Filmmaker Patrick Rea talks Horror, the Midwest and his new film “NAILBITER”
In Kansas, there are few things scarier than a tornado or a basement.
Midwestern filmmaker Patrick Rea’s new horror film has plenty of both, and a little something extra too. It’s that last bit that a mother and her daughters find themselves facing during a killer storm in NAILBITER. Rea’s new feature is just the most recent work; he’s been making horror shorts for more than 10 years, and he’s just getting started.
You may have already seen some of his work. Rea’s production company, SensoReality, was one of seven winning films in the 2004 FANGORIA Blood Drive contest with the short film A MAN AND HIS FINGER. Additionally, he has more than 30 other projects under his belt as producer, director and writer. These range from dark comedy to sci-fi noir to more traditional horror. All of his work has something in common—it’s all pretty good.
Rea says he was drawn to the genre because it exercises our desire for danger in a safe environment. “I think that horror films scratch a primal itch. They allow us to feel like we are in danger without actually being in danger. That’s exciting to a lot of people. I love watching a scary movie and feeling a sense of unease, but I also know that it’s a filmmaker pulling the strings with a combination of story, image, sound and performances. Personally, I also love the feeling of laughing after a scare in a horror film, which can be very cathartic,” says Rea. Rea’s own favorite films include John Carpenter’s body of work, THE OMEN, THE SHINING, POLTERGIEST, FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE DESCENT, INSIDIOUS, CABIN IN THE WOODS and TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL.
One of the standout traits in Rea’s films is understatement. The secrets held by monsters and men in his world are largely kept. Though unnecessary revelations are lacking, Rea allows and challenges viewers to supply their own answers. Rather, like a good teacher, Rea wants you to learn for yourself saying: “I wanted the audience to discover things with the characters and leaving a few questions lingering will keep the discussion going.” And he wants to keep viewers interested and engaged. “I really like mystery, and sometimes when all the mystery is revealed, it becomes way less interesting.” Rea keeps his stories interesting in other ways too.
No matter the threats facing his characters—be they creatures from another world or little girls in uniform selling delicious cookies—they react naturally to the supernatural. They do things that make sense because we might do them too.
“I don’t like going over the top with performances. I like keeping them grounded in some sort of reality. Most people don’t run around screaming and yelling when they are in a dire situation. People internalize their fear to get through a situation. With my films, I tend to tell the actors to keep it ‘real’ and not to take it to a place that pushes things into ‘camp’ or ‘cheese.’ Sometimes, as in some of my short films, the situation could be seen as ‘camp,’ but it only works because the actors are reacting in a way that still keeps it believable,” Rea says. He’s very aware of an average-person’s reality. That may be part of the reason Rea has stayed a Midwest filmmaker—it’s everyplace America.
Rea is a native Nebraskan who now makes his home outside Kansas City. He’s not interested in packing his bags for Hollywood. That’s in part because it’s home and in part because he’s found a cache of talent. He says, “I really think that Kansas isn’t that much different from anywhere else. There are misconceptions of what actually is going on in Kansas. I chose to stay in Kansas mainly because I truly believed that it was possible to make films here…[it’s] a great city with an enormous amount of talent, and with technology evolving the way it is, you can make films anywhere.” A good deal of Rea’s found talent is female. His characters aren’t women looking for rescue, and some of his crew are women who round out the human experience expressed in his films. Rea says he’s comfortable with strong women in the profession and as characters because of early personal relationships with his mother and sister and later with his wife: “They are all very strong individuals, which has influenced me greatly. I also feel like the best horror films and other successful films, in general, have strong females. The main characters in NAILBITER are all women, and I felt like that would be more endearing as well as more compelling. Even the film’s villain is a woman.”
Rea’s new film, NAILBITER is a supernatural twist on the rural survival story. Though it’s grim at times, it lacks the complete inhumanity of similar entries with an ultraviolent bent such as WRONG TURN or WOLF CREEK. NAILBITER is much more a suspense and character piece than gory torture porn. And NAILBITER has a supernatural element that many other rural survival stories don’t. Rea was looking for a way to unite Midwest storms with horror with NAILBITER. He says, “being a lifelong Midwesterner, tornados and thunderstorms go with the territory, so I wanted to really take something very relatable to people and combine it with a monster movie.” Rea himself has been through his share of severe storms living in tornado alley and says, “I always found them to be scary but exciting. I would always want to look at the tornado as my parents were dragging me into the cellar. We would sit in the cellar and listen to the radio till the warning was over.” For more on NAILBITER, you can read Jeremy Webster’s earlier review for FANGORIA HERE.
NAILBITER is available on DVD, at Redbox locations, and on digital outlets such as Amazon and iTunes May 28th. You can also check out some of Rea’s shorts on his vimeo page HERE.