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“In a Violent Nature” – Gruesome Arthouse

Few horror works in recent memory have both amazed me and tested my patience.

The newest of the slashers is a beautiful, lovingly made, and yet sometimes frustrating experiment.

Canadian director Chris Nash has made a splash with his new slasher, In a Violent Nature. Produced by IFC and Shudder, the film follows an undead serial killer stalking campers who’ve disturbed his rest in the wilds of Ontario.

In a Violent Nature is something of a departure from its inspirations in films like Friday the 13th. An exercise in ambiance, and mood, this horror film is told largely from the perspective of the murderous Johnny. This is both the movie’s greatest strength and its biggest drawback. Its a slasher that goes the extra mile in trying to be “cinema”

In a Violent Nature is something of a paradox for me, as a longtime horror fan. In that few other horror works in recent memory have both amazed me, and tested my patience.

Familiar Frights

From the moment the first trailer was released, In a Violent Nature‘s inspiration was obvious.

The previously-mentioned Friday the 13th series set the standard for backwoods slashers. Jason Voorhees, with his iconic hocky mask and trusty machete, won over gore hounds’ hearts and became one of the greatest horror icons ever seen.

In Chris Nash’s new release we get Johnny. A revenant with a motif, backstory and appearance more than reminiscent of Jason. In many ways one could view In a Violent Nature as a Friday the 13th fan film come to the big screen.

Johnny, the protagonist and killer of "In a Violent Nature".
Ry Barrett as Johnny in “In a Violent Nature”. Photo Credit: IFC Films and Shudder.

Now that’s not to say there isn’t some originality to be found here. Certain new twists help the story of Johnny stand out from his predecessor in Jason Voorhees.

Man or Beast?

their origins play into different hockey-mask wearing killer of Crystal Lake was a cursed soul whose violence and madness stemmed from human pain, human tragedy. He died tragically, then rose from the grave to avenge his own mother, who in turn had tried to avenge him. The subsequent rampages across Crystal Lake are the work of a cursed soul who suffered in life, and won’t find peace in death.

Johnny is different. While we the audience get glimpses of a once-innocent child who was something of a misfit, the Johnny who rises from the grave is little more than an instinct-driven predator. His nature is ambiguous. His choice of targets is more random. And whatever questions are raised, we get little in the way of answers.

Weapon of Choice

Another trait with sets Johnny apart from his contemporaries is his modus operandi. Namely, his weapons. After all, every slasher worth his salt needs an iconic weapon.

Johnny carries a simple axe, and a hook-and-chain combination that he straps to himself at all times. Even his mask is unique, an antiquated fireman’s mask which somehow manages to look both ridiculous and bloodcurdling.

Johnny’s kills are single-minded, drawn out, and utterly brutal. Two in particular stand out, one involving his hook and the other using a log splitter.

The killer Johnny's most drawn out kill in "In a Violent Nature".
Ry Barrett as Johnny in “In a Violent Nature” Photo Credit: IFC Films and Shudder.

The results really need to be seen, to be believed. Johnny is a creative fellow, and for such a simple-minded brute he’s got style.

Style and Substance

Putting aside the immediate plot and character, the selling point of In a Violent Nature is its framing device.

From the beginning of the film, up until the last ten minutes, director Nash takes the audience along for the ride with Johnny as he traverses the wilderness. The results are soothing, immersive, and shocking when Johnny finally tracks down and kills each of his prey. However, this dedication to mood and atmosphere became something of a double-edged sword as the movie went on.

Ambiance

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; whether it be a slasher flick, or any other horror subgenre, locale and atmosphere are important.

The wilds in which Johnny hunts his prey are beautiful. They’re oddly peaceful at times, with only Johnny’s gruesome kills and mutilations disturbing what otherwise feels like the ideal camping venue. On many on occasion, the camera is left rolling as Johnny slowly lumbers wherever the hunt takes him.

But as the film drew on, those lengthy tracking shots and quiet venues start to overstay their welcome. It’s not that the film is unremarkable to look at, far from it. It’s rather that ambient noises, and distinct visuals can only carry a film for so long. Sooner or later, something needs to happen. And there’s plenty of stretches in the film’s runtime in which nothing happens.

Even in John Carpenter’s classic Halloween, a quintessential built largely on suspense, there’s usually something going on. The same can’t be said for In a Violent Nature. If I’m to offer any feedback, it’s that the film’s selling point, its gimmick, could have benefitted from some trimming or fine tuning.

Give Johnny something more to do. Or, now and then, spend more time with his victims as to keep the momentum going. That problem with momentum comes back around in the film’s final minutes, an ending that has a lot to say thematically but does little in the way of a satisfying conclusion.

A slasher movie doesn’t have to content itself with being basic. But there is a balance to be struck between the basic and the esoteric, the blockbuster and the arthouse. Chris Nash came close, but I’m not sure if he found it in this slasher flick.

The New Slasher

Slashers are a peculiar breed of horror. They’re this odd mix of shlocky, yet creative, and have given rise to some of the most recognizable and beloved scary movies ever made.

Wall remember our first, don’t we? Mine was Freddy vs Jason, a back in the 2000s when I was but a young and green-at-the-gills moviegoer who had no idea what I’d just walked into.

Coming up on twenty years later, I’ve become more than a little intimate with the genre. And in my time, it feels like a new breed of slasher has arrived. A breed driven by experimentation, and trying to grow beyond some more negative assumptions people have toward slashers. Take, for example, the character-driven X trilogy by Ti West, or the Blumhouse revival of Halloween which spent as much time deconstructing the killer Michael Myers as it did celebrating him.

In a Violent Nature is not perfect. It won’t win over every horror fan out there. But despite any issues with pacing, or an overindulgence in high art sensibilities, In a Violent Nature benefits the slasher genre, if simply by trying new things.

For that reason alone, I’ll be sure to welcome back Chris Nash’s hook-wielding killer, should he rise again.

Written By

I'm a lifelong denizen of the Bay Area, with a love for media in all its forms. Books, film, television, comics, they're a part of who I am and I'm happy to review them all for Trill Mag. A graduate of CSUMB, my lifelong passion in reading and writing led me here.

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