that this murderousness is a product of a Christian mindset. And while filmmakers don’t seem to say that all Christians are like Meiks, the thought is left dangling for watchers to wrestle with.
Several unfair, untrue and dangerous aspersions are cast about Christianity as Frailty’s flashback scenes contrast Fenton Meiks and his father. Fenton is seen as the logical, rational one: his perceptions best match reality. To him, it looks like his father is killing people and blaming God, end of story. He remains uncomfortable with his father’s actions throughout his childhood and thinks of numerous ways to stop the killings, though he never succeeds. Those with a true understanding of the Christian faith will see that it is Fenton, and not his father, who has an accurate moral compass. Unfortunately, being trapped in a destructive environment completely destroys Fenton’s grasp of natural and moral law. He progresses from disbelief that his father could do such things to disgusted declarations that "There is no God," and "I hate your God!" to living a completely immoral life himself. To the casual observer, Christianity destroys Fenton Meiks’ life.
On the other hand, Dad exhibits every trait of a stereotypical religious zealot. He’s brainwashed. He’s manipulative. He’s obsessed with "judgment day." And there’s no reasoning with him, because his point of view is the only one that makes sense to him. Fenton’s questioning is seen as a threat and Dad wonders if his son might be a demon too. So he locks Fenton in a cellar and tells him to pray to God for a vision. In Mr. Meiks’ mind, if Fenton can’t see his way clear to participate in the killings, he too must be evil. Only after Fenton is delirious from starvation does he have the kind of "religious" experience that assuages his father. Adam follows in his dad’s footsteps, once badly misinterpreting Genesis 22 to justify his own crimes.
The human responsibility to choose between right and wrong is emphasized in a few conversations, but they don’t faze Mr. Meiks, who feels compelled to carry out his mission. In his mind, there’s a clear distinction between what he’s doing and murder ("Destroying demons is good. Killing people is bad"). Before finishing off his victims, Meiks lays his hands on them to "expose their sins," betraying a rotten understanding of the difference between evil spirits and human beings with sinful natures.
sexual content: Having watched The Dukes of Hazard, a school friend of Fenton’s makes a few crude comments about his desire to see Daisy Duke naked.
violent content: For an R-rated movie about a family of ax murderers, Frailty is surprisingly gore-free. That’s because the film editor’s favorite trick is to show murder scenes right up to the frame where the ax enters the body, then cut away. So give it credit for leaving a lot to the imagination, but not too much credit, because it’s very specific about what it wants viewers to imagine. The human "demons" destroyed by the Meiks men are often shown bound, gagged and trembling as the ax is raised above their heads. The same is true for one man who puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger. The aftermath isn’t shown, but what happens is clear. In many cases, sound effects relay what visuals don’t. A few already-dead bodies are shown. Mr Meiks uses a metal pipe to knock his victims unconscious. Then he places his hands on them and shakes violently as he "exposes" their sins. At one point, he forcibly locks Fenton in the cellar where all the killings take place and leaves him there for weeks with no food. Both children kill at least one person. Near the end of the film, the graphic restraint slips, and audiences see the silhouette of a man stabbing a woman repeatedly, with her blood splattering on his face, hands and chest. Once, an ax is shown entering a man’s chest and sticking there.
crude or profane language: Four misuses of God’s name, three of which are coupled with the word "d--n." One misuse of Jesus’ name. At least two audible f-words, with three or four more muffled ones. One s-word and a few other mild profanities.
drug and alcohol content: Mr. Meiks smokes casually and drinks an occasional beer. A man takes a shot of whiskey.
other negative elements: When Fenton runs to tell the sheriff what his dad is doing, the officer won’t take him seriously; instead he rebukes him for "making up stories like that."
conclusion: In carrying out his bloody demon-slaying mission, Mr. Meiks unwittingly proves that his revelation is not from God. The Lord does not call individual Christians to do battle with evil on a physical level. We are not to shed blood, no matter how sinful the people around us are. Neglecting this principle leads him down a path of murder and destruction. Yet, because he is utterly deceived, he walks that road with a clear conscience.
Frailty is a picture of what happens when lies masquerade as the truth, emboldening people to do atrocious things in the name of God. Sadly, some people who see a film like this will—while not becoming murderers—make similar mistakes, latching on to a personal perception of Christianity and "the will of God" instead of searching Scripture for truth. This is especially likely since, unlike the present-day bookends of the movie, the flashback portions that make up its center are quite compelling. The characters are drawn believably, and will make it easy for audiences to mistake Mr. Meiks’ false faith for the real thing. Families eager to live out a true Christian life won’t find any help in this film. Those searching for ammunition to use against the cause of Christ will find a great deal.