BUFF, Film, Film Review

BUFF REVIEW: In a Violent Nature (2024) dir. Chris Nash

Part of the 2024 Boston Underground Film Festival


The “Slasher Era” of horror, as we have come to know it, lasted approximately sixteen years: from 1980, when Friday the 13th distilled the beats of John Carpenter’s Halloween into an easily reproducible flatpack blueprint, to 1996, when Wes Craven’s Scream sardonically laid bare the “rules” of the formula, instantly rendering them obsolete. In the years since– now more than a decade longer than that original epoch– the slasher flick has persisted as a form, but its contours have shifted. Contemporary slashers, more often than not, either expand upon the Brechtian metacommentary of Scream (as in 2006’s Behind the Mask or 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods), or at least lampshade their tropes by trying to convince their audience that they’re in on the joke. Conversely, “back to basics” slashers, like 2006’s Hatchet or 2022’s X, in embracing classic slasher beats as if Scream never happened, often come off as even more self-conscious than the alternative. The slasher film may never leave us– like the haiku or the limerick, it’s too durable a format to completely forsake– but it will likely never be what it was.

In a Violent Nature, the feature debut by FX artist turned director Chris Nash, manages to take both of these approaches at once. It is, by the numbers, a fairly conventional slasher film; its plot hits all the major beats without subversion, and the dialogue hews true to films of yore while rarely lapsing into camp. Its execution, however, is anything but traditional: by limiting our perspective almost entirely to that of his silent, lumbering killer, Nash effectively turns the slasher film inside out. The result, while often deliberately frustrating, is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the genre.

We open on a shot of a necklace dangling in a dilapidated cabin. Some twentysomething hikers approach, casually discussing a massacre which occurred on this site some years earlier. Before they leave, one of them grabs the necklace. Within minutes, a large man with a scarred face forces himself up from under the ground. He looks around, gathers his bearings, then lumbers off in the general direction of the hikers.

This is, of course, a familiar scene to anyone even passingly familiar with the slasher film genre. It has, however, never been shot quite like this. We never see the hikers; we only hear them approach after what feels like several minutes of silence, and their conversation trails off as they walk away. When our killer (his name is Johnny, and he was a “slow” child who was bullied to death shortly before the original massacre, but you probably could have figured all of that out without me) rises from his grave, there is no dramatic music or closeup of a hand rising from the dirt. Instead, we watch for several minutes as he awkwardly shuffles his way out of the dirt. Birds can be heard chirping throughout the entire scene. It’s all oddly relaxing.

In a Violent Nature is a film for anyone who ever wondered how it is that Jason constantly shows up right behind each doomed teenager, or what it looked like when Michael Myers carefully arranged all of Laurie’s dead friends for her to find. It’s not that we’re placed in Johnny’s perspective, necessarily– the POV shot has been an essential tool in the slasher playbook since Black Christmas– so much as we’re placed just outside of it, as an omniscient observer hovering just behind him. Subsequently, much of the film takes on the tranquil air of a nature walk, as Johnny tromps through the forest looking for his necklace, picking up the occasional weapon, and subsequently using said weapons to messily dispatch the prerequisite disposable teens. The result is maybe the driest slasher spoof ever made, more conceptually droll than ha-ha funny, but if you see it with a crowd (or at least the right crowd, as the BUFF crowd most certainly was) the giggles are infectious.

I used the word “spoof” just now, but one thing that struck me was that, when In a Violent Nature decides to be a straight slasher film (which is to say, when Johnny gets close enough to eavesdrop on his prey), it’s surprisingly convincing. Johnny’s origin story, while deliberately unimaginative, is no more ridiculous than any of the films from which it draws influence. What’s more, Nash avoids the easy route of making the film an ‘80s period piece; there are smartphones and of-the-moment jokes about cancel culture, making these scenes really feel as if they were the work of a modern filmmaker making an earnest slasher film (it also made me realize just how long it’s been since the last time we saw Jason, in 2009’s Friday the 13th reboot). This commitment to the bit throws Johnny’s wordless sequences into even starker relief; it really does feel as if we’ve been pulled between the scenes of an actual slasher film.

It must also be said that, when Johnny strikes, the results are just as spectacularly gooey as the real thing. Nash is an alum of Canada’s Astron-6 collective, the practical effects-happy mavericks behind such twisted delights as The Void and PG: Psycho Goreman. The kills in Violent Nature are in the classic over-the-top vein of Tom Savini at his most inventive, and should satisfy even the most bloodthirsty Fango-head; particularly memorable is a scene in which a yoga enthusiast is contorted far beyond the usual downward dog. These scenes provide a welcome catharsis from the film’s tranquil stretches, and will go a long way to placating those who might otherwise complain that “nothing happens” in this movie.

That said, there are very long stretches of this film in which nothing does indeed happen, and those with neither a fondness for the genre nor a certain degree of patience will likely find the proceedings excruciating. Even taken on its own terms, there are moments in which the film strays from its own premise, such as an extended epilogue in which we leave Johnny behind and follow the film’s obligatory Final Girl; in his (strangely chaotic and combative) Q&A, Nash alluded to some major last-minute changes in the film, and one wonders if the script couldn’t have used one final polish to iron out some of the kinks. Still, for those (like myself) who misspent their youth wearing out their local rental shop’s Friday the 13th tapes, In a Violent Nature will at once like a return to familiar territory and a breath of fresh air– and I promise you will never see a more soothing film which also features multiple decapitations.

In a Violent Nature
dir. Chris Nash
94 min.

Part of the 2024 Boston Underground Film Festival – click here for more of our continuing coverage!
Opens in theaters Friday, 5/31

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