Stars:Joicie Appell, Emily Boresow and Jason Coffman
I first heard NAILBITER being described as being very much like an early X-Files episode. You know, one of those 'monster of the week' numbers that many of us enjoyed so much back in the day. And while its true that it is reminiscent of one of those ideas, NAILBITER, sadly, the comparison only runs as far as its idea's.
It begins promisingly enough, with a slightly dysfunctional family, (one mother, three daughters), being caught up in the eye of a tornado and having to take refuge in the basement of a seemingly abandoned house out in the countryside. Once the storm passes, the family find that they are not alone, and are being held against their will in the basement by someone/something unknown.
Its a creepy and original premise, and its early scenes manage to build a certain degree of suspense, but the pace of the film and its below-par performances pull it down before it ever gets a chance to soar. The cardinal rule of creating suspense for a 80/90 minute movie when using one location for extended periods of time, is character. Unfortunately, that's where NAILBITER stumbles over the first hurdle. Its hard to muster any sympathy for any of the girls in peril, as the mother is weak and indecisive, the two younger girls are non-entities, and the oldest daughter is, frankly, annoying as hell. Its a chore to spend time with these people.
There are ways around such flaws, of course. If your audience is not on the side of the protagonists, you'd better have a damn strong antagonist to balance the scales, not to mention some serious carnage to keep the viewer interested in any way you can. This is where the production hits its second wall head-on. We don't get any feel for the threat until way too far into the film, and when we do, its very underwhelming. Budgetary limitations bear some of the weight for this, but its mainly a weak, unfocused script that finishes off whatever goodwill the films early scenes muster. The lack of gore or action is daunting, but when the villain/villains are as poorly drawn as they are here, the project stands little chance of impressing. The originality of the villains, (somewhere between THE TWILIGHT ZONE and H.P.Lovecraft), in concept is blindsided by the scripts refusal to invite us into their world in any insightful way.
Its a shame, as the central idea is a good one, and could have played on family bonds, loyalties, internal conflicts and all that good stuff that screams to be brought to the fore; but the story, (and the characters) go nowhere meaningful. The whole thing feels empty. The script lacks the cohesion of plot or depth of character to keep the audience emotionally or intellectually engaged.
I hate to come to this conclusion, but I can't really recommend NAILBITER. Its ambitions and its heart are all in the right place, but it feels half-formed at the pre-production stages. A little more human insight and a little more chaos would have went a long way. Lets hope next time, director/writer Patrick Rea can take what did work here, and build on it. The creativity and the ambition are there, if not yet the ability. Were this some run-of-the-mill horror, I wouldn't mind its flaws so much, but it could have been so much more, and the missed potential does sting. That said, there's enough here to have me interested in what Rea comes up with next. Time and experience can be powerful allies.
4 Cellar-Dwellers out of 10