Nailbiter (2013)

When I thought about it, “Nailbiter” was not a movie I expected from the looks of the set photos and general premise a few years ago. Director Patrick Rea has kept his film generally hush hush even from his closest confidants and as such “Nailbiter” has been something of a welcomed treat from the director. One of my favorite indie directors working today, Patrick Rea finally enters the feature length film arena with “Nailbiter,” a tense and spooky film that will grace many screens come Halloween. A perfect holiday film, “Nailbiter” tries to keep its promise of staying a white knuckle horror film all throughout with a premise reliant on survival and characters. Thankfully, “Nailbiter” has a strong character base to it, relying on the charms and personality of its core cast to sell what is a rather tense concept from minute one.

Touted as the storm to end all storms, the mid west is bracing itself for one doozy of a hurricane. In the middle of the storm, a mother and her three daughters are on the way to meet their dad who is on leave from the military and set to arrive at any moment. Along the way the girls realize that power of the storm is overwhelming and accidentally crash in to the side of the road. Luckily alive, they retreat in to what looks like an abandoned cellar. Never prone to just allowing characters to suffer, director Patrick Rea really puts this small family through the ringer in “Nailbiter,” giving them a nightmare within a nightmare to contend with. Layer after layer of this story is not only more harrowing and disturbing than before, but once Rea is allowed to reach his wide spectrum and fully conceived premise, “Nailbiter” is so much more than a monster in the house picture. As with most Rea pictures, “Nailbiter” is a clever and slick production that provides plot twist after plot twist without relying on cheap throwaway stunts to keep our attention.

The action is relatively bloodless but that doesn’t detract from the viciousness of our villains who are every bit as nasty as we perceive them once we’re given glimpses of them in the darkness, roaring and creeping around. As the mother and her daughters hide in the cellar seeking safety from the storm outside, the proceedings become ever more uneasy as they’re left to wonder who or what is creeping outside watching them. Rea thankfully gives his characters something to do and always keeps them matching wits with the forces outside allowing the oldest daughter a cell phone to contact authorities, while the middle daughter is left to uncover a bigger mystery in the cellar that leads her to confront the pure evil outside. The women here never sit back and allow fate to take them and spend most of the film trying to find a way out of the cellar as time goes on, and that keeps the atmosphere rich with an eagerness that will allow audiences to feel their need to live. The performances from the cast are what power the initial terror of “Nailbiter” and you feel the sense of claustrophobia as the women do battle with the shadows outside struggling to keep them cooped up.

Once they finally do manage to uncover what’s boiling amidst the storm, it’s even more disturbing than anyone can imagine and provides a truly spooky finale that never gives Rea’s characters a chance to be at ease. One caveat for “Nailbiter” though is there is never much of an explanation as to what the women are in the cellar for. Are they fodder for the beasts, sacrifices, or merely victims of the sociopaths to prevent word from getting out? That said, “Nailbiter” doesn’t suffer from that nagging question and keeps a steady brisk pace of terror and futility in a land where there is absolutely no way out. Rea does not disappoint and takes every advantage with his debut here that promises to please horror crowds in festivals everywhere. A stellar claustrophobic and paranoid horror thriller, director Patrick Rea pleases with a well made and absolutely harrowing nightmarish indie filled with great performances, slick writing and marvelous special effects.

I look forward to more from Rea in the future and you can catch “Nailbiter” when it tours across country in select festivals soon.