The Movie Waffler First Look Review - IN A VIOLENT NATURE | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - IN A VIOLENT NATURE

In a Violent Nature review
A group of campers unwittingly resurrect a dead killer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chris Nash

Starring: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Cameron Love, Reece Presley, Liam Leone, Charlotte Creaghan

In a Violent Nature poster

Recounting his first time performing as a nervous young pianist on stage with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock claimed that halfway through the show the legendary trumpeter leaned over his shoulder and whispered the words "Don't play the butter notes kid." Initially puzzled, Hancock tried to wrap his head around what Davis meant by this odd instruction. Then it clicked. Davis was telling the piano prodigy to leave out the obvious notes, to create something fresh through omission. Hancock had been playing jazz for a while by that point, but that was the day he finally understood jazz.

With his feature debut, In a Violent Nature, writer/director Chris Nash has crafted a slasher movie that omits the butter notes. The elements we're told are essential for a good horror movie - a creepy score, relatable characters, murders cut with violent editing - are dispensed with here as Nash pares the sub-genre down to its most basic, primal appeal, that of seeing a lumbering, homicidal maniac rent asunder the bodies of a group of twentysomethings.

In a Violent Nature review

On paper In a Violent Nature is a rather unoriginal backwoods slasher in which vacationing youngsters are slaughtered by the physical embodiment of a legend whispered around campfires. We've seen this sort of thing in countless early '80s slashers like The Burning and Madman. What makes In a Violent Nature stand out is its formal approach. Nash eschews convention and takes his cues from Alan Clarke's Elephant, his camera following the film's antagonist, a resurrected killer named Johnny (Ry Barrett), as he takes bloody revenge on the pesky kids who unwittingly disturbed his resting place.

As with the Irish terrorists of Elephant, or the school shooters of Gus Van Sant's 2003 reworking of Clarke's film, we spend a lot of time traipsing behind the hulking Johnny as he wanders through the woods in search of victims. The film's one concession to narrative convention comes early as we witness a group of young campers tell creepy campfire stories, one of which recounts the backstory of Johnny, who like the antagonists of so many slasher movies was the victim of a prank gone terribly wrong. For most of the movie we're tagging along with Johnny as he circles the periphery of the narrative, occasionally interjecting to violent effect. There's a conventional slasher movie playing out here, but we're only treated to snatches of it through Johnny's POV. The dialogue, which we mostly hear in the distance or off screen, is purposefully inane and generic, which leads to much of the film's deliciously black humour. We hear the youngsters come up with the sort of ill-thought survival plans that we've seen backfire in dozens of slasher movies, and it's hilarious when we see them go so badly wrong. Any character development has already occurred off screen, and we often find ourselves stumbling along with Johnny into the tail end of character arcs. Think of David Lowery's A Ghost Story if the ghost liked to remove people's heads rather than simply observing them.

In a Violent Nature review

Don't be fooled into thinking this is some pretentious exercise in genre deconstruction that misses the point and forgets to entertain the audience. This is as satisfying a slasher movie as you could hope for. It's not a case of a filmmaker looking down on horror movies, ala Haneke's Funny Games, but rather one who clearly loves the genre but is daring to strip it down to its undies. Nash gambles on the theory that seeing stereotypical, cardboard characters butchered in a succession of jaw-dropping ways is enough to sate a slasher audience. And he's right.

But the thing is, you need to have talent to back this up, and Nash's imagination runs wild here, delivering bloody set-pieces that will have the most jaded gorehounds admitting "Well, that's something I've never seen before." There's one particular kill that plays like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon, with a human body manipulated in a way I've genuinely never seen before.

In a Violent Nature review

Nash understands that there's something explicitly life-affirming about witnessing fictional characters meet wildly violent demises. As we watch characters have their insides ripped out we're made to think about how brittle we really are, how the human body is a miraculous combination of many things that can go wrong, and that at some point something inside us will inevitably go wrong and that will be it for us.

He also understands that while horror fans love a good gory kill, they also need a human to identify with. We eventually get that when the victims are whittled down to the obligatory sole survivor, but nothing makes this final girl stand out. Nash has purposely removed all the defining traits of such an archetype, leaving us simply with someone who wants to survive. And it's enough. The movie's final stretch is incredibly tense because suddenly the focus has shifted from the hunter to the prey, and we're in the shoes of the victim. In a nod to the climax of Fritz Lang's M, we suddenly identify with someone we couldn't have cared less about just a few minutes earlier because the film has now exposed their vulnerability. Nash makes a mockery of the recent trend of misjudged horror movies that mistakenly believe the genre has to play by the same rules as conventional drama. Horror is the most primal of movie genres. It boils down to two simple concepts: life and death, and when done well, witnessing death can make you feel truly alive.

In a Violent Nature
 is in US cinemas from May 31st and UK/ROI cinemas from July 12th.

2024 movie reviews