Meg Saricks, Joice Appell, Emily Boresow, Jason Coffman
Patrick Rea, Kendal Sinn
Patrick Rea should be a familiar name for readers of The Independent Critic. A veteran of 20+ shorts along with one full-length feature, 2007's The Empty Acre, Rea has shared his last few shorts with The Independent Critic including Hell Week, Get Off My Porch, Now That You're Dead and Time's Up, Eve. A 2002 graduate of the University of Kansas with a major in film studies and a minor in communications, Rea started SenoReality Pictures with collaborator Ryan Jones and has quickly made quite the name for himself and his peers at SenoReality with a multitude of high quality, innovative, downright scary and immensely entertaining indie horror shorts.
Rea's latest film is Nailbiter, which he directs and co-writes along with Kendal Sinn. Nailbiter is, indeed, a nail biter of a film though I can assure you that's not where it's title comes from ... or maybe it is.
The story kicks off with a freshly sober mother named Janet (Erin McGrane, Up in the Air) and her three daughters - Jennifer (Meg Saricks), Alice (newcomer Emily Boresow) and Sally (Sally Spurgeon). Despite stern warnings of tornado weather along their route, Janet and her daughters are determined to race across Kansas to get to the airport in time to greet their husband and father, respectively upon his return from the military. A quick bathroom break in the small town of Wellsville (Yes, I'll confess I thought of The Road to Wellville) and our seemingly fearless foursome are back on the road despite a stern warning from a local deputy about the impending tornado.
You guessed it. It's not even a few miles down the road when they look back and see a massive twister heading straight their way. Being as this is farmland, they do they logical thing and take shelter in what appears to be the safety of a storm cellar.
But, of course, "safety" is such a relative term.
By now, you're likely either thinking to yourself "How did they make a horror film about a twister?" or, even worse, you're thinking to yourself "Man, I hope this is better than that silly Helen Hunt movie."
No, they didn't.
Yes, it is.
While the twister certainly does play an important role in the film, Nailbiter is so much more. When the family tries to exit the storm cellar following the twister's passing, they find their escape obviously blocked by something just outside the cellar door. An attempt to break through fails when Sally is bitten by something just as she's about to climb out, an incident that leads to their becoming further trapped when the cellar's owner seals that sucker shut.
Maybe. Maybe not.
The truth is that half the fun of Nailbiter is trying to figure out exactly where Rea and Sinn are taking the story, while the other half of the fun exists in simply surrendering to its highly suspenseful, chill inducing and unnerving unfolding story. Nailbiter is rock solid proof that just because you're working with a lower budget, it doesn't mean you have to settle for a lower quality film. A strong script coupled with a fine ensemble cast and Rea's always finely disciplined direction all add up to a film that far surpasses much of the horror dreck that we see coming out of the Hollywood corporate machine these days.
The entire cast is strong here, with Meg Saricks particularly standing-out with a performance that weaves together everything one might expect from a horror film with its key action taking place in a dark cellar with an even darker mystery proving to be a rather menacing presence from fear to anger to sarcasm and so much more. Sally Spurgeon is also excellent as younger Sally, while both Erin McGrane and Emily Boresow round out the cast with strong performances.
Hanuman Brown-Eagle's camera work is stellar throughout the film. Having viewed the film on Blu-Ray, it was hard not to simply marvel at Brown-Eagle's pristine imagery and Misti Boland's fine production design. Julian Bickford's original music is exceptional, while Bruce Branit's visual effects far transcend what one might expect from a lower budget indie flick.
Being a lower budget indie horror, it's certainly true that there are times when Rea is just a tad over-ambitious and stretches beyond his budgetary constraints in a way that only slightly distracts from the film's goings on. That said, it's nearly impossible to not admire Rea's ambitious effort here and one has to marvel at how much he was able to accomplish. It's also refreshing to have a filmmaker ballsy enough to make difficult choices within the story, choices that will at time leave you gasping.
Nailbiter recently wrapped up production and is now headed out onto the film festival circuit. For more information on Nailbiter, visit the film's website listed in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic