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Review: In a Violent Nature

[The following review contains MINOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

In a Violent Nature revolves around a novel enough premise: what if a slasher flick unfolded almost entirely from the point-of-view of the psychotic killer, rather than his victims? As a consequence of this gimmick, many of the tropes and signifiers commonly associated with horror cinema are conspicuously absent. There is, for example, relatively little in the way of traditional “suspense”: there are no creeping shadows (since the camera constantly follows the character doing the stalking), no ominous strings or synthesizer chords on the soundtrack (indeed, until the end credits roll, there isn’t any non-diegetic music whatsoever), and no abrupt “jump scares” (because there’s no longer any buildup requiring a payoff). On the other hand, several conventions are also amplified. The bloodshed is particularly noteworthy in this regard, rivaling even the Terrifier series in its blunt brutality. Some of the murders are intentionally unceremonious (a drowning, a casually tossed hatchet to the skull), most are spectacularly gory (decapitation by log splitter, head graphically crushed by a large rock), but they’re all just as cruel, sadistic, and downright mean as you’d expect from the spiritual progeny of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees.

As is typical of a work of deconstruction, the intersection of omission and emphasis clarifies what truly defines the genre being dissected—including, unfortunately, its inherent flaws. The inverted perspective does absolutely nothing to alleviate the excessively padded plot—the bane of many a Friday the 13th installment. I appreciate the mood and themes that director Chris Nash was attempting to convey via the long, lingering, uninterrupted Steadicam shots tracking the mute maniac as he lumbers through the woods (with an excruciatingly slow, plodding gait); his refusal to cut away from the “boring” bits creates a pervasive sense of voyeurism, implicating the audience in the violence once it finally arrives. Beyond a certain point, however, there’s a distinction between “deliberately paced” and “spread too thin”; a concept that would make for an excellent twenty-minute short isn’t necessarily suited to sustaining a feature-length story. I wasn’t remotely surprised to witness several early walkouts during the screening that I attended; those patrons were obviously expecting an experience more akin to the film’s inspirations (i.e., fun, trashy, easily digestible), and were therefore sorely disappointed by the lack of narrative urgency and momentum in the first act.

Despite these (admittedly glaring) blemishes, there’s plenty to savor for adventurous cinephiles willing to meet the material on its own terms. The superb craftsmanship on display comes very close to redeeming the whole movie. The sound design is especially impressive (some egregiously unbalanced dialogue mixing notwithstanding); such ambient noises as the gentle rustling of leaves, the soft whisper of the wind, and the sharp “crack” of twigs snapping underfoot create a rich natural symphony that contrasts nicely the dissonant roar of a gas-powered generator, the rattle of chains, and the incessant buzzing of flies. This exquisite style makes In a Violent Nature a more successful experiment than, say, Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1, though it still doesn’t quite stick the landing. Nevertheless, I admire its ambition; after all, you’ll never hit a home run if you’re afraid to risk missing a few big swings.

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