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In a Violent Nature review: an old-fashioned gorefest, updated

Johnny swings an axe in In a Violent Nature.
In a Violent Nature
“In a Violent Nature is an ambitious twist on a standard slasher movie that doesn't totally work, but leaves you with plenty to admire nonetheless.”
  • A hypnotic visual style
  • Incredible prosthetic and makeup work throughout
  • A few inspired editorial cuts and moments of body horror
  • A script that explains too much too often
  • An ending that only partly lands
  • Cringey dialogue delivered by shallow characters

Writer-director Chris Nash‘s In a Violent Nature is both a loving homage to the cheap slasher movies of the 1980s and an inspired attempt to bring something new to their familiar formula. It commits itself to both of those endeavors with equal passion — delivering scenes with such laughably bad dialogue that they would have fit in nicely in any of the worst Friday the 13th movies while sticking to a measured pace and visual style that feel directly opposed to the thrown-together aesthetic of so many of the low-budget horror franchise starters it was inspired by. The result is an overall experience that is simultaneously hypnotic and jarring.

The movie, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, upends the slasher genre by placing its focus not on all of the people who inevitably die throughout it, but the killer responsible for their deaths. This time around, it’s the chatty, often crass adults and teenagers who are relegated to the background of the frame, while their silent, masked murderer is given priority placement in the foreground as he watches them from nearby. This simple visual decision allows In a Violent Nature to tell a by-the-numbers slasher story in a decidedly unique fashion. However, while the film works far better than it should, it also feels frequently torn between its trashiest and most artful impulses.

Johnny stands behind Aurora in In a Violent Nature.
Pierce Derks / IFC Films & Shudder

Nash, whose few previous credits include a segment of 2014’s ABCs of Death 2, wisely doesn’t waste any time setting up In a Violent Nature‘s story. The film opens with a static shot of a necklace hanging from the top end of a pipe. Off-screen, we hear a group of teenage boys exchanging verbal jabs and local legends before one of them, against the urging of his wiser acquaintances, absconds with the necklace at the center of the frame. Moments later, the pipe it was resting on begins to shake and, within a matter of seconds, the ground it had been struck into has collapsed — opening up so that the rotting corpse of Johnny (an imposing Ry Barrett), an undead killer, can crawl out of his temporary grave.

From there, Nash follows Johnny as he wanders wordlessly through the surrounding woods, coming upon bear traps and an unsuspecting poacher who meets a quick, bloody end at his hands. Over the course of his slow, lumbering journey, Johnny stumbles upon the same group of teenagers from the film’s concise opening, one of whom helpfully tells his friends over a campfire all about Johnny’s disturbing origins. It, of course, isn’t long after said exposition has been dumped that more blood is spilled. Spill blood is, in fact, exactly what In a Violent Nature does, and more than a few times.

The film spends most of its 94-minute runtime following a few paces behind Johnny as he stalks his unsuspecting human prey. In the moments when he does catch up with his victims, though, Nash and cinematographer Pierce Derks break away from the movie’s largely removed aesthetic in order to showcase Johnny’s murders in all of their bone-crunching glory. In perhaps its most open-hearted tribute to the Hollywood slasher movies of old, In a Violent Nature turns its many kill scenes into instances of both stomach-churning horror and undeniable craftsmanship. The film’s prosthetic makeup work is awe-inspiring, and that’s particularly clear in one sequence in which a young girl’s yoga session is brutally interrupted. The moment in question seems destined to be clipped on YouTube and discussed endlessly among horror fans.

Johnny's hand reaches toward a terrified man in In a Violent Nature.
Pierce Derks / IFC Films & Shudder

In a Violent Nature‘s debt to movies like Friday the 13th Part 2 isn’t just apparent in its gory onscreen deaths. The film’s depiction of Johnny, as well as its misguided insistence on overexplaining his motivations and backstory, only make the character’s similarities to Jason Vorhees all the more obvious. While it’s also admirable to see Nash try so boldly to combine his love of both cheap slasher movies and arthouse dramas like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (a noted influence), his efforts to do so aren’t always as seamless as one would hope. Specifically, the film’s paper-thin characterizations of its shallow teenage and adult characters, coupled with their often atrocious pieces of dialogue, bumps against its more deeply considered visual and stylistic choices.

In certain sections, such as a nighttime showdown between Johnny and a Tommy Jarvis-esque park ranger (played briefly, but memorably by Reece Presley), In a Violent Nature manages to find the right balance between trashy slasher horror and arthouse-inspired cold terror. More often than not, though, the film seems unable to completely commit to one or the other, and that may make it incapable of satisfying enough horror fans to truly leave a lasting mark on the genre. Those who go into it just wanting a violent, thoroughly nasty slasher movie will likely be happy with what they’re given, but there will also be plenty of viewers who leave frustrated by how In a Violent Nature fails to fully deliver on its promises.

In A Violent Nature Official Trailer | Shudder

The film doesn’t reinvent the slasher genre so much as it presents a new angle to tell the same kind of story we’ve seen a hundred times before. It’s an experiment that, for all of its many strengths, comes up a bit short. Fortunately, there are worse fates to befall a movie like In a Violent Nature, which has enough interesting cinematic ideas in it to, hopefully, provide Nash with whatever goodwill he needs to get another project off the ground. If there’s one thing In a Violent Nature proves, it’s that he’s a filmmaker of real skill and vision. One can only hope that his next creative swing actually cuts right to the bone — rather than getting caught halfway through.

In a Violent Nature is now playing in theaters.

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Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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