"What's the story?"
Centered on the victim of a sixty-year-old crime, Chris Nash's In a Violent Nature earns its title. Vicious and gruesome without a sign of remorse, the film navigates the overgrown shrubs and foliage of the deep green forest, using nature's own ruthlessness on a group of young campers who are about to pay the ultimate price for swiping a precious locket from a collapsed fire tower.
Beautifully articulated camera work sets the tone early as we spend several minutes following Johnny, our newly resurrected villain, as he walks through the brush, hellbent on recovering the locket gifted to him years before. Without a word, he enters a home and makes quick work of the supposed owner. That murder occurs off-screen, away from the viewer. The piercing scream rustles through the trees, the first victim of a murderous rampage complete.
Take note, Nash doesn't safeguard our eyes again.
As Johnny begins to sift through the campers responsible for the missing locket, Nash digs into his box of creative tricks. Clear genre inspirations run rampant as a slew of toys help our villain bring each of his targets to their lonely demise.
A slow build for the first half hour, things unleash once a pair ventures down to the lake for a mid-morning swim. As Johnny watches from across the water, his calmness generating additional tension, he slowly submerges himself, disappearing from sight as our attention refocuses on the person treading water near the dock. Moments later, as one camper works through a series of yoga poses, a picturesque backdrop behind them, Johnny methodically walks down the path to their mat.
While one scene proves subtle, the other screams barbarian. Collectively, the two segments show the range on display throughout Johnny's rampage. And kudos to Nash for diving hard into the genre and embracing the gore. But even with stark similarities to Adam Green's Hatchet and Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, you cannot ignore the distinct inspiration from the likes of Terrence Malick.
Long, drawn-out scenes generate a stiff level of uncertainty as Nash flips the script on his audience, reorganizing the slasher formula by placing the villain center stage.
For much of the film we are positioned a few steps behind the inhuman killer, watching as he navigates his terrain in search of both revenge and peace. As a result, our point of view remains clouded as Johnny's targets scramble in the background, their voices muffled, their plans a constant unknown.
In most hands, the approach would have failed. But Nash utilizes sound and visuals to add a layer of intrigue, keeping our interest as his antagonist seeks out his prey. Only twice does the camera leave Johnny's side. The second time is monumental as it momentarily restores the formula to its normal, upright position. The traditional flip hits hard as we suddenly become apprehensive about Johnny's whereabouts, anxious for each camera pivot, wondering when and where he will pop out for a deadly blow.
In a way, this is what gives In a Violent Nature its edge. A full-fledged genre pic, the film explores new angles that offer something untried. Nash isn't attempting to reinvent the wheel, but he is challenging the norm, giving viewers something fresh to consider as he explores alternatives to the standard approach. It's a daring move, especially for a debut feature. But Nash inarguably pulls off a landmark endeavor, giving genre fans hope and excitement for a new voice within the horror community.