Monday, October 03, 2005
The first person you see in this is Powers Boothe, which gets the movie off on a great footing since he's so eerily menacing just standing there. He plays the FBI agent who hears Matthew McConaughey's confessional tale of a childhood gone murderous.
Flash back to good ol' dad Bill Paxton (actually listed in the credits as Dad), who wakes his two boys up one night and tells them the whole family's been chosen to kill people for God. The younger boy believes it instantly, but Fenton, the older one, knows Dad's gone round the bend. What follows is a wonderfully stark unfolding of a nightmare: your father's gone completely nutso and is plotting death, but you can’t tell on him because it’s your dad. Even when he brings home a big axe named Otis.
It's a very effective downward spiral. Dad's visions usually have an appealing low-rent feel to them; his first one centers on an angel atop one of his trophies (how cheesy!), another occurs while he's working under a car. The way he brings a dirty steel pipe to the boys as another "holy weapon" evokes the pathetic side of delusional madness. You can just tell he’s gone crazy, that this is a man still full of love, but he's broken inside. The resulting conflict is gracefully stripped down and raw. The son just will not play into his father's madness, and the father thinks he's doing God's work and won't let it go. Poor Fenton is stuck, even his brother is playing the crazy game, and the surging darkness of his conflict is all over his face. Fourteen-year-old Matt O’Leary delivers an amazing range and ability. I was a little disappointed that his other big appearances were in the Spy Kid sequels.
This is one of those times the movie is good enough that I don't want to ruin the ending. But if you've seen it, or you don't care, read on.
Watching this a second time, I was pleased to notice the tiniest hints of the surprise ending (that being, of course, that Dad isn't crazy at all -- he is indeed God's chosen hitman). The clue is there when Dad lays his hands on the "demons" and sees their crimes. You see the younger kid jump the first time it happens, since he's seeing it too. Even better, it really seems like the victim/demons are affected by the touch as well, that they can tell their deepest secret just got out.
I'm a sucker for movies that play Real World rules until the end, and only then reveal that this fictional world has supernatural elements. It's always a treat when a horror movie's ultimate final zinger is that it turns out there is a God.