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Sundance 2024 Review: IN A VIOLENT NATURE Redefines Slasher Horror


A lone man stands in a forested area
Image courtesy of Shudder

By Dolores Quintana


At Sundance 2024, IN A VIOLENT NATURE was the first film I saw. Wow, what a film to start the festival with - ridiculously gruesome and hilarious - there’s nothing in the slasher sub-genre quite like it.


Here’s the film’s very simple synopsis: An ambient slasher that follows Johnny (Ry Barrett), a vengeful undead brute, as he methodically slaughters a group of campers in the wilderness after they remove a pendant from his resting grounds.


What first got my attention was how the film was referred to as an ambient slasher and the recommendations of the festival’s programmers. Calling it an ambient slasher is exactly correct.


The film doesn’t have a soundtrack, so those of you going in expecting some kind of killer central theme won’t get what they expect; however, if you open up your mind, you are going to get so much more.


The film is an inventive slasher that boldly uses perspective to tell its story. Slashers have always played with the point of view, usually of the killer, as with Halloween and its terrifying opening sequence that puts you in the place of the child Michael Myers as he starts to kill.


What writer and director Chris Nash, who is known for his effects work on films such as Psycho Goreman, but who also directed the ABCs of Death 2 segment "Z is for Zygote," has done is put all of his trust in the particular perspective he has chosen for the majority of the film and used it to capture the gaze of the viewer and direct it where he wants it. It is such a strong and confident direction for a first-time feature.


The ambient nature of the film is not just in the use of natural sounds to accompany the action but in everything, particularly the camera’s perspective. This boldness with perspective trusts the audience to hook into the narrative in a different way than one traditionally would in a horror film, and the film ultimately benefits greatly from taking this chance. The movie surrounds you and envelops you, which is the other meaning of the word ambient. It lures you into accepting the difference in perspective, lulls you into a state of acceptance, and then lowers the whammy.


Speaking of the whammy, let’s talk about the film’s violence and gore. It’s fantastic. Last year, horror fans discussed great kills, with never-been-done-before ideas like the rear camera kill in Suitable Flesh and the dog in When Evil Lurks, among others. IN A VIOLENT NATURE has 2024’s first great kill sequence. The really good news is that the sequence is only one of the hilarious and maniacal kills that happen in this film—just one of them.


There's one kill in particular that I'm trying not to spoil but just know it is pure gorehound bliss. It is graphic, horrifying, shocking, and has never been done before. It is so amazing that I started moaning, no, no, no! while watching it, which provided endless amusement for other people in the audience who were cackling maniacally, as one man said, “like Max Cady.”


In the film, there is a mix of characters, some who are likable and others who are distinctly not trustworthy on top of one undead killer and a dogged ranger who is trying to do his job. The cast includes Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic Reece Presley, Alexander Oliver, Sam Roulston, Lea Rose Sebastianis, Liam Leone, Charlotte Creaghan, and Cameron Love with standout performances by Pavlovic, Barrett, Creaghan, Taylor, and Presley.


As Johnny, Ry Barrett brings a marvelous physicality to the role of the killer. It’s quite a feat because he is denied the usual expressiveness that actors have through vocalization and facial expression and must communicate the menace and characterization of Johnny only through movement and his presence. He does a wonderful job, and without his performance, the film would have a Johnny-sized hole in it.


At a certain point, the perspective of the film switches, and the film changes to a different kind of terror. It’s wonderful because the free-floating eeriness of the film's beginning coalesces into a nightmare of darkness and sound. Just when you might be used to what the film has previously used to scare you, a different kind of fear kicks in and doesn’t let go.

IN A VIOLENT NATURE is a slasher that finally uses nature itself to its full advantage, crafting scares from one of the most soothing things in the world. It exposes you to your darkest thoughts while standing in a forest and takes you by the hand, and makes you walk with those fears. Its most successful frights take place in the cathedral of the mind, using your imagination to expand what is taking place on the screen, and then it lowers the boom on you with some of the goriest and most ingenious kills.


Beautiful terror on the knife’s edge with an implacable momentum of violence, Johnny and the film are forces of nature that the audience has no defense against. IN A VIOLENT NATURE is the slasher you have been waiting for—enthralling, innovative, with a sense of humor, and possessing an aura of the grave.


IN A VIOLENT NATURE had its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. It will be released in theaters later this year, followed by a streaming release on Shudder.


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