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Cinema Signal:

Lucifer's Shadow:
Tales of Fallen Angels

. "Frailty"

If there were an award for creepiness in psychological thrillers, this would take it for the year. It's awash in religious visions and sociopathic dementia, leaving little to hang some humanity on. It's also a "Bad Seed" times two and not an easy film to spend time with.

The story begins in the present when one of the Meiks boys (Matthew McConaughey) shows up at the local FBI office to reveal that the unknown killer of a widow was his brother. FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Booth) treats the information with some amusement, but as Meiks relates the story of his boyhood, a scowl of seriousness redraws the features of his face. The killer of the widow has many more bodies on his scorecard.

Meiks tells how Dad, a widowed mechanic, awakened him and his brother one night to inform them of the revelation he had just experienced in which an angel directed him to slay demons who appear human. The angel even provided a list of names, demons all, as well as a list of implements to carry out the charge. These include a pipe to incapacitate the unsuspecting victim, and a broad axe for the butchery that is the final execution.

The younger son, Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), eagerly absorbs the vision as he would a visit by Santa Claus, ready to assume the powers of a superhero. The elder boy, twelve-year-old Fenton, however, clearly sees the madness that has claimed his father -- whom he loves almost without reservation. The acts of murder that Dad proceeds to do cause him monumental distress and conflict until he goes to the sheriff of the small community (Luke Askew).

But the edict from the angel foresaw this eventuality. Anyone told about the demon slayings would himself be added to the list for removal and, alas, the doubting sheriff meets his end in the same manner as have the demons on the list.

This is told in flashbacks and, when we return to young Meiks in the FBI office, agent Doyle handcuffs him and takes him for a ride out to the remote rose garden where the bodies are buried. What happens then is not something to be disclosed here. Let's say, however, it's a twisted ending to a twisted tale about a twisted family.

This is a Bill Paxton movie and, while that falls within a body of work that includes an emphasis on tight, well structured story lines such as "Traveller", which he produced, and "A Simple Plan", in which he acted, this little monstrosity weaves an image of distorted blackness and corruption of soul like few others with so able a cast. In his second time out as a director ("Fish Heads", 1982), this talented Texan lets loose with his demonic side.

In the role of Dad he's a smooth talking menace who sees no evil in the destruction of lives he's causing nor in the mission he carries out to train his sons in his sociopathic convictions. Fortunately, writer Brent Hanley provides young Fenton Meiks (Matthew O'Leary) to represent us normal folks who recognize fanatic dementia when we observe it. He is, then, the sypathetic character we hang our hopes and sympathy on. But his good senses afford us insufficient relief from so disturbing a journey through the corridors of insanity.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Bill Paxton, with the instrument of the angel

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