2002, Movie, R, 100 mins


A psychological thriller with a genuinely spooky premise and an above-average cast, actor Bill Paxton's directing debut is a creepy slice of gothic rural Americana. FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe), who's working on the case of a Texas serial killer who calls himself "God's Hands," gets a late-night visit from a polite young man named Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey). Meiks claims to know the killer's identity and Doyle, skeptical but reluctant to dismiss a lead out of hand, agrees to hear Fenton's story of madness and murder. It starts in 1979, when 12-year-old Fenton (Matthew O'Leary) and his nine-year-old brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are living in small-town Thurman, Tex., with their recently widowed dad (Bill Paxton), a hard-working mechanic. Loved by their father and secure in their place in the world, the brothers are living the sort of unremarkable childhood that produces solid and unremarkable adults, until the night Dad wakes them up to share a startling secret: He's been visited by an angel, who told him that the world is overrun by demons disguised as human beings and God has chosen him to kill them; God will send weapons and a list of the demons in disguise. And sure enough, Dad soon brings home an ax, a length of pipe and a pair of work gloves — if he touches one of the "demons" with his bare hands, its vile crimes against humanity will be exposed to him in a jolting blast of divine revelation. Adam is quickly caught up in the superhero aspect of the situation, and embraces his father's holy mission without question. Fenton is less certain, and after he realizes that wishing things would go back to normal isn't working, he tries to stop the mounting carnage. Promoted with glowing quotes from Stephen King, Sam Raimi and James Cameron (the latter two directed Paxton in, respectively, A SIMPLE PLAN and TITANIC), this is the kind of film that can easily be undermined by raising viewer expectations too high. It's essentially a clever, atmospheric thriller with a whopper of an 11th-hour twist, smart, restrained (the violence is largely — and effectively — implied) and very savvy in its use of the "Is dad crazy or are there really demons among us?" card. Boothe's character gives off an unfortunate whiff of direct-to-video shocker, but Paxton is impressively subtle and elicits remarkable performances from O'Leary and Sumpter. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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