Irish horror films have been enjoying increased exposure over the past few years, possibly heralding a new wave of independent Irish cinema. Films like The Hallow, Let Us Prey, US-based/Irish-directed I Am Not a Serial Killer, and – more recently- Without Name have been showcasing new genre talents left, right and centre.
Dennis Bartok's Nails belongs to this new crop of horror films, but doesn’t boast the overt Gothic or folk-bound aesthetics of its contemporaries. Instead Bartok (a veteran broadcaster) goes for a classic ghost story in a contemporary setting, depositing Dana (The Descent's Shauna Macdonald), his mute paraplegic heroine, in Ireland's most miserable hospital for our chills and thrills.
When you think back to the film's sale at Cannes 2015, things have come a long way. Originally the film was called P.O.V. and had Bond girl Bernice Marlohe pinned to star. Two years is long time in the film biz, so things have naturally changed. Macdonald makes a solid lead and Bartok's vision seems relatively undisturbed by the production process.
For the most part, Nails is a classic haunting with a modern twist. Aside from the jolting instigatory car crash and some modern trimmings, Nails could be set in just about any decade. There's a timeless quality to the classic horror beats, but that ends up being surprisingly detrimental. In a wave of films desperate to find new ways of scaring, Nails is a blast from the past with its jumps, haunted hospital hallways, perceived female hysteria, and mundane supernatural threat.
Bartok does best when he keeps the scares on the periphery and really explores Dana's physical and mental isolation. Nails himself isn't a particularly original monster, but his stature is used well in those early, heavily shadowed sequences. There are some genuinely chilling ideas around restricted movement with well-considered camera work to boot. It's just a shame that a lot of it feels a bit loose-brained.
Shauna's husband for instance is an absolute arse, i.e. showing his depressed paraplegic wife pictures of his new super hot assistant at work. Characters frequently fail to react like credible humans but as McDonald is giving 100%, oddly it shows up the relative dopiness of the film. Nails' foundations shake under the weight of her dedication to her character. Ross Noble does fine as a lovable orderly, whilst Robert O'Mahoney's creepy resident doctor lends a bit of gravitas to the film's classic horror influence.
Altogether it's a simple, but relatively satisfying, horror film. Bartok clearly has some genre awareness but Nails feels too old school to properly fit in with the Irish New Wave. It’s a mixed bag of popcorn spooks and gutting emotional trauma, led by a distractingly engaging performance from Shauna Macdonald. Bartok might not have his finger on the pulse of contemporary terror, but he does fine with Nails.
NAILS / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: DENNIS BARTOK / SCREENPLAY: DENNIS BARTOK, TOM ABRAMS / STARRING: SHAUNA MACDONALD, STEVE WALL, ROSS NOBLE, RICHARD FOSTER-KING, ROBERT O'MAHONEY / RELEASE DATE: 16TH JUNE
Expected Rating: 3/10