Another Monday is here and that means I’m presenting the next entry on my kill list! A word of warning before I get started: if you haven’t seen this flick, stop reading and go watch it. This request serves two purposes. Ostensibly, it’s because this post is one gigantic SPOILER for the entire movie, but secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s because this movie is really good.
One more time for clarity’s sake: SPOILERS!!!
With that out of the way, #15 on this list comes from the late, great Bill Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty.
I doubt this would show up on many “best of…” horror lists, but this film is personal for me. In 2011 I wrote a mini blog post on a different site professing my love for Bill Paxton, and his passing in 2017 was gut wrenching and left me truly sad. No movie better encapsulates my admiration and appreciation for him than this one. I can still remember seeing this film in a theater by myself way back in 2001 and being completely enraptured by the story, plotting, and distinct tone of the film.
For a first-time director, Paxton balanced his directorial and actorly responsibilities with aplomb and created a masterfully cohesive horror/thriller while channeling a somber, scared, yet invigoratingly purposeful quality to his performance as a single dad who is given a grisly mission from God.
His subversion of all the qualities that made him a memorable character actor is a remarkable transformation. Many roles from his early film appearances were out-of-control or over-the-top secondary characters into which he breathed a youthful unpredictability and vibrancy that burst off the screen (e.g. Weird Science , Aliens  and Near Dark ). But here he swallows those qualities and plays the morbidly steadfast father in opposition to his bewildered son, Fenton (Matt O’Leary). Those early film roles were barely contained by the boundaries of the movie screen, but he dials it down for this role, often internalizing dialectically opposed feelings of his divine purpose and his devotion to his son.
It’s not lost on me that I’ve written multiple paragraphs simply gushing over Bill Paxton without addressing plot or narrative context for the kill. And more humorously, his character is not even in the scene I’m showcasing. Bill Paxton rules.
With that out of the way, I’ll get down to brass tacks. The scene I selected is the climax of the film. A grown up Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) has guided FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (the late, great Powers Boothe), who is the lead investigator on a decades old case known as the “God’s Hand Killer”, to the final resting place of his brother, Adam. When Fenton meets Agent Doyle at the start of the film he confesses that Adam is dead and Adam is the serial killer the FBI has been searching for all these years.
The God’s Hand Killer is aptly named because the person committing the murders believes they are acting as the hand of God, ridding the world of “demons” from a list of names generated and refreshed through divine inspiration. When their hands are laid upon the “demon”, the victim suffers a form of paralysis and is exposed for their sins before they are destroyed.
When the two men arrive at the city rose garden where Adam and all the eviscerated demons are buried, Fenton reveals that he is actually Adam, and he is the God’s Hand Killer. Agent Doyle, believing he has the upper-hand, draws his firearm with the intention of arresting….or killing Adam? Boothe’s performance is so good and so layered that you’re unsure of what he’ll do.
Adam invokes the unsolved murder of Agent Doyle’s mother, which is brought up early in the film and occasionally referenced over the course of the narrative.
At this point you have to assume Adam is insinuating that Agent Doyle’s mother was a “demon” he has destroyed, and Doyle attacks Adam in a moment of rage. At that moment Adam’s hand touches Agent Doyle’s hand and the ultimate truth is uncovered: Doyle brutally murdered his own mother, and Adam is there to destroy him.
I’ll stop there and let you see the rest in the clip. I really enjoy this one.
I chose this scene because of how well it ties up the entire plot. Perhaps it’s a cheap exploited gimmick to pull the switcheroo, especially since the majority of the film is told in flashback, supposedly from Fenton’s POV. So there are elements of the story that Adam couldn’t possibly have known, but perhaps we have to deduce that Adam assumes the role of deceptive narrator?
It’s admittedly a deceitful narrative trick, but upon further viewings there are small story elements that become more obvious and solidify the plot. For example, Adam avoids physically touching Agent Doyle until the very end so as not to reveal his intent too soon. If you pay attention you can see Adam purposefully not shake hands or let Agent Doyle put hand-cuffs on him or help him into the backseat of his car. Paxton paid attention to the details. It’s little things such as those that make the plot twist more forgivable.
Ok, I’m gonna get out of here. I hope you enjoy the scene and come back on Thursday for #14 on the list of the Best Horror Movie Kills of All-Time!
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