Directed By: Patrick Rea
Written By: Patrick Rea, Kendal Sinn
Starring: Joicie Appell, John D. Barnes, Emily Boresow, Jason Coffman
UK Certification: 15
Running Time: 78 minutes
UK Release Date: 29th September 2014
With 30 short films under his belt, director Patrick Rea’s second foray into feature film territory is an elegant showcase for a filmmaker who is happy to cross genres and occasionally poke his head from beneath the parapet of horror. A native Nebraskan, Rea now calls Kansas his home, a state firmly stuck in the middle of Tornado Alley – which leads to a fitting segway into the narrative of Nailbiter which focuses upon a twister making its way towards the travelling Maguire family.
Indeed, this is how we begin with a radio announcer warning of the adverse weather conditions to come, which seem unlikely given the establishing shots of a calm picturesque town, rooted in farming with the occasional freight train passing through and water towers littering the landscape. Here we meet Janet Maguire (Erin McGrane) who is in session in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She says that her husband is on his way back from the army today, and while she’s excited about that she’s also apprehensive about straightening her life out and is determined to do better.
Back home she has three daughters, Sally (Sally Spurgeon), Jennifer (Meg Saricks) and Alice (Emily Boresow) whose relationship is best termed fractious due to the hormonal raging that their teenage years dictate. As they head off in the car to pick their father up they witness the town preparing for the impending tornado, while a bathroom break at the local service station offers further warnings in their direction as to the severity of the coming storm. Janet remains determined to get to her family to their destination, but it soon becomes apparent that they’re in great danger and they simply have to head to safety. Finding a seemingly abandoned outbuilding they seek refuge in the tornado shelter, and while fear immediately turns to relief, the notion that they’re not alone turns their sanctuary into a living nightmare.
So, a character driven low budget monster movie, with an underlying subtext about addiction and recovery. Is that ambition or is it insanity? More importantly though, does it work? The answer is a resounding yes, as Patrick Rea gives us a tense and claustrophobic story with enough leftfield plot devices that should prick up even the most cynical of horror ears. It’s really coy too with its depiction of on-screen horror, as although we do get sporadic gore, much of the initial bloodletting takes place off-screen which serves to heighten the viewer’s curiosity as to WHAT is out there.
The dynamic between Janet and her three daughters is credible and honest, and is another aspect of the movie which breaks away from the now seemingly endless stream of six teens in an abandoned cabin / farmhouse / asylum horror flicks. Rea also doesn’t shy away from tough screenwriting decisions with regard to certain characters life expectancy which gives the movie a wild unpredictability.
In a month where the majority of horror aficionados fly from new release to new release with the frazzled mindset of a moth around a light bulb, I would seriously recommend stopping for just one second and picking up this doozy of an indie horror flick. If any of October’s other releases display the same level of workmanship and ingenuity as this little movie, then it would be a fine Halloween indeed.
7 out of 10