In the vast wilderness, danger lurks behind every tree. Writer-director Chris Nash plunges viewers straight into those shadowy woods with his immersive slasher film “In a Violent Nature.” Instead of following the typical batch of doomed teenagers, Nash’s camera fixates on the hulking killer Johnny, played with domineering physicality by Ry Barrett. We experience the predator’s perspective in this ambient horror tale, from his ominous emergence from the dirt to his methodical hunt of fresh victims.
Nash strips away genre conventions like bombastic scores and jolting jump scares. Through patient pacing and crisp natural sounds, an unease sets in. Where is Johnny taking us? The camera trails him as he acquires each new weapon, tension building in the pit of our stomachs. While Johnny remains a mysterious slab of violence for much of the runtime, Nash still manages to suggest a sympathetic backstory for this bully-turned-supernatural-vengeance-machine.
By fusing arthouse sensibilities with gruesome slasher gore, Nash creates a spellbinding descent into cruelty. Peer through the killer’s eyes, if you dare. Just don’t be surprised if Johnny glances back.
Into the Woods of Death
Nash wastes no time setting up his minimalist tale. We open on a group of hikers exploring an abandoned shack deep in the woods. One of them grabs a strange necklace dangling inside, unwittingly awakening a dark presence under the forest floor. A bald, hulking figure named Johnny bursts from the dirt, hellbent on vengeance.
Johnny returns to his childhood home, a decaying cabin on the woods’ edge that serves as chilling testament to his traumatic past. When a poacher crosses his path, Johnny’s rusty tools make swift work of this first victim. He then sets his sights on a brighter bounty: a group of vacationing teenagers stationed at a nearby cabin.
We observe the teens briefly through Johnny’s voyeuristic gaze — they drink, flirt, and swap local legends by the campfire. Most centrally, there’s Kris, her flaky boyfriend Troy, and her childhood friend Colt, who watches the couple’s drama unfold with thinly veiled jealousy. But Johnny has little interest in these petty dynamics beyond their utility to heighten his sadistic cravings.
One by gruesome one, Johnny massacres the clueless youths with almost clinical dispassion. Axes, hooks, saws, and even an abandoned woodchipper get recruited into his deadly mission. Only Kris escapes the killer’s opening salvo, forced to witness the shocking slaughter firsthand. As she flees the madness, a lone park ranger explains the meaning behind this region’s “White Pine Massacre” folklore. But will comprehending Johnny’s origins be enough to stop his rampage?
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Through the Eyes of Evil
Nash’s directorial stroke of genius lies in his strict adherence to Johnny’s point of view. Cinematographer Pierce Derks fixes his roaming camera to the killer’s shoulder, trailing him as he charts an inexorable path toward each helpless victim. We become complicit in the voyeurism and pursuit, hyperaware of every cracked branch and rustling leaf.
Nash maximizes the sensory potential of this intimate visual perspective. Minutes might pass wordlessly as Johnny trudges through the mute woods, his boots crunching leaves with distressing clarity. The diegetic noises amplify the isolation of the setting while allowing our imaginations to run wild with tension. Where is his next clue leading? Why this particular weapon or vantage point? We study each choice through Johnny’s eyes, scanning the terrain right alongside him.
When violence finally erupts after this masterful buildup, the camera maintains its lockstep position behind the killer. The shock lies less in any surprise than in the camera’s refusal to look away from the resulting bloodshed. We must take in every explicit detail, from decapitations to creative eviscerations. One particularly wrenching scene follows Johnny as he soundlessly drags a girl screaming into the depths of a misty lake. The camera doesn’t flinch, suspended at the surface as her cries morph to gurgles until only silence remains.
Through his avant-garde framing choices, Nash puts us directly into the shoes of a movie monster. The result proves as terrifying as it is perversely thrilling, dragging us complicit into Johnny’s Rural Gothic nightmare.
Standout Turns Amid the Bloodshed
While the victims remain thinly sketched as intentional cannon fodder, several of Nash’s players still manage to make a mark. As our principled park ranger, Reece Presley brings an urgency to uncovering the truth behind the White Pine legend. Cameron Love also impresses as the lovelorn Colt, projecting both sensitivity and strength that can’t save him from Johnny’s savage assaults.
But the MVP title belongs undisputedly to Ry Barrett, who transcends Johnny’s mere killing machine status through sheer physical commitment. Even with a leather mask obscuring his facial expressions, Barrett exudes both pent-up rage and childlike confusion in the set of his broad shoulders. He moves with a graceful menace, whether viewed from behind as he pursues the teens or captured in close-up as he selects his next gruesome weapon.
When forced to engage in long dialogue scenes late in the film, however, Barrett’s spell dims somewhat. Thankfully, Andrea Pavlovic picks up the slack as final girl Kris. In the climax, her raw screams and defiant energy maintain the nightmarish tension as she races to escape. Pavlovic’s captivating portrait of feminine resilience proves this slasher needs no exaggerated final act histrionics to make its last stand.
Carnage Worthy of Video Nasties
Make no mistake – Nash wants to make you squirm and look away. He packs “In a Violent Nature” with graphic kills that rival Italy’s banned “video nasties” for sheer visceral impact. While not every instance of violence occurs on-screen, what Nash chooses to highlight maximalizes the gore factor.
A woodchipper sequence evokes similar gruesomeness to “Fargo,” while other moments channel Lucio Fulci’s predilection for ocular mutilation. Glistening entrails catch the light as Johnny gleefully disembowels a helpless female victim. In the most cringe-inducing attack, he impales another girl’s head through her own sliced-open abdomen. Her resulting screams resemble the stuff of nightmares, wild-eyed living dead fury.
Nash proudly wears his grindhouse influences on his blood-soaked sleeve, with several shout-outs to 80’s slashers. A sleeping bag kill winks to “Friday the 13th Part VII,” while the killer’s fireman mask connects to “My Bloody Valentine.” No matter the references, the practical effects impress through their wet, raw display of human fragility.
Best of all, Nash knows restraint can prove equally unsettling. A lakeside stalking scene builds nail-biting tension before ending in a silent underwater pull. In the hands of this burgeoning genre master, what you don’t see can hurt you, too.
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Stumbling Steps in the Cat and Mouse Chase
For all its visceral strengths, “In a Violent Nature” doesn’t escape the odd misstep. The conclusion proves the primary culprit, as Nash struggles to stick the landing after so much grueling tension. Relying on hokey monologues, it erases some mystery around Johnny’s origins best left to the imagination. Kris even confronts the killer directly, which feels out of sync with the film’s established icy remove.
The setup scenes for the partying teenagers also drag at times. We witness the same stale archetypes and conversations seen in countless slashers past, minus any attempts at nuanced characterization. While intentional on Nash’s part, moments emerge where the dialogue lands duller than any of his sharpened weapons.
Some technical choices also merit scrutiny, like the 4:3 aspect ratio that often feels suffocating rather than artful. And occasional glimpses of dodgy CGI prove that not every kill was executed flawlessly behind the scenes. For its reach to exceed its grasp, however, remains a minor crime amid such courageous creativity elsewhere.
Mostly, “In a Violent Nature” deserves praise for the sheer nerve of its premise alone. By forcibly putting audiences behind the eyes of a merciless killer, Nash has changed the slasher POV game for good. While less experimental works might make an easier sit, there’s no denying the raw power coursing through this one’s veins straight from the severed jugular’s mouth.
A New Horror Icon Takes Shape
Love it or hate it, “In a Violent Nature” sinks its claws under the skin and into the psyche. Chris Nash has delivered a highly promising calling card that carves his own macabre niche within the slasher hall of fame. The film’s provocative style and sheer, seat-squirming spectacle linger long after the initial viewing adrenaline rush.
By dragging audiences into complicity with its monster’s murders, this nightmare plumbs thought-provoking depths behind the bloodshed. Who really lurks within any human heart, given the wrong circumstances? It may not aim for philosophical high art, but “In a Violent Nature” nonetheless touches something uncomfortably primal with its writer-director’s ruthless vision.
With his leather mask and mammoth physicality, Ry Barrett joins horror’s most indelibly frightening killers. His Johnny has the ingredients for similar franchise fame as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees if given further room to rampage by potential sequels. And the sky’s the limit for Nash, especially if he irons out some freshman missteps in future films. For now, his ability to get under the skin marks an unforgettable directorial debut.
Don’t be surprised when, like Johnny, “In a Violent Nature” bursts from the midnight movie underground to wider mainstream consciousness. Once seen, this merciless slasher experience worms inside the mind forever. Wherever it lurks next, smart horror fans will eagerly follow in its formidable footsteps.