NAILS (2017)


Studio:       MPI Home Video
Director:    Dennis Bartok
Writer:       Dennis Bartok, Tom Abrams
Producer:  Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell
Stars:     Shauna Macdonald, Steve Wall, Ross Noble, Leah McNamara, Richard Foster-King, Robert O’Mahoney, Charlotte Bradley, Muireann D’Arcy

Review Score:



While recovering from a horrific accident, a partially paralyzed woman comes to suspect she is being haunted by a ghost from the hospital’s past.



A horrific hit and run accident left Dana Milgrom physically broken.  After several weeks in a coma, Dana wakes at Hopewell Hospital to find herself partially paralyzed, breathing through a tube, and only able to communicate with the aid of a computer.

Dana might be psychologically broken too.  When a shadowy shape seemingly emerges from a closet to tamper with her life-support system, Dana becomes convinced that the hospital is haunted.  Dana’s nurse Trevor assures her she is alone.  Dr. Stengel appears more interested in the near-death experience that brought Dana into his building.  And Dana’s track coach husband Steve seems preoccupied by his promising new athlete Ashley.

With everyone else dismissing her visions as post-traumatic paranoia, Dana ends up on her own to unravel the mystery.  What she uncovers are Angel of Death child killings and a strange suicide connected to a past that Hopewell Hospital prefers to keep buried.  As paranormal phenomena intensifies, Dana realizes the murderous man of her nightmares has his sights set on Dana specifically, yet she is powerless to protect herself and no one is willing to listen.

For most of the movie, I found myself more or less shrugging my shoulders out of unvested apathy.  Supernatural spooks of slow-burn suspense were so harmlessly marginal that “Nails” wasn’t tipping one way or the other as a particularly ‘good’ or ‘bad’ horror/thriller.

Then the filmmakers shrugged their shoulders too.  Having seemingly lost the last 20 pages of their script and being apparently unable to recall what those words said, everyone improvised a senseless conclusion.  Instead of coming across as passably mediocre, “Nails” threw away even that underachieving ambition to limp toward a takeaway impression of being irresponsibly uninterested in its own outcome.

“Is it all in her mind?” melodrama and singular creature in the corner creeps inherently don’t have the seismic activity to shake cinematic earth.  But “The Descent’s” Shauna Macdonald packs enough personality into her underwritten woman in distress role to keep the stereotype from getting stale.  Even if her character can be considered charmless, Macdonald isn’t, swinging sympathy to Dana’s side without really having to ask.

Cinematographer James Mather’s camera follows Macdonald’s lead by staying active to avoid stagnation, even when confined to one place.  Hopewell Hospital has all the usual haunted house hooks, hiding a low-budget production in its standard assortment of dimly-lit rooms, cobwebbed corridors, and peeling wallpaper.  Hopewell is scandalously understaffed considering its considerable campus, yet atmosphere earns an adequate grade for being engaging in spite of also being unremarkably routine.

Once all of the cards come onto the table, including pedestrian bits like a homewrecking mistress, a doctor spilling exposition beans like a gossipy schoolgirl, and an online research montage filling in additional backstory, you sell off remaining expectations to simply settle for the notion of “Nails” being inoffensively average entertainment.  This resignation barely has a chance to register however, when “Nails” introduces a twist – not from the story, but from an open admission that said story has no clue how to resolve itself.

Time.  Money.  Ideas.  Whatever “Nails” ran out of, the result is an indecisive direction where fiction folds under the bloated weight of too many possibilities paired with an inability to pick one.  Maybe the vengeful ghost was wrongfully accused of his mortal crimes.  Maybe the hospital head leads a conspiratorial cabal with a sinister agenda.  Maybe Dana’s past hides an integral secret.  Maybe director Dennis Bartok just had to film the finale while afflicted with amnesia.

Who knows what happened or why anyone thought leaving “Nails” essentially unfinished would go unnoticed.  Predictable plotting, dull dialogue, slim scope, and other substandard stylings can be absolved as “so what?” slips of no big deal import.  But the film’s rushed resolution smacks of unenthusiastic carelessness to get a quick flick in the can and pinch it out to the public.  That’s a frustrating cinema sin that insults the audience, which is far more difficult to forgive.

Review Score:  40