‘In A Violent Nature’ Shudder Review: A Slasher Horror That Doubles As An Environmental Documentary


The slasher horror subgenre has its roots in films and stories from the ‘30s and ‘40s. But if you ask casual viewers what they associate with slashers, they’ll probably mention Friday the 13th, Halloween, Scream, and, of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Tropes like the final girl, sexual promiscuity, iconic masks and weapons, and a cycle of abuse became common. And even though these films and the subgenre itself were rebooted, reconstructed, and revitalized over the years, the theme of the unwavering nature of evil and the resilience of goodness remained intact. However, since its premiere at Sundance, In a Violent Nature has been touted as a new take on the slasher subgenre for telling the story largely through the perspective of the killer. Is that just a gimmick, or is there some substance to this storytelling technique? Well, let’s find out.

Chris Nash’s In a Violent Nature opens with a group of tourists taking a necklace that’s dangling from what’s left of a decrepit wooden structure. Soon after that, a hulking figure emerges from the ground and goes on a killing spree that won’t stop until he finds that necklace. To be honest, that’s all there is to the plot, but it’s what Nash manages to do with it which is quite intriguing. If the title of the film and its tagline (Nature is unforgiving) don’t give it away, the road to Johnny’s first kill makes it clear that he represents the environment. I have seen all the Friday the 13th films (which seems to be the greatest influence for Nash, along with the works of Gus Van Sant and Terrence Malick), and I never really associated Jason with the protector of nature. I always thought he hated people getting naughty with each other on his home turf. However, the way Nash draws a direct line between sentient humans trapping animals for the sake of it and a not-so-sentient humanoid monster using man-made traps to kill these invasive humans is nothing short of eye-opening.

Since I was intrigued by this take on the slasher genre, I never watched any of the trailers for In a Violent Nature. From what little I saw, I was under the impression that Johnny was going to be an art-house film where the kills would be implied instead of being as explicit as its genre precursors. And Johnny’s first kill seemingly confirmed my suspicions. But I couldn’t have been more wrong, as Nash followed it up with some of the horrifying deaths I have seen in the slasher subgenre, as well as the horror genre in general. The work that Nash and his team of visual effects and practical effects artists have put into every single murderous moment is certainly worth appreciating. That said, it’s not the gore and intricacy of the kills that make them so scary; it’s actually the inevitability of it all that gets to you. Usually, in slasher films, you get to know the victims, you empathize with them, you get to see them plan how they’re going to kill the monster, and then you root for them as they confront the personification of evil. However, by putting us in the shoes of the monster in question, Nash does away with those moments of raw emotion and substitutes them with this eerie sense of helplessness that no matter what the characters do, it won’t stop a force of nature like Johnny.

Now, that doesn’t mean that In a Violent Nature is a relentless gore fest. On the contrary, with the help of cinematographer Pierce Derks and editor Alex Jacobs, director Chris Nash hammers home his pro-environment commentary by using Johnny’s pursuit to highlight the flora and fauna that are being continuously destroyed by tourists, self-proclaimed hunters, and capitalist companies. Seeing that blood-stained, muddy, and gigantic entity walking through the serene woods is a little hilarious because it recontextualizes every slasher you’ve ever seen and sort of robs them of their powers of omnipresence. But that odd visual juxtaposition, along with the amazing sound design, also serves as a reminder that, like it or not, Johnny and the myths around him are the only things that are keeping White Pines from becoming a wasteland. In addition to all that, I think Nash uses the final girl trope to add to the ongoing “man versus bear” discourse that has seemingly taken the internet by storm. Without spoiling anything, I guess Nash says that a man (or something that resembles one) will gut you to pieces even though he knows that you are dead, while a bear will leave you alone if you are helpless or unconscious.

Much of the cast of In a Violent Nature remains out of focus or in the distance, and that’s where the faultlines in the film’s central gimmick start to show up. I think Nash’s experiment works for the most part, and I’m sure that the actors are happy to sacrifice their screentime to allow horror fans to look at slashers in a different way. But that leaves the actor with a really small window to showcase their talent, and if they fail to deliver, the larger picture becomes a little uneven. So, I don’t want to judge the actors too harshly because they hardly get any time to shine. I am sure all of them are talented, and I hope to see them in other films in the future. Ry Barrett is the centerpiece of the film, and he is fantastic. The sheer menace and fear that he conjures through his body language is something worth studying in film schools. Kane Hodder and Nick Castle’s influence is evident, but with each passing minute, Barrett manages to make Johnny as unique as Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I can’t guarantee that you’ll be seeing people donning an old firefighter mask, a pair of hooks connected with a chain, and an ax this Halloween, but I won’t be surprised if someone does.

In a Violent Nature is definitely worth a watch. It’s a very slow burn. You do feel every second of the 90 minutes of running time. But it never gets boring because there’s a good balance between the stomach-churning kills and the environmental documentary aspects of the film. It makes me want to rewatch every slasher horror film through the lens offered by Chris Nash’s story, and that in and of itself is a huge win. That said, is the film’s biggest selling point (i.e., telling the story from the perspective of the killer) something new? No, it isn’t. Something as recent as The Black Mass by Devanny Pinn told the story of Ted Bundy’s gruesome murders solely through his perspective. Fatih Akin has done the same with The Golden Glove. And then there’s Alexandre Aja’s 2012 film, Maniac. So, I can’t give it points for originality, but I will applaud Nash and his team’s efforts to use this unconventional storytelling technique that’s gaining popularity to talk about things that are relevant to fans and non-fans of the horror genre.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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