Tuesday 2 July 2024

In A Violent Nature (Canada 2024: Dir Chris Nash)

The slasher genre continues to throw up examples of movies which show there's still life blood left in a format which has basically been following the same template for decades. The Terrifier franchise, the third instalment of which is due in cinemas this year, and the evergreen Scream movies - six entries in and counting - are living proof that there's still an audience - indeed a new generation - for masked killers.

But here comes Canadian Chris Nash with his debut feature, which has taken the genre in a rather different direction. On the surface the template remains unbroken; a group of young people in the woods, looking to party, get picked off one by one by a powerful, unstoppable human monster. 

But In a Violent Nature, from its obscure title to its whole mis en scene, turns the familiar on its head. The teen victims are in this case entirely background characters; IaVN front and centres its killer in a way that hasn't been attempted since Scott Glosserman's underrated 2006 movie Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

When we first meet the slasher in question, Johnny (Ry Barrett), he's rising from a woodland grave, his corpse previously kept in place by a locket which is draped over the struts of a fire tower, under which his body is contained. When the locket is purloined by one of the kids (and I'll let you watch the movie to find out why the piece of jewellery is important) Johnny is free to roam - and kill.

If you ever spent any time wondering what Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers did in the scenes when they weren't on screen in those seminal 1980s movies, IaVN kind of answers it, 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' style (Tom Stoppard's 1966 play which foregrounds two minor characters in 'Hamlet'). We spend a lot of time, POV style, with the camera behind our killer as he trudges through the undergrowth, seeking out people to kill, a lonely furrow which is, amusingly, only sometimes purposeful. 

And those kills, when they come, are generally of the mind boggling, practical Terrifier type variety (in fact their extremity, bordering on the ludicrous, is possibly the only sour note in the whole thing). Far more effective, in my eyes, is a scene where Johnny disappears into a wide lake with one of the kids swimming, almost off camera, on the far side. There's an agonising delay while we wait for the inevitable; little is shown but the sheer oddness of the sequence makes it much more unsettling than the overt stuff.

Props also to the extended final girl section, almost an anticlimax, which ratchets up the tension, letting the viewer's mind do the work, and questioning our expectations about what we expect from a film like this.

IaVN has been reviewed as an arthouse horror movie, and while that's not an unfair comment, it shouldn't be dismissed by those naturally turned off by the concept of el*vated horror. Beautifully shot in academy ratio, containing the tension and the POV nature of the footage, the film eschews the traditional fright flick soundtrack usual for this sort of thing, letting nature and the sound of the woods provide the audio. Johnny's quest is slow, relentless and claustrophobic; the fact that the town authorities are aware of the threat, but powerless to do much about it, makes the film more powerful. Excellent stuff.

In a Violent Nature is released in UK cinemas on 12 July.

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