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Review: The Extraordinary Unsettling 'In A Violent Nature'

By Jason Adams | Film | May 31, 2024 |

By Jason Adams | Film | May 31, 2024 |


It’s been a very very long time since the Slasher Film’s heyday of the 1980s. Hell, it’s been a very long time since the sub-genre of masked killers and their Final Girls got brilliantly resuscitated by Wes Craven and Scream fifteen years after those originals. And over the years since then, there have been stabs, some of them very fine, at bringing that corpse back to life. But it’s always kind of felt like there wasn’t much new to say with it. Not much new territory to mine. It felt like there were only so many subversions of and variations on the “sex equals death” trope that you could squeeze out of it before the poor thing’s done been bled out for good.

Which is why something like In a Violent Nature, first-time-feature writer-director Chris Nash’s extraordinarily unsettling spin on Slashers felt to me like such a welcome, fresh, and nasty-as-fuck bolt outta the blue. Because Nash doesn’t attempt to tangle up the ugliness at the black heart of what’s made Slashers tick for so long. All the tropes are here—the long fireside chat regaling us with the killer’s somewhat ridiculous backstory. The stoner wandering off by himself. The pretty girl wandering off by herself. Everybody wandering off by themselves, you buncha dumb dumb dumb dummies.

What Nash does instead is pull the simplest of tricks (and pulls it off to boot)—he takes all of those tropes and just simply looks at them from the other side, putting us (relentlessly, gruelingly) into the point-of-view of the killer himself. It’s pretty close to what Steven Soderbergh does with his ghost story Presence actually, but Nash’s camera is not the killer quite the same as Presence’s camera is its own ghost—here the camera is walking behind the killer, following him on his persistent death march toward all of the dumb campers who get in his path; it’s kind of like a ninety-minute version of those famous rear tracking shots that Darren Aronofsky has perfected.

And while I’m hesitant to conjure up the high holy name of Terrence Malick, there is indeed something of that here, and it was clearly an inspiration for Nash. The titular pun on “nature” is very clearly intentional, as we spend an inordinate amount of time just walking through nature with our good ol’ slasher buddy. And it’s often exquisitely beautiful to gaze upon—golden fields at sunset, the flicker of that campfire through the trees ahead. Going into In A Violent Nature, I really cannot overstate this enough for you—patience will be your best friend. It’s not quite the patience-tester that (my beloved) Skinamarink was, but it’s not not that either. This, too, belongs in the Slow Cinema canon.

Nash settles us into a rhythm, one constant and hypnotic, of endless endurance. What is a slasher killer but that? Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees—like the slow zombies of George Romero’s films, the horror is that they refuse to be stopped. They just keep coming and coming and coming, until we find ourselves exhausted and overtaken. Nash’s film methodically places us into that mindset of relentlessness, and then refuses to let us go. We become trapped by it. Beholden. Where Hitchcock made us empathize with Norman Bates trying to get every drop of blood cleaned up in that shower, here we find our brains funneled into the hunt. We find ourselves willing ourselves forward to catch our prey as they fumble somewhere ahead in the darkness just trying to survive the night.

Johnny—as in “Here’s Johnny!”—is here our killer’s name, but I’ll allow you to discover Johnny’s backstory as the film’s spills it. We mostly stare at the back of Johnny’s head, although Nash breaks his rules on occasion, and with purpose, just so we know who we’re ride-and-dying with. Just know that it involves a golden amulet placed over his burial mound which in the film’s opening moments some dumb teenagers disturb, and that’s some silliness you’ll be thankful for. Nash, rather effortlessly having his cake and smashing its brains out too, slices right through the arty self-seriousness that you might’ve been worrying about at this point here in this review.

Indeed In a Violent Nature manages to straddle the “elevated horror” (yes still for lack of a better term) trend that’s somewhat behind us now with the more hardcore, fun trend that movies like Malignant and the Terrifier series have more recently embraced—In a Violent Nature is somehow both of those things at once, and wildly it works. Scenes of deliriously over-the-top violence punctuate its extremely slow pace—this is a deeply mean-spirited movie that revels in its gooey practical gore, all while also taking the time to admire the pretty flowers. Savini by way of Bergman, or rather vice versa.

And it turns that improbable tension into its great asset. As we plod along in Johnny’s shoes, stalking his victims one by one, we find ourselves permeated by his “violent nature”—we’re implicated by association, by blood-lust. We want to see what this horror will do next. And our animal brains will our bad boy forward on his crusade to spill innards and mash heads like watermelons, step by step by infernally unstoppable and slow-as-hell step. It doesn’t hurt that in the grand tradition of slashers, he’s got a real underdog tale of woe—in this day and age, where we’ve become insistent upon every point of view being represented, is this not the final frontier of representation?

But all of the film’s first two acts of systematic nastiness still didn’t prepare me for the film’s final trick, which further abstracts the well-trod Slasher tropes into even stranger and more unnerving territory. In a Violent Nature’s last twenty or so minutes worked their way deep into me, cumulatively shaking me to my core. As the horror dissipates into something more formless and vague, true madness seems to take hold—the sounds of the forest ratchet up, the air itself seems to vibrate, and something unnatural feels loosed. Set upon us where we sit. Now it’s our turn to stare frantically in every direction—we become the hunted, the mad, one with the darkness.