A “Violent” Disappointment: Empty Slasher is Gore Galore, No Thrills

A would-be revisionist rehash with little to say other than “We hired a good make-up artist.” 

8 mins read

Would you be interested in seeing a film with little plot, depth, character or structure? How about a horror film lacking suspense but prizing extreme gore over all else? If the answer to those questions is “I’ll pass,” then steer clear of In a Violent Nature, an attempt at slasher revisionism that plays as a retrograde rehash with little to say other than “We hired a good make-up artist.” 

Filmmaker Chris Nash has two ideas in his film, which traces the murderous rampage of a resurrected backwoods psycho (Ryan Barrett) on a killing spree after his woodsy grave is desecrated. The first is to adjust P.O.V. by placing his camera at the back of the stalker, a relentless Jason-esque killing machine roaming the forest (the style has been compared to Gus Van Sant’s roving, 2003 Elephant) and the second is to revel in extreme gore effects, somewhat passé in today’s American horror films which have largely moved past their torture porn expiration date two decades ago. 

Clearly most of the film’s budget went to the gore, which would do famed make-up artist Tom Savini proud, including a face severed in two by a barbed wire garroting; a woman twisted into a pretzel, head pulled through a hole in her abdominal cavity; and a man dismembered, piece-by-loving-piece, by a buzz saw. But the film surrounding the effects is almost a non-film, more a director’s exercise in long, frequently patience-testing tracking shots en route to the killer’s colorless next victim. This device wears out early in an interminably paced 94 minute stunt. 

The intent of such gleeful gore is to shock, but unlike, say, Damien Leone’s funny, diabolical Terrifier 2, which contained sequences that pushed the limits of bodily dismemberment and contortion to new heights with its merry killer, In a Violent Nature doesn’t grasp that without people—even the heyday of slasher films had them, however rudimentary—to engage with, be scared for and vicariously experience their terror, extreme gore generates little more than numbing, bored detachment in the viewer.

After the picture’s stalker is reborn in the opening scene, he quickly dispatches a local yokel before moving on to a group of young adults in a vacationing cabin. Without irony or perspective, the cliches pile on—the campfire story about a prank and accident decades earlier, the killer who won’t die and can’t be stopped, the usual vapid youth awaiting slaughter. I suppose the wrinkle here is the film thinks it’s being funny, however luridly, as when a bludgeoned body is used to break a glass display case of carving weapons. Funny stuff. 

You know the drill—one patented by hundreds of slasher films circa 1977-1983 (the golden age) and resurrected by Wes Craven in his self-referential 90s era Scream series—one by one victims, unsuspecting will be gruesomely dispatched. The genre (I confess, my guilty favorite since my 80s drive-in movie days) began in earnest with Mario Bava’s 1971 chiller Bay of Blood and further advanced with Bob Clark’s 1974 Black Christmas, but it was John Carpenter’s stylish 1978 landmark Halloween that paved the way for the glut that would follow, many of which became legendary in their own right, including Sean Cunnnigham’s scrappy 1980 hit Friday the 13th

Nash is clearly paying genre homage while forgetting what made those films work (if they even did). In a Violent Nature is humorless, schematic stuff that forgets to entertain. Following a killer’s point of view isn’t new; William Lustig did so in 1980’s violently brutal cult novelty Maniac, starring Joe Spinnell as a mommy complex grindhouse killer hoarding mannequin-victims in a filthy hovel. If you’re going to ask the audience to hang with a killer for 90 minutes, there has to be some attempt to make the killer…well, something. 

But Nash’s film presents a hulking, mute, mostly-masked or seen from the back dispatcher of little distinction. In clunky exposition we are told that the mentally challenged loner was once the victim of vicious bullying, but that’s it. As for the victims, they aren’t written as human beings and exist only to be chopped up, stepping onscreen momentarily to be ground into gristle. One, a local sheriff, is so inept with his firearm that he all but offers himself up as a willing target. Another is somehow still cogent after having a huge hole puncture her midsection.  

Nash does, however, manage a couple nifty shots, both of which nod to Carpenter—one with a peek-a-boo face materializing in the shadowy background, unbeknownst to foreground victims, and another as the killer lurks outside of a window. I also liked his final shot of the woods, which generates effective tension missing in the rest of the film. 

Nash reportedly wanted to create a latter-day Friday the 13th picture but was unable to secure rights; I didn’t know that going in to his grisly opus but my first thought was that it felt like a Friday the 13th fan film. Not surprisingly, late in the film the terrific veteran actress Lauren-Marie Taylor, an alum of 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2 (the series’ best installment), turns up in an eerie, ambiguous cameo as a country woman with quite a story to tell, delivering a doozy of creepy monologue and giving the film a needed gravitas—and making it apparent what the rest of the film is missing, simply by conveying a haunted, real person. If Taylor had been cast in a significant role she could have carried the film. 

The prestige IFC films brand lends In a Violent Nature as an arthouse cred it hasn’t earned. 

One star

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