L Movie Review 2There’s an uneasy coldbloodedness at the center of the new Canadian slasher film In a Violent Nature, and it has little to do with the plot — of which there isn’t a lot. The slasher film, generally speaking, is a subgenre so devoid of textual thinking and human drama that the very idea of crafting a convincing or interesting narrative, beyond the play-by-play of bloody killings, is usually off the table. Historically, whoever handles the practical F/X and the stage-blood pump gets more respect than the screenwriter. First-time director Chris Nash, naturally squirming out of a neat resume of F/X work and gory shorts, is purehearted in this respect: The movie feels like the screenplay was maybe 10 pages long.

The coldblooded conflict in the film has everything to do with form. Nash had an idea: make a bare-bones hunt-them-in-the-woods gorefest but shoot it like Gus Van Sant or the Dardennes brothers. Thus, the movie has a restrained, oblique, trudging style from the very first shot, when an offscreen clique of stoners grabs a locket hanging in a ruined shack and takes off, therein, moments later, initiating the resurrection of a hulking zombie who, we assume, wants the necklace back. Mostly we simply follow this relentless Michael Myers trog as he plows through the woods, staring at his back (we see his fucked-up face only halfway through); it’s a stripped-down visual trope that feels arty and meaningful even when there’s nothing else going on. The cinematography of Pierce Derks carries the show for a while, capturing the dark and often beautiful Canadian forests at dusk and dawn, suggesting without a word spoken that this homicidal figure has a sense of primeval resonance to him.

The suggestion is only that. Sorry to spoil, but though the film toggles back to Nash’s and Derks’s stylistic ideas every now and then, it also needs to fulfill its subgenre obligations, which means that our undead hero, about whom we eventually hear a campfire-boogeyman backstory, finds the offending though oblivious post-teens and rips them apart in variously ridiculous ways, one by one. To say there’s a mismatch between the message behind the filmmakers’ borrowed arthouse syntax and the thrust of up-your-nose flesh shredding and plasma spraying is to easily exhaust this film’s tiny tank of gas. You could even call it hypocritical. Slasher movies’ use of suffering to muster shocked chuckles has never thrilled me, even as a kid, and here, as elsewhere, we occupy a dumb world where heads pop and spew as though they were water balloons filled with cherry Kool-Aid. 

Simply killing someone to death isn’t zoomy enough, they have to be treated like a Gumby in the hands of a sadistic toddler. One murder entails pulling a girl’s head through a ripped hole in her own midsection, and if that sounds interesting to you, get a therapist. Nash’s film might be, on the most superficial level, one of the most formally interesting slasher films I’ve ever seen, in that it has a single visual idea to it, but that’s like saying it’s better than getting an actual tooth pulled.

Then there’s the head-scratching syntax of the title — which nature? in a violent what? — which itself suggests that maybe Nash wasn’t the keenest product of the exalted Canadian school system (unless it’s a lifted quote from John Donne or someone, which, under the circumstances would be a hilariously pretentious move). All that said, the film’s final chunk, which involves a long car ride with the traumatized Final Girl (Andrea Pavlovic, interchangeable with the other half-dozen brats) and a chatty older woman driver with her own stories to tell (Friday the 13th Part 2’s Lauren May Taylor, cast as a genre icon, I guess), turns a different, more subtle corner, hinting at the movie Nash could’ve made. If he hadn’t been so in love with cartoon dismemberment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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