If for, whatever reason, you’ve been looking for the very epitome of where so many low budget horror movies now seem to end up in this post-Blumhouse world – well, Nails is your answer.
An ultra cheap, and sadly muddled Irish chiller, it struggles to ever really detach itself from the mainline ghost movies it frequently borrows from, resulting in another listless bargain-bin-style affair that barely ever even reaches as far as memorable, let alone good. And considering it comes from the renowned, well-educated mind of former American Cinematheque programmer turned film historian Dennis Bartok, it should really be something of a huge surprise that Nails is as sub-par as it is.
Horror fans will know the drill by now, and while Bartok’s film does occasionally attempt the odd sneaky switcheroo, for the most part it’s a real paint-by-numbers affair, just with a lot less characters and a mental-health driven subplot that very quickly collapses in on itself.
The few tune-ups that do add an unexpected extra layer though; a voiceless lead, for example, who’s forced to communicate entirely through a sinfully annoying text-to-speech program on a laptop, might add just enough colour to draw in the right audience. But you can be damn sure that as soon as that long-awaited third act finale finally rolls around, Nails jumps right back to where it started; feeding off of nothing more than cold callous cliche as much as physically possible.
Macdonald herself is a great addition, well cast as a struggling mother who’s paralysed both physically and mentally by her circumstances. She really imbues a feeling of helplessness and frustration well, keeps her character’s emotional state totally under wraps (no sudden flailing or pantomime-style hysterics) and is a decent enough protagonist when the script will let her.
But that’s just it; too rarely is she actually given something to do other than scream and writhe around in bed that eventually she just feels like any other victim. Her battle is mostly a psychological one, and between all the ghost-based jump-scares, there’s really nowhere near enough written depth here to give her a leg to stand on.
The rest of the cast, from Vikings’ Steve Wall to the surprisingly moody stand-up comic Ross Noble are nothing short of fine, and the overall look and feel of the titular creature/ghost/thing is completely on the money (when we’re actually given more than a second’s look at him), but there’s simply just too much weighing Nails down to give it any sense of life, especially in an already densely packed genre. It’s been done before, and in a much more inspired way than this.
It’s a plot-line borrowed from an early Buffy bottle episode, told through little more than bare-bones scripting, cliche storytelling, and the occasional wonky jump scare. Ultimately, as with a great deal of other low budget horror, it just feels like it’s trying much too hard to emulate the Insidiouses and Sinisters of the genre, without adding much of its own stamp to any of the proceedings.
There’s definitely scope for something that’s at least imaginative here, but Bartok never quite latches on to it. Not the worst, but there’s absolutely nothing special, or even particularly watchable about Nails either.
Nails is out in the UK now.