Mothers going above and beyond the call of parental duty in order to protect their families from terrifying forces isn’t anything new in the horror genre (not to mention real life), but I’ll be damned if this setup doesn’t make for some compelling scary movies. Dennis Bartok is obviously aware of this, as Nails, his first feature film, focuses on the fears and anxieties of a vulnerable woman who feels powerless to help her family.
Starring Shauna Macdonald (The Descent, Howl), Nails chronicles the struggles of Dana Milgrom, a loving wife and mother who gets involved in a tragic accident that leaves her paralyzed and with a speech impediment. After some strange occurrences at the hospital she’s confined to, Dana suspects that a malevolent force is harassing her, and begins to investigate the hospital’s past despite being unable to leave her bed.
Dana’s character is exceptionally well-developed in relation to her family, as she’s unnerved by having been forced to leave her active role as a parent (and overall healthy individual) behind. Her interactions with her daughter Gemma, played by Leah McNamara, make it obvious that she’s uncomfortable with her forced absence from the family, something that her husband (Steve Wall) later likens to paranoia.
Sadly, we don’t get much more character development beyond Dana’s familiar struggle, as most of the cast serves to either aid her in her quest for truth or to accuse her of being irrational, with little to no room for nuance. This disappointing lack of depth is made especially clear by the end, as certain plot elements are clumsily revealed without much setup, seemingly coming out of left field. It’s a shame that Nails didn’t allow us to spend more time with these characters in order to naturally absorb these bits and pieces of information as we learn more about them.
The titular antagonist is a bit more interesting, however, as this wicked spirit’s history with the hospital is genuinely engrossing, despite the unavoidable presence of a few tired horror clichés. I won’t go into detail about his methods or backstory, but suffice to say that the scenes where this villain appears are some of the film’s best. That being said, there are a few cringe-worthy moments where the use of CGI detracts from the overall experience and actually ruins what could have been some effective jump scares.
Ultimately, Nails has all the ingredients for a memorable horror movie, but something got mixed up in the execution. While the main character is well-rounded and has a satisfying arc, the others aren’t so lucky, with some even feeling like two-dimensional ghost-fodder by the end. Nevertheless, there are some satisfying scares here and there, and Macdonald is as watchable as ever. I can’t quite recommend the film to genre purists due to some painfully average storytelling, but there’s definitely enough midnight-movie material to make this an entertaining ride for less demanding viewers.
Nails will be available on VOD November 17th!