In a dreary and almost dead world, a man who makes his living by being an assassin is struggling to continue on with his ever-growing mental pains and disdain he has for his life and the world he lives in. He seeks help in the form of self-mutilation by driving nails into his head after reading an article about a man who did the same thing. The nails do more than relieve his pain though; they open his eyes to the world he lives in as if seeing it for the first time. This newly found vision brings him more anguish than he had before as he begins to see the nightmarish creatures that also populate this world.
Hard to believe it's already been 10 years (more like 11 years but who's counting?) since Andrey Iskanov made his debut with the mind-bending "Nails". It was my first introduction to Andrey's very unique and interesting style and probably why it sticks with me more than his other films. You never forget your first time, after all. Though it has been awhile since I last watched "Nails" -- the last time was probably when I originally reviewed it for Film Bizarro. With this newly transferred and remastered release from Last Exit, it seemed like as good of a time as any to revisit Andrey's first feature film.
An unnamed hitman (Alexander Shevchenko) is haunted and tortured by his life style, both mentally and physically. After coming across an article about trepanning and a man's personal experience with the procedure that was self-implemented, the hitman decides to try it out as well. After driving the first nail in, the world suddenly becomes a different place -- almost as if he is seeing everything for the first time. What was intended to be used as a treatment for relief soon turns into obsession and addiction as the hitman continues to drive nail after nail into his brain wanting to see how far he can open his mind. With each nail the world grows more terrifying and soon the hitman finds himself trapped in an existence with demons and monsters that he cannot escape from.
"Nails" is an experimental movie in the truest sense of the word; it's not about telling a story but visually producing the concept to create an experience. Because the movie is about a man opening up his mind through the act of trepanation, Andrey does an excellent job of showing you what the character is experiencing. Taking the the character out of his cold, dead world -- that was perfectly represented by being in black and white -- into the colorful and vibrant world. By all accounts the movie succeeds by that alone because it doesn't tell you, it shows you. There is a competent through-line in "Nails", so it's not just a visual experience, but it is the visuals and the style that tells the movie's story.
For the sake of argument, I guess you could say that the story could have been expanded upon and gone into more detail of the hitman and the nightmare creatures he comes across in this new world. It isn't necessary though. Sure, "Nails" is a bit simple in that regards but once again the concept of the movie is about what it would be like if this act of driving nails into your brain did in fact open your mind to a new plane of existence. It's that one concept that gives the movie the necessary depth that is needed. "Nails" could be easily viewed as a metaphor for every day life. We live day-to-day in a cold and empty world where everything is black and white, but then something happens and we wake up. We see that there's more going on around us than that day-to-day existence. Some of those things are bright, colorful and wonderful but then we also get to see the darker and uglier reality of what it is we're surrounded by. Instead of telling you this story, Andrey shows it to you.
Like any good experimental movie, Andrey finds an interesting way of telling a story that allows you to take away whatever you want from the movie. You can see it as nothing more than a visual experience where someone ran wild with their cinematography and editing. Or you can see it for something more than that and find that there are parallels between "Nails" and the real world.
For me, what I think I appreciate about "Nails" now, more than ever, is that it shows how disciplined Andrey is when it comes to his work. He has grown as a filmmaker but his style has never changed and he is never willing to sacrifice his vision. Andrey has a geniunely unique voice in the world of cinema and from his very first feature, he has stayed true to that style -- his vision. When you watch an Andrey Iskanov film you will always know you are watching his movie, and that's part of what makes his work interesting and amazing.
Now, let's talking about Last Exit's release…
Normally we don't usually talk about the releases movies receive or the transfer quality of said releases because we're more interested in the movies themselves. However, movies like Andrey Iskanov's "Nails" don't usually receive the remastering treatment so it only seemed fair to take the time to talk about Last Exit's release. And to be completely honest…the difference in picture quality is not that noticeable. To a point that if I hadn't been aware of the fact before going into this version of the movie, I doubt I would have even been able to tell that "Nails" had received a new color correction treatment.
To be fair, it is noticeable in some scenes: some of the colors pop a bit more and the blacks are a bit darker, but comparing it with Unearthed Film's release (I actually did watch both releases for the sake of comparison), the differences were minimal. Don't misunderstand me, it has nothing to do with the amount of work Last Exit put into the release of "Nails". Instead it has a lot to do with the format that the movie was shot on and also because of how good Andrey is with editing and post-production work in general. "Nails" was shot on miniDV and has always existed on a digital format (yes, I am aware "Nails" also had a VHS release as well) and because of Andrey's skills, the movie has basically always looked as good as it's going to.
Regardless, Last Exit has put together a really nice release for "Nails" and it's a treatment that Andrey's work deserves and I would recommend picking it up.