SCARED promo art
IN A VIOLENT NATURE
(2024, Canada)

3 and a half stars  

directed by: Chris Nash
starring: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Cameron Love, Reece Presley, Liam Leone, Charlotte Creaghan, Lea Rose Sebastianis, Sam Roulston, Alexander Oliver, Timothy Paul McCarthy, Lauren Marie Taylor

choice dialogue:

“You guys never heard of the White Pines Slaughter?”

- it's a legend around these parts.

slash with panache?

 

[review by JA Kerswell]

   IN A VIOLENT NATURE
  IN A VIOLENT NATURE features the often seen legend retelling by the campfire, but subverts the subgenre in plenty of other ways - not all of which work.

IN A VIOLENT NATURE is divisive. Whilst acting as a tribute to the slasher movies of the early 1980s, it also deliberately seeks to undermine the expectations of a typical slice and dicer. A group of vacationing college-age kids accidentally resurrect a long-dormant killer in the backwoods - triggering an ultra-gory new killing spree. As frustrating as often as it is daring, it is a film that is sure to elicit violent reactions from audiences. Both positive and negative.

The film riffs off themes and tropes which will be familiar to anyone even casually aware of the subgenre. At its heart, it is a kids go to the woods and kids get dead movie. However, the ways these tropes are presented are both common and off-kilter at the same time. The legend around the campfire has been a staple of pretty much any early 80s slasher set in the woods. Here one of the college kids - who are all purposefully thinly sketched largely through snippets of conversation overheard by the killer - tells the tale of a young kid with learning difficulties called Johnny, who was killed in a prank gone wrong back in the 1950s. After falling from a fire tower, his tormentors put a forest fireman’s mask on his corpse to make it look like it was a solo game gone wrong. Soon after, a group of loggers are butchered in the woods in what became known as The White Pines Slaughter. Legend has it that Johnny returned from the dead to avenge his father’s death (who died in a fight following his son’s death). Legend also has it that Johnny is buried somewhere in the woods and may have also been responsible for the killing of forest rangers 10 years previously. Little do they know that Johnny watches them from the dark; freshly resurrected after one of their number took a pendant from the abandoned fire tower that kept him at rest …

   IN A VIOLENT NATURE
  Johnny - the killer in IN A VIOLENT NATURE - has similarities to many slasher villains, but most closely resembles Jason Voorhees.

Whilst the fireside scene (nicely evocative with its slowly circling camera) is familiar, the victims-to-be are brought up to date with buzz phrases such as “cancel culture”, “ableism” and “toxic masculinity”. However, what the group shares with their fallen brethren of yore is the self-absorption of youth and the inability to recognise danger before it is too late.

Slashers of the late 70s and early 80s were often criticised by mainstream critics for letting the audience see the mayhem through the eyes of the killer. As this would somehow instil murderous urges in a passive audience. This POV (point of view) was popularised by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978), although it had been used before that. IN A VIOLENT NATURE presents a slightly different POV, with the camera following Johnny through the woods with the camera following from behind (which will be familiar to anyone who has played first-person shooter video games).

The comparison is a good one - especially the FRIDAY THE 13TH game where you could play as Jason Voorhees (or alternatively as a hunted camp counsellor). Playing as Jason necessitated long stretches of wandering around the woods looking for digital victims. For some reason, IN A VIOLENT NATURE replicates this; with the audience following Johnny for minutes at a time trudging through the foliage. It’s a choice. Also reminiscent of a video game are a couple of scenes where characters passively watch a gory murder with little reaction - as if they are NPCs (non-playable characters). Presumably, this was intentional.

   IN A VIOLENT NATURE
  Johnny's fire mask is one of the high points of the movie, but despite his killer threads the film is less interested in scares and suspense and more in subverting expectations.

The film eschews normal methods of building suspense and it could be argued that it’s really an exercise in producing an anti-thriller. There is no score to initiate tension or to even clue the audience as to when suspense might be building. Although the film does use sound cleverly in other ways, such as the suddenly deafening din of forest wildlife and the woozy and disorienting sounds of a Walkman running out of batteries, with a song becoming warped and ever slower (something that will be all too familiar to anyone walking home from a pub in the 1980s).

The character of Johnny is obviously inspired by Jason in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. From his learning difficulty and early death as a child in the 1950s - to his inexplicable resurrection as a grown-ass zombie man. Plus the seeming idyl of the lakeside setting and even an extended cameo by FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2’s (1981) Lauren-Marie Taylor. However, Johnny’s quest to retrieve the pendant often seems like someone going about a job in a workmanlike fashion - even after he gains his creepy fireman’s mask. Although, his ever-so-slow and methodical quest is almost hypnotic in its mundanity. This downplaying of slasher elements isn’t consistent, though. Despite its subversion of thriller conventions, where the film goes big is its depictions of graphic gore. IN A VIOLENT NATURE excels in its creative kills - and the death of a woman doing yoga (where her head is pulled through a newly created cavity in her stomach) will go down as one of the greatest of all time. While great fun for fans of cinematic gore and practical fx it seems somewhat jarring given the indie, almost arthouse feel of the rest of the movie. Largely this is down to director Chris Nash, who is better known for his special effects duties (and the make-up on the killer is exemplary). One last subversion of tropes is a Final Girl who is largely ineffectual in a way rarely seen since the likes of Nancy in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) introduced the uber last girl standing.

The quirky approach used with IN A VIOLENT NATURE is its USP. There’s nothing quite like it. It is unique and I largely enjoyed it, but will likely frustrate many of those expecting - or desiring - a more traditional slasher experience.

 

 

BODYCOUNT  bodycount!   female: 2 / male: 6

1) Male killed (method unseen)
      2) Male is decapitated through his mouth
      3) Female killed (presumed drowning)
      4) Female killed with a hook and head pulled through her torso
      5) Male hit on the head with a flying axe
      6) Male has his head crushed with a rock
      7) Male decapitaed and dismembered with a wood splitter
      8) Male whacked repeatedly in the face with an axe

 

 

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