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The Director of In a Violent Nature on Giving Viewers a Slasher ’Spectacle They Hadn’t Seen Before’

4 minute read

Warning: This post contains light spoilers for In a Violent Nature.

When a group of vacationing teens steals a locket from a mysterious burial site, they awaken an undead killer who embarks on a brutal rampage to take back what's his.

That may sound like a pretty classic premise for a slasher. But Canadian filmmaker Chris Nash's In a Violent Nature is designed to flip your expectations on their head. Largely filmed as though viewers are following in the footsteps of its hulking big-bad, an animalistic monster of a reanimated corpse named Johnny (Ry Barrett), Nash's feature debut plays like an arthouse version of Friday the 13th set in the wilderness of remote Ontario.

Following a buzzy premiere at Sundance, the Shudder-produced In a Violent Nature arrives in theaters May 31 in its unrated form—a distinction it more than earns with a bounty of drawn-out, ultra-violent kill scenes. Early screenings of the movie led to reports of audience members groaning, cheering, and even vomiting as a result of Johnny's inventive murder methods.

"We wanted to do something new, something we could wow audiences with—or at least give them a spectacle they hadn't seen before," Nash tells TIME of the film's gnarliest kill, a scene in which a young yogi meets a gut-churning end. "So the question was, how do we do something that's specific to Johnny's weapons? He carries around two big hooks. What can be done with hooks that can't be done with an axe or a machete?"

A method to the madness

'In a Violent Nature'
In a Violent NatureCourtesy of IFC Films

While the movie offers up more than its fair share of gore, much of its 94-minute runtime is spent tracking Johnny through the woods as he marches languidly on in pursuit of his next victim. There's no music. In fact, during these sequences, there's barely any noise at all beyond the buzzing and rustling of nature.

"Music can be such a crutch. It's so immediately emotionally evocative," Nash says of the movie's ambient sound design. "I didn't want to tell the audience what to think or what to feel while watching this. I wanted to create as much of an objective viewpoint as possible."

In a Violent Nature's deliberate pacing may challenge some viewers, Nash admits. "We acknowledge that we're trying the patience of somebody who is going in there expecting to watch Friday the 13th," he says.

But, citing filmmakers like Gus Van Sant and Terrence Malick as inspirations, Nash maintains there's a difference between slow cinema and patient cinema. "Our movie rides that line. There are some people whose appetite is completely against that," he says. "But horror will reward patience. The more patient you are in any horror film, the more you allow yourself to build tension and dread. Then when those big moments happen, you get that dopamine rush and that reward."

Slasher subversion

Ry Barrett as Johnny in 'In a Violent Nature'
Ry Barrett as Johnny in In a Violent NatureIFC Films

Despite chaining viewers to Johnny's side for the majority of the movie, In a Violent Nature offers up enough snippets of overheard dialogue to establish a killer backstory and loosely designate the slasher-typical roles of the ill-fated teens. We still get an obvious final girl, Andrea Pavlovic's Kris, but the movie heavily pares back the genre's usual character-defining exposition dump.

"Our film definitely reduces all of the canon fodder into the most base representations of the tropes they're supposed to be," Nash says. "But even in the best or biggest or most memorable slashers, I don't think anybody's really invested in anyone except the final girl."

However, the emerging narrative that In a Violent Nature is redefining the slasher genre is "nonsense," according to Nash. "I think it falls right into the path that every other slasher has already burned through the cinematic landscape," he says. "We're not doing anything new. We just moved the camera to a different spot. We didn't want to make this a mockery or a satire of what a slasher traditionally is. We wanted to pay homage to those films."

Still, the movie's anticlimactic coda has the potential to be polarizing. After a bloodied and battered Kris makes a seemingly successful break for it, she's picked up by a local (Friday the 13th Part 2's Lauren-Marie Taylor) passing through the area. The woman, a character introduced only moments earlier, then delivers an extended monologue about the unpredictable nature of violence. "It's as if in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre we see the conversation that happens in that truck as they're driving away. Like that's pretty awkward. How does that work?" Nash says. "I wrote the ending with that in mind and now that's the entire movie to me."

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com