Director: Patrick Rea
Writer: Kendal Sinn
Producer: Hanuman Brown-Eagle, Ryan Scott Jones, Aaron Laue
Stars: Erin McGrane, Meg Saricks, Emily Boresow, Sally Spurgeon, Ben Jeffrey, Mark Ridgway, Joicie Appell
A mother and her three daughters find themselves trapped in a storm cellar by strange creatures after taking refuge from a tornado.
Far from living up to its title, “Nailbiter” is what a horror movie would be like if Lifetime stopped doing Meredith Baxter domestic violence dramas and dipped its toes into genre cinema. Rated R for reasons unknown, “Nailbiter” is tame enough for daytime television, but not even as entertaining.
The quad of women that anchor the story have characterizations so thin that they disappear when turned sideways. Janet Maguire is a recovering alcoholic. The extent of this depiction is an introductory scene at an AA meeting and a moment later in the film when she briefly cradles a bottle of scotch. Meg Saricks, who resembles a younger Shawnee Smith, plays Janet’s eldest daughter Jennifer. Jennifer has a bit of a smarmy “bad girl” streak, evidenced by the fact that she smokes cigarettes. Alice is the brainy daughter. This is easy to tell because she is shy, quiet, and wears glasses. Rounding out the trio of daughters is Sally. Sally’s defining trait is dead weight. She suffers a bite on her forearm early in the story and inexplicably passes out, having to be carried around for the remainder of the movie.
Ignoring the blaring sirens, buzzing emergency alerts, verbal warnings, and incessant sounds of residents boarding up windows to prepare for the coming storm, the Maguire family decides that a tornado is not enough of a deterrent to impede their plan to pick up Lt. Maguire, Janet’s husband, at the Kansas City airport. They make it as far as the town of Wellsville when the approaching twister forces them to take refuge in a nearby storm cellar. The cyclone is soon to be a distant threat when they realize that they are not alone in the cellar, and whoever owns the home is not about to let the women leave alive.
Take a good look at the DVD cover, because that is the best shot there is of the creatures that stalk the Maguire girls. (Although the monster on the box is not even the one that is in the movie.) The FX department seems to have had only enough foam and latex to create a face, one hand, and a small back piece. With the exception of a singular bullet to a forehead, all of the kills happen offscreen as well, in keeping with the film’s goal of concealing every element that might be of interest to horror fans.
Stranger than the decision to hide the carnage and the creature to the point of annoyance, is the film’s feeling of being a neutered stage play. Director Patrick Rea and cinematographer Hanuman Brown-Eagle appear to forget that a camera can tilt up and down or pan left and right. So many scenes are staged with stationary shots that intended drama plays out as stilted. The camera is merely recording movements instead of flowing with the action or adding suspense. A pair of crane shots shows that they had a budget for camera production, but the cellar scenes are flat and lifeless, devoid of visuals that are either creative or interesting.
Completing the TV movie feel is a soundtrack fitting for a Disney movie. Scenes feature puzzling orchestral melodies and chime-like vignettes that feel like they should accompany magic wands waving arcs of sparkling stars as opposed to anything taking place in a horror film. It is as if the score from a completely different movie was accidentally laid over “Nailbiter” instead.
Having fallen down on the technical front, “Nailbiter” has only its story to rely upon as a saving grace. Except that the movie is a letdown in this department, as well. For a film that has enough endings to rival “Return of the King,” “Nailbiter” rolls the final credits without ever offering a satisfying explanation for the tepid events. A family caught in a storm cellar while pursued by mysterious creatures should inspire fear, panic, paranoia, and claustrophobia. Instead, “Nailbiter” inspires yawns, heavy eyelids, and a feeling that the time would have been better spent watching something else entirely.
Review Score: 30