In A Violent Nature

Years ago, GEICO had an ad spoofing the stupidity of horror movie protagonists where a group of teens on the run from a killer opt to hide behind a wall of hanging chainsaws over hopping in a running car. Following their decision, we get a close-up of the killer standing right behind them, who lifts up his mask to reveal how befuddled and somehow disappointed he is by their idiocy. The new Canadian slasher film In A Violent Nature hinges on a hook left hanging by the ad: what if we spent a whole horror movie following the deranged murderer instead of the clueless campers? There have been so many Friday The 13th sequels, it’s a wonder they hadn’t tried it before but now that it’s finally here, I only wish that it had come sooner; it’s the best movie of its subgenre since last year’s Thanksgiving.

We open on a static shot of a locket hanging on a beam in a deep woods abandoned shed, where voices talk out of frame and a hand belonging to Troy (Liam Leone) reaches out to nab the jewelry. Little does he know, that necklace is all that was keeping the decades-old corpse of Johnny (Ry Barrett) buried in the ground and moments after Troy departs with his buddies, the zombified Johnny wriggles free from his earthy prison. We stick with him as he wanders through the forests of Ontario, silently watching over a campfire where the group of friends swap scary stories. They eventually bring up the White Pine Slaughter, an urban legend where an unseen force allegedly got brutal revenge on a group of loggers who covered up the murder of the “mentally hindered” Johnny when he was just a boy. Unfortunately for them, the revenge isn’t quite over yet.

After this bit of exposition, In A Violent Nature doesn’t bother to explain much more along the lines of character motivation as, in one sense, we’ve seen this movie before. Once Johnny claims his first victim, the survival instincts of the remaining campers reliably kick in and they attempt to take actions that won’t instantly doom them. By keeping the perspective on the zombified killer as he lumbers through nature, it could be said that Johnny is the closest thing the film has to a true protagonist. We aren’t exactly rooting for him to kill everyone in this group…but aren’t we? He’s modeled very similarly to Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked face of the Friday The 13th series who drowned as a boy at Camp Crystal Lake due to the negligence of the staff. If Jason can be seen as the “hero” of that franchise, then it’s not difficult to view Johnny in the same way here.

Though In A Violent Nature has long takes and a slower pace, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the movie takes itself too seriously. Some of the kills here are the most gloriously over-the-top that I’ve seen in a slasher, including a cliffside slaughtering that is so immoderate that it’s difficult not to chuckle. That’s not to say that this is a horror comedy but it certainly knows where it came from and leans into the camp of its predecessors. In his debut, writer/director Chris Nash has clearly done his homework, thought about what we’ve already seen before in these films and then commits to how to give us a new perspective. Plot-wise, this movie is hardly reinventing the wheel but in terms of direction, it’s pretty much one-of-a-kind.

Another way that In A Violent Nature carves out its own path is in its audio presentation, which forgoes a musical score for the eerie sounds of the deep forest and the detailed sound design during the slayings. It’s another way that the movie is a subtractive exercise, taking away the conventions upon which audiences typically rely to heighten the overall experience. In a brief sequence that is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, one of the characters is running fast enough that her white shirt is barely visible and her screams are barely audible over the ominous symphony of cicada chirps. It sets up a denouement that is more tense and unnerving than the brutality that precedes it, capping off In A Violent Nature as appointment viewing for horror fans.

Score – 4/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is Bad Boys: Ride Or Die, a buddy cop action comedy starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reuniting a pair of Miami PD’s finest as they investigate corruption in the department but subsequently find themselves on the run.
Also playing in theaters is The Watchers, a supernatural horror film starring Dakota Fanning and Georgina Campbell following a young artist who gets stranded in the forest and becomes trapped alongside three strangers, who are stalked by mysterious creatures each night.
Premiering on Netflix is Hit Man, a romantic action comedy starring Glen Powell and Adria Arjona involving a professor moonlighting as a hit man for his city police department who finds himself attracted to a woman who enlists his services.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup