I'll admit, I don't see nearly as many independently produced horror films as I used to. Of course, it used to be a hell of a lot easier to keep up with the seemingly dozens that came out every week (most of which go straight to video), especially when I'm also trying to keep up with all the non-horror releaases. Woe is me, I know. But I do my best. At the very least, I try to keep up with the horror offerings that open in theaters or play at festivals that I attend. Case in point, I received a copy of a new film called NAILBITER in the mail recently, found out it was playing at an upcoming horror film festival in Chicago, and was excited to give it a look.
If my research is correct, NAILBITER is the second feature by director/co-writer Patrick Rea (he also helmed THE EMPTY ACRE, a 2007 film I haven't seen), who has done a tremendous job making a good-looking film that actually delivers serious tension and a few genuinely scary moments. Much of the good will I feel toward the film has to do with the caliber of the acting, particularly from Erin McGrane and Meg Saricks, who play at-odds mother and eldest daughter Janet and Jennifer Maguire. The Maguire women, which also includes younger sisters Sally and Alice (Sally Spurgeon and Emily Boresow), live in rural Kansas and are on the eve of papa Maguire coming home from fighting overseas.
Because there's a big storm on the way, they decide to drive to Kansas City a day early, stay in a hotel, and meet him in the morning, but while driving, they get caught out in some horrific weather. When Janet spots a tornado approaching on the horizon, she pulls the car over, and the family runs for the nearest farm house with a storm cellar. The storm passes, but that doesn't mean the Maguires are out of danger yet. There doesn't seem to be anyone in the home above, and a tree has fallen on the doors to the cellar, so they must find a way out of what they have now come to realize is a slightly creepy basement. An attempt by Sally to crawl out of a small window results in a rather unsettling injury, and before long, the women realize that they aren't so much trapped as they are being held captive.
I don't want to say too much more about the NAILBITER plot; I think seeing it more or less cold is the best way to go and will result in bigger surprises and purer anxiety-filled moments. But I was really impressed with the flow of the story, the reasons behind the ladies being held captive, and the way everything plays out. And while the movie certainly leaves itself open for a sequel (hell, it practically feels like Part 1 of a two-part story), it was refreshing to watch a non-sequel, mostly original horror film that wasn't afraid to get a little kooky sometimes.
I also liked the little touches each character had: mom is a recovering alcoholic, Jennifer is a teen smoker who is trying to quit. And of course, alcohol and fire are two key elements in them possibly escaping their underground prison. I have no idea if you'll get a chance to see NAILBITER on the big screen, but I hope you do because some of the shots of the expansive Kansas landscape seem built for big, wide screens. But even if you only get to see the film On Demand or via DVD, you owe it to your self to check out this little gem.
And it just so happens that folks in the Chicago area will get a chance to see NAILBITER on the big screen as well as several other horror features and shorts at Chicago Fear Feat, a newly created independent horror film festival, taking place April 13-14 at the Muvico Theater's Rosemont (IL) 18. Highlights of the event include the Chicago premiere of [REC]3, a showing the great Cuban zombie movie JUAN OF THE DEAD, and special appearance by Adam Green (the HATCHET movies, FROZEN) and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2 and the upcoming KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM), who will be on hand for screenings of the first two episodes of their new FEARnet series "Holliston," plus a rare big-screen showing of HATCHET II, which a certain chain pulled from release after only three days.
The event also includes Q&As, panel discussions, parties, and lots of great horror shorts. For details on event, screening schedules, and a list of guests (including NAILBITER director/co-writer Patrick Rea), go to Chicago Fear Fest's web site.