New this week On Demand and digital download from Dark Sky Films!
Directed by Dennis Bartok
Written by Dennis Bartok, Tom Abrams
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Leah McNamara, Ross Noble, Steve Wall, Dennis Bartok, Charlotte Bradley, Robert O’Mahoney, Kreeta Taponen, Amelia de Buyl Pisco, Trish Groves, Conor Scott, Muireann D’Arcy, Conor Scott, & Richard Foster-King as Nails!
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A long finger-nailed man with a history of abuse of youngsters returns from the grave and haunts the nights of the living. Sounds familiar, right? No, I’m not talking about A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. This is the premise of NAILS, a rather effective little shocker that borrows heaping elements from ANOES, but also makes some improvements to some of the more campy stuff that bogged down the later installments of the ANOES series.
THE DESCENT and THE DESCENT II’s Shauna Macdonald plays Dana, a track and field coach who suffers a horrific accident while jogging and is hospitalized, unable to speak, walk, or move from her bed. Recovering from a massive head wound and broken bones, Dana communicates via computer and struggles with the simplest of movements. While her husband and daughter seem supportive, they still have to leave her alone in the hospital at night. But when a mysterious taloned specter appears by her bedside at night, Dana uncovers a dirty secret the hospital has tried to cover up nicknamed “Nails.” Dana attempts to let her loved ones know about Nails, but they think she is hallucinating or suffering trauma from the brain injury. Meanwhile, Nails night attacks are intensifying and Dana fears for her life.
What works is pretty much the first hour of this film. Dana’s accident is grueling. The state she is in is traumatic and the performance of Macdonald and the subtle practical effects making up her wounds really does a good job of conveying Dana’s isolation and lack of control of her own body. The lead up to the reveal of Nails and even the slow reveal of his back story are all done expertly well. This is a film where you actually care about the characters and their fates. You feel for them and when they are in danger, you shiver in fear with them. Nails looks horrifying—mixing creative camera angles, practical makeup effects, and CG enhancements. If this were the eighties, Nails would have given Freddy Krueger a run for his money as the monster has a lot of the same physical attributes minus the campy need for one liners. The hospital is filled with gloomy and dank atmosphere, with walls rotting like a corpse and full of dark corners. On top of it all, there are quite a few well developed scenes of crescendo-ing atmosphere and quite a few well timed jump scares. All of this added together makes for a pretty potent first hour and makes the bulk of this film definitely worth seeking out.
The problem with NAILS has to do with the way things wrap up. All sense of up and down, right and wrong, and any other rules established in the first hour as to what Nails is and what he is capable of is kind of tossed out of the window in favor of a flashy, over the top, kitchen sink tossing finale that just doesn’t fit in with the subtlety of the rest of the film. On top of that, I felt Dana’s story failed to come to a satisfying conclusion by the final reel. Part of this is because most of the time, the film focuses on Dana overcoming her own struggles rather than relying on others to help her or worse yet, shifting the focus to another character. Because of this, I felt unsatisfied with the final moments of NAILS after being fully enthralled with it for the first hour.
NAILS is two thirds a great movie, which is more than I can say for most horror films out there. Richard Foster-King is mesmerizing as the titular monster and STITCHES’ Ross Noble offers up another fun turn as an orderly conflicted between keeping the hospital’s secrets and helping Dana. Shauna Macdonald is also a standout as the lead, giving yet another grueling and physically demanding performance as Dana. Had this film used a bit of restraint with the climax and reeled it in a bit, this would be one of the best. As is, NAILS offers up solid scares, a terrifying monster, dense atmosphere, an inner conflict that is beyond compelling, and sadly, a less than satisfying conclusion.