In a Violent Nature

In a Violent Nature

2024, R, 94 min. Directed by Chris Nash. Starring Lauren Taylor, Andrea Pavlovic, Ry Barrett, Reece Presley, Liam Leone.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 31, 2024

When Wes Craven laid out the rules of horror films in the original Scream, the idea was to spell out all the conventions we all already knew. But there’s a longer list not included in that primer, tropes that have become universal subtext. Like, undead slashers walk slowly. For the audience, that slow-motion morbidity means added tension, often amplified by screeching strings or primal panting on the score.

But what would it be like to be that slow-moving menace? To meander through nature, trundling across verdant fields or between the boughs of shady trees? That’s seemingly the thought behind In a Violent Nature, a revisionist slasher from Canadian filmmaker Chris Nash. It’s mostly told from the point of view of recently resurrected shambling slayer Johnny (Barrett) – or rather, for most of the first act, from a third-person-shooter-style perspective, over his moldering shoulder as he wanders through the forest, butchering rednecks and partiers.

The story of the return of the White Pines Murderer is absolutely by-the-numbers, right down to Johnny’s backstory being recounted around a campfire. It’s the pacing and the perspective that make the difference. There are no jump scares, because it would be Johnny doing the jumping: Instead, it’s the set-up to the jump, the image of him tensing his muscles. There are jump cuts, however – Nash’s nod to Johnny's pace being so slow that if the camera just stayed with him then each pursuit would be more glacial than a Terrence Malick movie.

Nash would probably appreciate the comparison, as the director of The Tree of Life is an undoubted influence on his presentation of nature. The forest through which Johnny hikes seems perfectly alive, a haven for constantly chirping insects and singing birds who are consistently disinterested in the actions of humans, living or dead. Nash has also been compared to those filmmakers reductively (and sometimes dismissively) referred to as part of slow cinema, emphasizing long takes that are antithetical to the lightning-fast edits of most slashers. But, to paraphrase Paul Schrader on that cinematic school, you can take forever as long as the payoff is worth the wait.

That’s where Nash diverges from the other “slow” filmmakers: Put simply, Kore-eda doesn’t do this many decapitations, and if Nash had written this as a straightforward backwoods slasher he’d be lauded by the horror community for some of the year’s most innovative deaths. (There’s a visual joke about yoga flexibility that’s a real gutbuster.) He knows the genre, and isn’t above some subtle Easter eggs, like a brief cameo by Lauren-Marie Taylor (best known as doomed camp counselor Vickie in Friday the 13th Part 2).

However, Nash doesn’t suddenly switch into Platinum Dunes-style explosions of gore. The killings are just as slow as the walking, forcing the audience to consider what they see. There’s a comparison to be made with another great deconstructionist horror, 2009 cult favorite Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Director Scott Glosserman began his film as a found footage mockumentary before flipping into a conventional slasher for the final act as a deliberate, subversive plot point. Nash keeps his deliberate pacing to emphasize the grisliness. One of the simplest deaths – a drowning that evokes the opening of Jaws – is shot to give the audience time to consider why they aren’t turning away. Even Taylor’s appearance is more than just a knowing nod, as she delivers a closing monologue that recontextualizes the preceding mayhem. These moments are almost accusatory, and bring to mind another Wes Craven film: the era-defining and still-transgressive The Last House on the Left. Both films deliver the charnel carnage that audiences adore, while still questioning why we keep looking. If that question makes you uncomfortable – well, maybe that’s the point.

Showtimes

Fri., June 14

digital 10:50

Sat., June 15

digital 10:35

Sun., June 16

digital 10:35

Mon., June 17

digital 10:35

Tue., June 18

digital 10:35

Wed., June 19

digital 10:35

Fri., June 14

digital 11:20

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

In a Violent Nature, Chris Nash, Lauren Taylor, Andrea Pavlovic, Ry Barrett, Reece Presley, Liam Leone

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