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.