Review | In a Violent Nature | 2024

With In a Violent Nature, director Chris Nash attempts to breathe new life into the well-worn slasher genre by focusing on the masked killer rather than the teenage kill fodder who meet gruesome fates at the end of his knife.

It's not exactly the first time something like this has been done - Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) will spring to mind most readily to horror fans. Yet Nash has something darker and more subversive in mind, stripping the genre of its typical trappings of jump scares and musical stingers to create an atmosphere of quiet menace. In a Violent Nature follows the killer, an undead, Jason-like behemoth kept at rest by his mother's locket, as he meanders from kill to kill after the locket is stolen by a group of teenagers camping in the woods. 

The campers are appropriately vapid, and we catch bits and pieces of mostly insipid dialog as they are being stalked, but they're not the focus here. There is something very smart about the way the film acknowledges the genre's penchant for giving us mostly forgettable characters - they're here simply to be killed in increasingly gory ways, and on that front In a Violent Nature does not disappoint, offering up some truly gnarly kills sure to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty gorehounds. Yet the conceit can only go so far, and Nash never fully commits to it, giving the campers enough air to convey exposition to the audience and provide context for what we're seeing.

It's telling, then, that the killer's presence is most keenly felt in his absence. By the time we reach the climax, the film switches gears, pulling focus away from the killer and onto the "final girl," culminating in a sequence that is perhaps one of the most unsettling scenes I've seen in a horror film in recent memory. It's all made even more remarkable for the simple fact that nothing is really happening, and that the longer Nash shies away from the action, the more intense the moment becomes. His ability to squeeze suspense out of seemingly nothing should be studied in film schools - it's a masterclass in crafting dread in the absence of the threat because his absence here allows him to be anywhere and everywhere all at once. 

The way the film flips the script, following the killer rather than the campers, allowing us to see who he's stalking rather than having him come out of nowhere, builds suspense in a unique way. The audience is fully aware of the slasher's presence, and we follow him as he gets closer and closer to the kill; but when it steps back and allows him to disappear, the film really shines. In those moments, the vast, desolate expanses of the forest become a character all their own, even more terrifying than the creature himself. This works so well because the audience has become accustomed to his constant presence. After having our eye on him for the entire film, losing sight of him in the final stretch is so unnerving that we are left on the edge of our seats, waiting for a shoe to drop that may never fall. The film may feel like it's meandering at times, but the payoff is ultimately worth it. It requires a certain amount of patience, but by upending the expected rhythms of the genre, the deliberate stillness of In a Violent Nature feels more intense than any slasher has in ages.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

IN A VIOLENT NATURE | Directed by Chris Nash | Stars Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Cameron Love, Reece Presley, Liam Leone | Not rated | Opens Friday, May 31, in theaters nationwide.


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