Review: ‘In A Violent Nature’

A Jason-Like Killer Takes The Spotlight In Chris Nash's Fresh, Ultra-Violent Spin On The Slasher Genre

Has there ever been a Sundance movie as unflinchingly brutal as Chris Nash’s In a Violent Nature? Not that I can remember, and there have been bloody horrors to cross into Sundance’s Midnight section. But none have the gnarly massacres put on display in Nash’s twist on the slasher genre, seen through the focused eye of a Jason-like killer with a grudge. The chilling change of perspective and ambient noise surrounding the killer as he stalks his prey makes for a unique horror experience with which to kick off the festival.

The film begins with one of those scenes we would typically see in flashback. A group of people uncover a locket in a collapsed fire tower in the woods. Stupidly, one of them snags it, awakening the rotting corpse buried underneath for years. Fueled by vengeance, the hulking figure proceeds to hunt down anyone involved with the token’s disappearance, and anybody else who gets in his way.

Nash, who both directed and wrote In a Violent Nature, focuses in on horror tropes that we know to look for, but does it in a way we’ve never seen. For instance, the killer, named Johnny, lumbers through the woods at a steady rhythm. His prey can run, hop on vehicles, whatever, but the film keeps its gaze on Johnny and his determined hunt. Any errant noise will send him pinballing into a different direction, his mind fully centered on the kill. When we ask ourselves how these slashers can always catch up to their victims, Nash sort of gives us an answer. Even though these sequences can test the viewer’s patience, they are nevertheless compelling because we’ve never been afforded the chance to see them before.

The usual group of eventual victims make their presence felt, but this movie isn’t about them. You’ve got the local park ranger with a history connected to Johnny’s past tragedy; a survivalist with disregard for authority, and of course, horny, irresponsible youths on vacation. As they sit around the fire telling scary stories about Johnny, you can feel his eyes piercing them from a distance. In the grand scheme of this movie, they’re just meat to be chopped up.

This deliberate, observational approach to the slasher genre is reminiscent of the work of Terence Malick, especially with Nash’s use of natural surroundings and sound to evoke images both beautiful and terrifying. But it adds something more to the viciousness of the slaughter, and let me tell you, Nash is a seriously twisted dude for some of the stuff he comes up with. Some are shockingly nasty and quick. Others, like one excruciatingly calculated murder involving a paralyzed victim and a logsplitter, will haunt your dreams. But it’s nothing compared to one death that is so twisted it boggles the mind, and had people in our screening groaning at the level of depravity.

It’s when In a Violent Nature strays from Johnny’s viewpoint that it goes off track. The final act features a “Final Girl” showdown with an unsatisfying conclusion, a change in perspective, and a shockingly dull road sequence that takes you right out of the film. It’s unfortunate because the film builds so beautifully to a face-off seen from the killer’s point of view. What does a Jason-like slasher see when he’s nearing the end of his body count? What does he do when it’s over? I wanted to see Nash’s vision for these answers so badly by the time In a Violent Nature came to a close, and it’s to his credit that it had gripped me that much. But to not deliver, and sell your initial premise short in the end, is a letdown that I hope gets fixed somewhere down the line. While I’m unsure that casual horror fans will appreciate the pace, die-hards are going to love this fresh spin on the Friday the 13th genre from a director with a clear passion for it.

IFC and Shudder will release In a Violent Nature on May 31st.

Handling the Undead
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
violent-nature-review-in-a-violent-natureHas there ever been a Sundance movie as unflinchingly brutal as Chris Nash’s In a Violent Nature? Not that I can remember, and there have been bloody horrors to cross into Sundance’s Midnight section. But none have the gnarly massacres put on display in Nash’s...