Sundance 2024 Review: IN A VIOLENT NATURE, Genre-Redefining Zombie-Slasher

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
Sundance 2024 Review: IN A VIOLENT NATURE, Genre-Redefining Zombie-Slasher

As an over-exploited, idea-poor sub-genre, slashers have slipped into a moribund state, tiresomely repeating over-familiar tropes with little, if any, variation beyond swapping out actors, locations, and body counts.

Through no fault of their (fictional) own, even the best-in-class undead slashers of the past have grown increasingly stale, incapable of reinvention or reimagining, relegated to unimaginative remakes, reboots, and sequels, forever bound by the commerce-driven dictates of IP-owning studios rather than the creative impulses of their original creators or their successors.

Quality zombie slashers, on the other hand, tend to be few and far between. A richly unexplored sub-genre — with only the redneck zombie slashers central to A Cabin in the Woods the lone, memorable exception more than a decade ago — first-time writer/director Chris Nash's horror film, In a Violent Nature, deconstructs the sub-genre before reconstructing it.

Nash brilliantly blends European Art/Horror Cinema, video-game aesthetics, and next-level practical effects that would make the grandfathers of gore, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger, unapologetically and/or unironically applaud their efforts.

Nash intentionally puts the audience on edge from the get-go, not with a typical slice-and-dice opening, but with a long static shot as offscreen dude-bros discuss stealing a gold chain and pendant from a burnt-out fire shelter. As the camera lingers, the conversation eventually ends. It’s the worst possible decision the unnamed, faceless voices could make as their decision leads to the resurrection of a mud and muck-covered, hulking monster in comfortable-looking slacks, a torn tee shirt, and a sensible flannel shirt.

Sensible might describe the monster’s choice in clothing, but that’s where Nash stops. There’s nothing even remotely sympathetic about the monster. He’s defined, like many of his predecessors in the genre, by an urgent, unquenchable desire to kill.

In short, he’s a force of (violent) nature, wholly incapable of caring about the feelings, emotions, or lives of his victims. Deliberately shooting the monster from behind at a remove (insert video-game reference here), and keeping the monster’s face out of focus or far away from the camera’s mercilessly unblinking eye, In a Violent Nature slowly amps the sense of inescapable, impending doom as the monster takes a long, uneventful walks in the forest.

If nothing else, the monster, later revealed to have a proper name and identity, Johnnie (Ry Barrett), and a backstory of his own, shows remarkable resolve to make up for all of the steps he missed while he was hibernating underground.

Nash initially breaks that unnamed dread by introducing two characters, again far removed from the camera, as the monster relentlessly approaches their location. Before long, In a Violent Nature introduces the obligatory group of twenty-somethings (aka, fodder for the slaughterhouse) chilling around a campfire. As the seemingly aimless talk turns to a local legend involving loggers, a mass slaughter, and a never-identified killer, the mute monster watches intently from the cover of nearby trees, presumably planning how and when to separate their mortal bodies from their immortal souls.

In a Violent Nature shatters that brief calm with the first of several, increasingly brutal murders that stretch the limits of onscreen graphic violence. Bodies, limbs, and heads are torn, dismembered, and otherwise violated with little regard or respect for their rightful, soon-to-expire owners.

A monster without conscience or impulse control, he exists solely to crush any possible hopes, dreams, or futures for the unlucky seven campers. Completely unprepared for their unexpected encounter(s), the unlucky seven respond realistically (they immediately panic, flail, or freeze, expiring in excruciating pain and anguish), while his relentless, unquenchable drive to kill even remotely anything living pushes the body count to its unnatural conclusion.

Only once do we see the monster’s face, a decision that Nash probably should have avoided altogether, especially as the monster obtains the typical accouterments of undead slashers (e.g., a mask and signature instrument of death, a double drag-hook connected by a chain and an ordinary axe). Unmasked, the monster falls just short of memorable.

Masked and armed, however, Nash’s monster all but guarantees a rightful place for himself in the horror pantheon along with Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger (among many others known, unknown, and still to be known).

In a Violent Nature premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. A streaming release will follow later this year on Shudder.

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Andrea PavlovicChris NashIn A Violent NatureLauren-Marie TaylorRy Barrett

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