A slow-cinema spin on well-burnished tropes, In a Violent Nature largely strips the artifice of the slasher formula, which dictates a deformed man must hunt down attractive teens or young adults in either the woods or suburbia. A film built around a mythology that comes to life, as our killer rises from a grave, Chris Nash’s picture could almost be the kind of film Kelly Reichardt might make if her current patron A24 asked her to make a slasher flick.

The result is a deconstruction of all of the clichés that never quite comes into its own, suffering from the same shortcomings as David Gordon Green’s more traditional slasher character study Halloween Ends. The story is told largely from the perspective of a masked killer who may or may not be the son of a rural logging town figure who was executed due to a vendetta. Like László Nemes’ 2015 immersive drama Son of Saul, long stretches of the film are shown tracking our protagonist with the camera at his back.

Nash isn’t faithful exactly to this convention and the film is not a real-time, single-shot contraction but rather frees itself to flow into conversations with a group of young adults who rent a cabin and, you guessed it, end up brutally killed in the woods. The kills are explicitly cringe-inducing by design––more realistic than the Terrifier series, yet still a bit artificial.

At its core, the film never quite develops its characters––among them Jonny, a deformed ghoul who adopts a 19th-century smoke mask that looks like something Gru’s minions might wear if they were cosplaying the gimp scene in Pulp Fiction. We learn that Jonny, the son of a merchant that exploited the logging community, may have been slow but not violent prior to this death. The film takes itself perhaps too seriously to sustain its tone while sandwiching in a few scenes reflecting on collective trauma and survivor’s guilt.

In a Violent Nature is a bold formal experiment that perhaps calls the bluff of the generic slasher or supernatural film, and of course a great deal more interesting than some weak psychological horror offerings from traditional studios (e.g. the deliriously awful Night Swim). But its rhythms seem off, and the overarching point of telling this story like so lacks the power of other immersive films about systemic violence––two key examples being Alan Clarke’s revolutionary 1989 short film Elephant and Gus Van Sant’s minimalist 2003 feature of the same name.

This isn’t quite a nuanced study in violence, despite its title. Shot in northern rural Ontario, Canada in a generic backwoods called White Pines, the film ultimately feels hollow despite the deliberate cinematography by Pierce Derks. The promise for something bold lurks and in the final moments it makes a last-ditch attempt at psychological horror. And no matter the formal ambition, In a Violent Nature doesn’t manage to improve upon the slasher formula, even if its more contemplative tone amps up the gore in passages by not shying away from it. Still, unlike––obvious examples––a film by Gasper Noé or Michael Haneke, it’s not offering some commentary on why stories of carnage continue to appeal to mainstream audiences. The substance is just not an effective fit for the ambition.

In a Violent Nature premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and will be released by Shudder.

Grade: C+

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