Credit: Pierce Derks/IFC Films/Shudder
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film Genre Views

In a Violent Nature — Chris Nash

May 30, 2024

There is perhaps no genre more worked over, commented upon, or deconstructed than the slasher; that most basic of horror staples has engendered all manner of theoretical texts and postmodern riffs, an almost endless stream of appreciations and re-appraisals over the last four decades. Falling somewhere in-between on the pop-culture-to-academic-appreciation spectrum, Chris Nash’s new In a Violent Nature doesn’t so much repudiate the genre’s basic essence as distill it down into its purist, most elemental form. It’s part art film, part splatter fest, the work of a true believer who seems determined to tweak a long-standing formula just enough to offer a new perspective. It’s a fascinating experiment, although its success is at least partially contingent on an audience’s patience and appetite for extremely aggressive bodily harm.

Most mainstream criticisms of these particular types of films invoke terms like “cliched” and “paper thin.” It’s not a genre known for ingenuity of plotting or Oscar-caliber acting. But Nash circumvents such concerns by pushing story, plot, and characters to the absolute margins of his project, instead focusing on the hypnotic journey of a supernatural killer as he embarks on his murder spree. This is a film of liminal spaces, a journey made up almost entirely out of interstitial moments that other films would otherwise eschew. What does the killer do while nubile teenagers cavort in the cabin in the woods? He walks, and walks, and walks. The film begins with off-screen voices, dialogue just audible enough to put wheels into motion; wandering around an old graveyard in the middle of an Ontario forest, some dumb young people steal a necklace hanging from a cross. By absconding with the item, the lumbering Johnny (Ky Barrett, doing a remarkable Kane Hodder impression) is resurrected from his shallow grave. As he emerges from the ground, the camera situates itself at a polite distance behind his back and proceeds to follow him on his journey through the woods. For the most part, Nash finds a healthy balance between the longueurs of Johnny’s hiking and concessions to his audience and their narrative expectations; while it would have been fun if he had gone full James Benning, Nash gives some backstory to Johnny’s otherwise silent, elemental killing machine, and one long sequence abandons the killer’s POV entirely to give the victims a little hint of characterization. A final girl also emerges, although here too Nash upends conventions by devoting several minutes at the end of the movie to a long monologue that forces audiences to sit with the shell-shocked Kris (Andrea Pavlovic).

But the film really comes to life when it focuses on Johnny’s POV, forcing a kind of audience identification onto an otherwise blank slate. Nash distends time in interesting ways here; Johnny’s travels make up what feels like the bulk of the film’s runtime, trudging at a steady pace while leaves and twigs crunch under foot. But the kills have their own leisurely pace, too; heads are severed and limbs ripped off with the same placid effect of strolling through the woods. There’s a certain minimalism to the proceedings, until the killings start, at which point maximum blood and elaborate prosthetic effects become the film’s centerpiece. It’s a curious, but productive, tension, like mixing the work of Lisandro Alonso, Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, and gallons of fake blood. It’s safe to say that you’ve never seen anything quite like In a Violent Nature, which is likely recommendation enough. But what’s truly surprising is the abundant aesthetic pleasures on display, from the graceful, lovingly constructed tracking shots to the sublime natural beauty of northern Ontario. The universe might be cold and uncaring — not unlike our murderous protagonist — but as we all know: sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

DIRECTOR: Chris Nash;  CAST: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavolovic, Cameron Love, Liam Leone;  DISTRIBUTOR: IFC Films;  IN THEATERS: May 31;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 34 min.