Film reviews and more since 2009

In a Violent Nature (2024) review

Dir. Chris Nash

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

For most of its 94 minutes, I was really on the same page with Chris Nash’s In a Violent Nature, a fascinating experiment and one of the most ambitious for the slasher genre in a while. Then came the climax, or maybe more accurately, the climax that wasn’t. Nash, who also wrote the movie, tries to subvert the conventions of slasher movie endings by filling us with dread in anticipation of a final jump-scare. Instead, he leaves us with an anticlimactic nonending that consequently dulls what came before it.

In a Violent Nature is what’s been described as an “ambient slasher,” as it adopts the point-of-view of the killer for most of the film. That should clue you into the level of patience you need to adopt. Rather than being entertained by the rambling musings of coeds embarking on a weekend of binge-drinking in the woods, In a Violent Nature forces you to spend copious amounts of time following its killing machine as he tromps through kindling, leaves, and the barren landscapes of the interchangeable woods. Your patience is rewarded with some nasty, memorable kills, including one that immediately enters the pantheon of greats in the modern day.

The film opens with us hearing three (?) hikers poking around the grounds of an old fire tower recessed in the middle of a forest preserve. One of them snatches a necklace dangling from the site, which inadvertently awakens a hulking, deformed figure from his subterranean slumber. He is Johnny (Ry Barrett), whose tragic past fuels his murderous spree. His first victim is a man who lives in a ramshackle house several paces from the fire tower. He then ventures deep into the woods to find who stole his necklace.

He comes across a campground where a group is in the middle of partying and exchanging musings about an urban legend that might be about Johnny. The next morning, when the group splinters off to swim, do yoga, and hike, the body count increases. Andrea Pavlovic’s Kris has Final Girl potential, but this isn’t the kind of slasher that sticks to formula.

Nash was apparently inspired by Gus Van Sant’s “Death Trilogy,” a trio of films that were each loosely inspired by real-life deaths. Those flicks — Gerry (the death of David Coughlin), Elephant (the Columbine shooting), and Last Days (Kurt Cobain) — employed heavily impressionistic tones coupled with long scenes sans dialog, that showed characters walking, taking in their surroundings, and simply existing. Nash has In a Violent Nature functioning as both a slasher and a work of impressionistic cinema, or “slow cinema.” There are a plethora of unique shots that show events from up-close, and afar; a glacial pacing that allows dread to build; and the kills themselves are a mix of restrained and mercilessly gory.

The one that will stick with you has been known as the “yoga kill,” an unabashedly nasty work of macabre craftsmanship both in execution and vivid detail. Don’t spoil it for yourself. Be a witness.

I was on Nash’s wavelength for most of the movie. I was arrested by its immersive sound design, and its imaginative kills were like the reward for enduring many lengthy sequences watching Johnny stomp through the woods. Then, a funny thing happened during the third act. Nash eventually abandons Johnny’s perspective, and spends the film’s final 20 minutes having a new character tell a ponderous and debatably true story with a lot of literary-like symbolism and diversions. It almost feels deliberately long-winded. Conventional wisdom of the slasher genre prepares us for one final showdown, or better yet, a shock that stays with us as the credits begin to roll. In a Violent Nature does the opposite. It provokes disinterest by the time the final shot is revealed, and it feels like a nothing-burger that suggests Nash himself ran out of creative fuel for this premise at the most crucial time.

In a Violent Nature feels like a better film than what I’m rating it. If I could rate my excitement for Nash’s future projects, it would be a perfect four. But in the same way a great ending can make a decent movie good, an unsatisfying movie can also make a good movie merely decent. While Nash is brave enough to break formula, I’ve been doing this long enough to adhere to my own. The nature of subversive cinema has nurtured me long enough to expect more, right down to the final beats.

NOTE: In a Violent Nature is now playing exclusively in theaters, with a release on Shudder expected this summer.

Starring: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Charlotte Creaghan, Liam Leone, Cameron Love, Alexander Oliver, Sam Roulston, and Lauren-Marie Taylor. Directed by: Chris Nash.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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