ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Nails

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Stephen Porzio takes a bloodied hammer to Denis Bartok’s Irish horror film Nails, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

The latest entry in Ireland’s recent renaissance of horror – Nails stars scream queen Shauna Macdonald (The Descent) as Dana, the victim of a hit and run which has left her paralysed from the waist down and unable to breathe and talk properly. While recuperating, her hospital room is plagued by a malevolent force. However, neither her husband (Steve Wall), her nurse (Ross Noble) or her psychiatrist (Robert O’Mahoney) believe her, with the latter citing PTSD as the cause for Dana’s alarm.

Nails, in many respects, is standard horror fare. Its structure is familiar – a haunted location, a new guest, a spectral attack, the expository ghost’s back-story and a special effects heavy climax. Yet, Nails marks itself out from the pack of similarly sounding movies in a number of ways. Most notably, the dramatic portions of the film are as, maybe even more, engaging than the horror sections. Director Dennis Bartok really succeeds in conveying the terror of Dana’s paralysis through certain editing choices. The opening credits – which stress the importance of feet and legs to the exercise obsessed pre-accident Dana – are an inspired choice.

Another example is the way he shoots the first scene in which we see the hero being bathed in hospital. The camera angles deliberately evoke that of a sexual assault. The cutting between the pained grimace on Dana’s face to Ross Noble’s Trevor performing the task is what makes this invasion of space all the more palpable for the viewer. We later learn the nurse is a good person just doing his job but in the moment the audience are in the head-space of the trapped protagonist, forced to let a stranger touch her. It’s unsurprising the original title for Nails was P.O.V. as the viewer experiences much of the drama from Dana’s limited point of view, creating an effective claustrophobic feeling.

Leading actress Shauna Macdonald joked at the post-screening Q&A that she accepted the role because she thought it would be an easy gig – being confined to a hospital bed for the majority of the running time. Nothing could be further from the truth. She gives a tour-de-force – nailing the strained speech and movement of somebody with her condition but also selling some of the quite fun third-act campy dialogue – where everything gets turned up to eleven in real tongue and cheek fashion.

Worth mentioning also is Ross Noble who is very solid in his strange but lovable character’s skin – someone who is medically trained as a nurse but also lives at Dana’s hospital working as a handyman – rolling cigarettes and watching Monster Trucks in his basement room.

Even when the movie unveils its ghost’s backstory and loses some of its intrigue – Macdonald’s sterling work, the fun characters and the interesting slant on a well-worn genre keep Nails interesting. Plus, its dark ending separates it further from the likes of the tweenie-aimed Annabelle or Ouija. Nails, instead, fits neatly with interesting horror like Wake Wood, Citadel, The Hallow – movies indicative of the burgeoning Irish horror movement.

 

Nails screened on Monday, 20th February  2017 at Cineworld as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Without Name

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Richard Drumm enters the woods of Lorcan Finnegan’s Without Name, which screened at Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Set mainly in and around the titular woods of the name-lacking variety, Without Name follows Eric (Alan McKenna), a surveyor sent to evaluate said stretch of land on the quiet for a shady developer type. Noting an increased detachment at home from his wife and child, not to mention an overall mood of technology taking over his life, Eric heads into the wild. While nominally there for work, he’s also trying to escape his worries and is looking forward to some isolated alone time with his mistress, Olivia (the ever reliable Niamh Algar), who’s assisting him with the survey.

Things quickly begin to turn strange; apparitions in the foggy wood, tales of madness regarding the previous tenant of the cottage (whose manuscript Eric’s been reading and slowly letting creep into his psyche) and the obligatory unnerving locals, in this case one with a penchant for substances of the mind-altering variety. The fog thickens, paranoia grows and tensions rise as Eric seems set to repeat the descent into catatonia that befell the previous inhabitant of the cottage. Is it all in his (increasingly drug-addled) mind or is there something sinister afoot?

Despite very much being marketed as a horror, the film itself is more of a psychological thriller; big on mood-building but unconcerned with delivering any real scares. Its commitment to this atmosphere-crafting is quite laudable given that it avoids the temptation to cash in on a lazy jump-scare during any of its quieter moments. The pacing is intentionally slow; reflective of the overall ’70s-throwback feel it has both tonally and in terms of how it was shot; with its heavy use of fog machines and other in-camera effects for the horror elements. There’s also a nice attempt at some Lynchian abstract creepiness with the occasional extended shot slowly zooming in on the woods while the soundscape gets increasing claustrophobic with the noise of wind and creaking trees accompanied with droning score. Said score is one of the highlights, doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the atmosphere and effectively externalising Eric’s gradual breakdown, at least until the visuals can take over once the drugs get involved.

There’s an interesting idea brought in early on, implying a sort of ‘Silent Hill’-esque scenario at play whereby the woods don’t exist as a fixed location but rather have multiple plains that can shift around you without you realising, at least until people start disappearing in front of you or you start seeing your own body and creepy shadow men. It’s a neat idea that does get a little more fleshed out in the somewhat abrupt finale but on the whole feels slightly wasted.

While, again, I’m willing to praise to high heaven any film that doesn’t rely on jump scares, it is a bit of an issue that nothing of note really happens for the first two thirds of the film when that time could have been better used exploring the spatial-fluidity, perhaps having Eric getting lost in it or having more sinister encounters with the shadow-being which very occasionally stalks him. This is far from a film-ruining problem but it is disappointing given the often underutilised potential for creepiness such geographical manipulation brings.

Otherwise the film performs well. There’s a definite attention to detail and care put into the sound design and mix, while the overall production is well shot and makes great use of the location. The actors also acquit themselves well; especially the believable chemistry between the two leads, which is all the more impressive given the relatively sparse amount of screen time McKenna and Algar actually share. The decision to eschew CGI in favour of simpler in-camera effects – along with giving it that nice ’70s vibe – means this film will likely age far more gracefully than a lot of modern low-budget horrors (and indeed, many “low-budget” horrors with significantly higher budgets that this).

If you’re well-versed in horror, there’s not a huge amount here that could surprise you but there is at least very little that would annoy you. A valiant attempt at putting atmosphere ahead of cheap scares that could have benefited from more fully-realising its concepts but which remains an engaging  watch all the same.

Without Name screened on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

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Podcast: Interview with Emer Reynolds, Director of ‘The Farthest’

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Jonathan Victory talks to Emer Reynolds about her stunning documentary on NASA’s Voyager mission, which screens at this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 

It is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. More than 12 billion miles away a tiny spaceship is leaving our Solar System and entering the void of deep space – the first man-made object ever to do so. Dying within its heart is a nuclear generator that will beat for perhaps another decade before the lights on Voyager 1 finally go out. But this little craft will travel on for millions of years, carrying a Golden Record bearing recordings and images of life on Earth. In all likelihood Voyager will outlast humanity. The Farthest will celebrates these magnificent machines, the men and women who built them and the vision that propelled them farther than anyone could ever have hoped.

The Farthest screens on Sunday, 26th Feb 2017 at 2:00pm at the Savoy cinema.

Director Emer Reynolds and Voyager Project Manager (1977) John Casani will attend this screening.

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Podcast: Interview with Grainne Humphreys, ADIFF 2017 Festival Director

 

Film Directors John Butler and Jim Sheridan with Grainne Humphreys - ADIFF Festival Director when details were announced of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017 which will take place from from 16th February 2017 to 26th February 2017. The world’s best films are coming to Audi Dublin International Film Festival with Vanessa Redgrave, Nathalie Baye, Kerry Fox, Ross Noble, Ben Wheatley, and Anna Friel joining top Irish talent Jack Reynor, Moe Dunford, Cillian Murphy, John Butler and Aiden Gillen on the red carpet. The 2017 programme rolls out the red carpet in cinemas right across the city for a rich mix of new films from across the world accompanied by top International and Irish guest talent that will see tens of thousands of Irish film fans seek out new cinema experiences across the eleven days and nights of the festival. Tickets go on sale and the digital programmewill be available to browse and download from 18.30 on 18th January at www.diff.ie, by phone on +353 1 687 7974 or in person at DIFF, 13 Ormond Quay. Pictures: Brian McEvoy No repro fee for one use
Film director John Butler and Jim Sheridan with Grainne Humphreys at the launch of ADIFF 2017. Picture: Brian McEvoy.

Grace Corry sat down with Grainne Humphreys, Festival Director of Audi Dublin International Film Festival to delve into the delights of this year’s festival.

 

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival takes place 16 – 26 February 2017.

Check out our preview of the Irish films screening at this year’s festival

Check out the full programme here

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