Major spoilers ahead for In A Violent Nature. You’ve been warned. 

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Horror and arthouse – you wouldn’t think those terms would go together. But mostly thanks to companies like A24, it’s become a real thing (in fact, A24 has racked up enough flicks to become its own sub-genre). However, many of those flicks, like Hereditary and Talk to Me, have been more cerebral than traditional horror.  

One thing you definitely wouldn’t think could ever be arthouse in any way would be a slasher. How could something so basic, brutal and (and in many cases) dumb ever transcend and become something more? Well, thanks to writer/director Chris Nash, we now have an answer for that. In A Violent Nature may be the start of a new avenue for horror to travel. 

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So the story goes like this: the movie opens on a dilapidated shack in the woods somewhere. We hear the voices of several men talking about a local urban legend about some deaths that occurred at this shack (which turns out to be an old fire tower) decades earlier. Strangely, there’s a gold necklace with a locket hanging off a broken beam. Before the guys leave, one of them snatches the necklace. Big mistake.

The fire tower that's Johnny's resting place in the middle of the woods.

The fire tower that’s Johnny’s resting place in In A Violent Nature

Then, we see a pipe sticking out of the ground, providing air to something that pushes its way up through the dirt. It’s a man – the man involved with those deaths the guys were talking about. The man, who we’ll know only as Johnny (Ry Barrett), looks like a zombie, partly decomposed and shabby. He gets up and starts walking. And walking. And walking. The camera stays mostly on his back, so it’s like we’re walking with him. 

Finally, Johnny comes across the carcass of a dead animal, its leg caught in a bear trap. Johnny kicks at it and then keeps going until he comes out of the woods. He walks toward a rundown house where two guys are talking: the homeowner, Chuck (Timothy Paul McCarthy) and a park ranger.  

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Neither of them notices Johnny lumbering toward them. They’re too busy arguing about Chuck’s traps. The ranger lets Chuck know how much trouble he’s going to be in if some hiker gets their leg snared. But being an obnoxious drunk (with a handsome “#1 Motherf***er” cap), Chuck blows him off. Johnny continues to approach as the ranger drives off. Chuck goes back in the house but then exits as Johnny enters.  

Johnny sees a gold necklace and goes to grab it, but Chuck fires a gun at him. Johnny’s unfazed by the shot, so Chuck stupidly makes a run for the woods and Johnny gives chase (though he never moves any faster than walking). Ironically, Chuck gets snared by one of his own traps. Johnny kills him in a way we can’t really see and then walks back to the house. He grabs the necklace but then realizes it’s not the locket. He looks in a mirror (that’s all greasy so we can’t see his face) and sees a vision of his dad telling him about the locket, how it’s his mom’s and is important to their family. 

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Then we’re back to walking until it’s sundown and Johnny sees a car driving past on the nearby road. He hears the sounds of rowdy young people and follows them. Turns out it’s the same guys from the opening scene, heading out to the customary cabin with some girlfriends. Johnny walks and walks and walks some more until it’s fully dark. He sees the group sitting around a fire outside and keeps himself hidden. 

Johnny (Ry Barrett) tracks his first victim in In A Violent Nature

Ry Barrett in In A Violent Nature

The lineup of victims includes Kris (Andrea Pavlovic), her boyfriend Colt (Cameron Love), Brodie (Lea Rose Sebastianis) and Aurora (Charlotte Creaghan), who may or may not be girlfriends. Then there’s Troy (Liam Leone), Ehren (Sam Roulston) and Evan (Alexander Oliver). They’re a pretty argumentative bunch, enough that we wonder why they would want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere together for a whole weekend. They end up talking about the fire tower, so Ehren tells Johnny’s story.  

Johnny’s father was a lumberjack and Johnny was a mentally disabled child. The other lumberjacks made fun of him and picked on him all the time. One day, they decided to play a trick on him and told Johnny there were toys on top of the fire tower. Johnny climbed it only to find them there waiting to scare him. Johnny fell from the tower and died – the lumberjacks said it was an accident, but Johnny’s father confronted them. 

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In the ensuing fight, Johnny’s father was killed. The lumberjacks claimed self-defense and that was the end of it. But at some point later, they were all found murdered, hacked to pieces. This was the beginning of Johnny’s legend, as the locals believed Johnny came back from the grave and took revenge. 

Sufficiently spooked, everyone decides to turn in. Johnny circles around the cabin, watching Kris and Colt having a tiff and Ehren telling the others he’s heading out to take a dump. The others make fun of him, convinced he’s going to try and hook up with some girls he met at a gas station earlier. 

Johnny follows Ehren, who lights up a smoke by the tool shed. Johnny grabs a saw out of the shed, comes up behind Ehren and uses the saw to decapitate him. Nasty. Then, he drags the body with one hand and carries the head with the other as he trudges through the woods to a Ranger Station. Johnny hucks Ehren’s head through the window to break in. 

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Johnny looks around at the makeshift exhibit of antique firefighting equipment. He takes an old mask (which when he puts it on, makes him look like a giant, evil Minion), an axe and a couple of big hooks attached together with a chain (remember this for later). Then it’s back to walking. 

Johnny's (Ry Barrett) hand reaches for Chuck (Timothy Paul McCarthy) in In A Violent Nature

Timothy Paul McCarthy in In A Violent Nature

In the morning, Johnny comes to the nearby lake. Across the way, he sees Brodie and Aurora and listens to them teasing each other about having sex. Brodie undresses and jumps in the lake, but Aurora says she wants to do some yoga up at the lookout and walks off. Unbeknownst to them, Johnny’s walking right into the water, heading their way. Aurora’s gone by the time poor Brodie gets pulled underwater. A few moments go by and then Johnny walks out of the water, while Brodie’s dead body floats to the surface. 

Johnny walks up to the lookout and finds Aurora there doing her yoga. She sees him and screams – but instead of running, she just stands there as he approaches her and punches a hole right through her gut with one of the hooks. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he then plunges the other hook into her head. Wait, it gets worse! Then, he pulls on the chain and pulls her head and spine through the hole in her gut. Yeah. With no further interest, Johnny kicks her off the cliffside. 

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Johnny trudges his way back to the cabin, where he hears the remaining pals arguing about what to do. They can’t find Ehren, Brodie or Aurora, and some of them are worried. Others couldn’t care less and when the one with the car gets hissy, he tosses his keys out into the woods. Colt and Kris jump on an ATV and head for the ranger station.  

Johnny finds the keys, and there just happens to be a toy car on the keychain. He sits down behind a tree, takes his Minion mask off and plays with the car for a while, which gives us the first (and only) good look at his face. He’s definitely some kind of undead creature, with horrible scars and decomposed flesh.  

Johnny decides to go after Troy, whom he spotted putting the necklace in his pocket earlier. He comes up to Troy and hits him in the leg with the axe. Before he can do anything else, Evan shoots him with a hunting rifle. Johnny goes down and stays down. Seemingly. Evan quickly makes a tourniquet for Troy and the two start limping off into the woods.  

Johnny (Ry Barrett) walks up on Aurora (Charlotte Creaghan) in In A Violent Nature

Ry Barrett, Charlotte Creaghan in In A Violent Nature

Johnny gets back up, hurling the axe and hitting Evan in the head. Troy tries crawling away, but Johnny grabs a huge rock and bashes his head in with it. He digs in Troy’s pocket, but the necklace isn’t there. Then Kris and Colt return, and Johnny sees that Kris is wearing the locket. He throws the axe at her, but she dodges it and she and Colt jump back on the ATV and speed off. 

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Then it’s back to walking until it’s dark again. When Johnny gets to the ranger station, he sees Kris and Colt with a park ranger (Reece Presley). He yells at them for taking the locket from the fire tower. We listen with Johnny just out of sight as the Ranger tells them it belonged to Johnny’s mother. And it’s the only thing that will keep Johnny’s soul at rest. The Ranger also tells them that the last time Johnny woke up, his own father died in the massacre.  

Then Johnny makes his appearance. The Ranger shoots him, and he goes down – again. He tells Kris and Colt to grab some chains so they can tie him up. But then Johnny grabs the rifle and Kris and Colt run while the poor Ranger gets taken down. Unable to move, the poor Ranger guy is totally helpless and aware as Johnny drags him into the tool shed. Then there’s this really long scene of Johnny leisurely hacking up the poor Ranger guy with a log splitter. After chopping off one arm and his head, Johnny seems to lose interest and leaves. 

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Kris and Colt decide to try luring Johnny back to the fire tower. When he eventually shows up, Colt creates a distraction while Kris gets a bear trap and a can of gasoline. She gets back in time to see Johnny killing Colt, and stands there in shock, watching as Johnny keeps striking Colt with the axe, over and over and over (there were so many hits, I lost count). 

Johnny (Ry Barrett) rests behind a tree in In A Violent Nature

Ry Barrett in In A Violent Nature

Finally, Kris quietly sets down the trap and the gas. She takes off the locket and hangs it on the nozzle of the gas can. Then she takes off. We follow her as she fumbles her way through the woods. As the sun comes up, she falls and injures her ankle – but she keeps going until she finds the road.  

She flags down a truck and the woman (Lauren-Marie Taylor) driving helps Kris in. The woman asks what happened and for whatever reason, Kris says she was attacked by an animal. The woman tells Kris a story about her brother getting attacked by a bear and surviving. As she tells the story, it starts to sound like a Johnny situation – but we never find out for sure. 

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Kris drifts off, and the woman stops the truck to check her leg. Kris is terrified, telling her to keep going. But the woman says she needs to check her, and that everything will be fine. While she’s doing that, Kris stares out at the woods – and so do we – waiting for Johnny to appear. But he never does.  

The last shot is of the bear trap and gas can. The locket is gone. The end … or is it? 

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When I first saw the trailer for In A Violent Nature, it looked to me like they were going for a late ’60s – ’70s Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of experience. Then I heard the story was going to be told from the killer’s point of view – and I thought, “Oh, no. How boring is that?”

Well after seeing it, I can say that at times it’s very boring. Most scenes are done with the slow cinema approach, so when we’re walking with Johnny, we’re doing it in real time with very few cuts. The first time, it was kinda funny and novel. And in some shots, the cinematography was so lovely that I felt like it was being intercut with a Terrence Malick flick. The second time, though, it was much less interesting. And by the time Johnny’s hiking to the ranger station, I was just like, “What the hell, man? Enough already!” 

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Luckily, both Nash and his team must’ve realized they could only push that so far. So by the last act, that real-time slow slog was gone. They brought it back one last time with Kris’ trek through the woods, which was an interesting twist, so it was easier to accept it. And the scene of her staring into the woods, anticipating Johnny leaping out, was especially well done because of the long, nerve-shredding hold on the woods. 

Evan (Alexander Oliver) takes a shot at Johnny (Ry Barrett) while standing in the middle of the woods in front of a house.

Alexander Oliver, Ry Barrett in In A Violent Nature

Other than its POV, the kills are what make In A Violent Nature stand out in a field full of bloody violence. Even after the uniquely disgusting string of kills in the Saw series, the murder of Aurora is so unbelievably horrific and – well, creative – that I found myself kind of admiring it even as it was grossing me out.  

One thing you won’t find, though, is a sympathetic character. We don’t get to know anybody very well (and from what little we do see and hear, they’re all jerks anyway). Even Kris, who ends up being the final girl – her shock plays a lot more like cold detachment. This would normally be an issue, but since we’re watching all this from Johnny’s POV, we see them as he does. Just a bunch of meat sacks to be toyed with and eliminated. So their likeability or our ability to care about them doesn’t seem to be as important. 

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Now I’ve watched and reviewed a lot of horror movies in the last few years. Sadly, most of them are disappointing to outright bad. So even as minimalist and rough as it is, to see something like In A Violent Nature makes me hopeful for my favorite genre. Filmmakers like Chris Nash, who aren’t afraid to try something radical, are out there trying to do better. And it’s encouraging to see companies like IFC and Shudder championing these smaller flicks. Especially now, when it seems like all the studios and production companies are cutting back more and taking fewer creative risks. 

Of course, the real question is whether doing another flick with this same approach would work as well. My gut (no pun intended) feeling says probably not. But if Nash can pull off something like In A Violent Nature, my gut also tells me that whatever he does next will be exciting to see.  

In A Violent Nature poster

Written and Directed by: Chris Nash 

Release date: May 31, 2024 

Rating: R 

Run time: 1hr, 34min 

Distributor: IFC / Shudder 

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