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How The Year’s Most Controversial Slasher Came To Life

Don’t worry if you don’t like In A Violent Nature – the film’s writer/director Chris Nash is fully aware that his distinctive twist on the slasher formula may alienate a lot of viewers.

He told Zavvi: “As an audience member, you’ll realise very quickly that all tension has been eliminated because you’re following the antagonist the entire time, nothing can confront him, he’s an unstoppable force moving forward. So it looks like a horror movie, it fits the criteria of a horror movie, but it’s not scary like a horror movie!

“For us, that was freeing, knowing that we didn’t have to adhere to any specific kind of rules of horror filmmaking, allowing us to lean more into the dread. You know all the characters are hapless victims going to get dispatched one by one, but there’s nothing any observer can do about it!”

Shot deep in the woods of his native Ontario, Nash’s film is told largely from the perspective of Johnny (Ry Barrett), a killer brought back from the dead after a group of unsuspecting holidaymakers staying in a cabin nearby take the locket belonging to him. Inadvertedly murdered as a child after a prank gone wrong, his spirit rises to get revenge whenever woken up – and even though he’s been asleep for years, urban legend has it that he’s already been responsible for two separate killing sprees.

Told from Johnny’s silent perspective, however, distinguishes this even further from slasher formula, as you get to see the killer’s process when it comes to cooly taking care of his victims. And this is where it has proven the most surprisingly controversial, with many horror fans outraged by the many sequences of real-time walking through the woods between kills.

“We tried to warn audiences how much walking there was in the trailer, so they’d be prepared”, laughed Nash, “but because it’s riffing on the conventional, boilerplate slasher, it still isn’t the film a lot of people expect to see. The biggest thing I’ve learnt from this process is that those criticisms are valid – I can’t fault people for expecting something different.”

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However, speaking to Nash, the big surprise about his “ambient slasher” is the possibility it may share a cinematic universe with one of the most famous franchises of them all – even if he is keen to stress that, for legal reasons, he doesn’t fully cross that line.

Lauren-Marie Taylor, who appeared as Vickie in Friday The 13th Part II, has a show-stealing one-scene turn in the film’s third act. Her character is left deliberately unnamed, leaving it up to viewers to interpret whether this is her return – canon dictates that she’s killed by Jason, but that might not entirely be the case.

“We always wanted someone from the Friday series for that role, but we didn’t want it to just be stunt casting purely for horror fans to tap their friends on their shoulder. It would fall flat if the casting took you out of the drama in the moment, but it was very important we had someone who played a character who we don’t see die onscreen – but, legally, I must stress that’s because those movies were a big inspiration on us!”

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So, now you know what In A Violent Nature isn’t – what can you expect? Nash refers to it as a meeting point between the slashers he grew up loving (My Bloody Valentine is another key influence), and the “pretentious, snobby film school” influences he studied and grew to love in adulthood.

Terrence Malick was a conscious directorial influence not just because of gorgeous cinematography that would feel at home in a nature documentary, but because of the way his films depict violence.

Badlands is such a sweeping, beautiful film, almost unnecessarily so for a Bonnie and Clyde story with so much violence in it – that was a feeling I wanted to translate directly into slashers. The Gus Van Sant Death Trilogy – Gerry, Elephant and Last Days – were also at the forefront of my mind; the idea first started when I saw them for the first time, wondering what a slasher would look like in that style.”

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A slasher still needs an iconic villain, no matter how much it’s playing around with the tried-and-tested formula. And like much in the film, the influences for the overall look of Johnny accumulated over decades.

“I wanted to lean into the logging and firefighting industries you’d find in this environment, his clothing would always be associated with those because that’s all he’d be able to find in this remote area. The mask itself is a firefighting mask from the late 19th century, which I saw online in the late 2000s – as soon as I saw it I knew it would be a great slasher mask, and it’s been in the back of my mind for years.

“I’ve always wanted to shoehorn it into something I’ve made, and here I had a tangential entry point into those industries, which worked perfectly for me! I also had a list of locations and areas in my mind from my childhood that I always thought would be perfect for a slasher – but going back as an adult and seeing how much they changed ruined those memories, they look completely different now.

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“A lot of the places we shot in I’d never visited before, but they had a similar feel to those areas I grew up in: they were remote, so could easily lend themselves to the tone and mood I was aiming for.”

But if you think that means everything came together quickly, a lifetime of inspiration making the shoot a straightforward one, think again. The movie entered production in 2021 and was “about 80% through” filming before the original actor cast as Johnny had a health emergency and needed to bow out – and even though you never see his face, Nash admits that his “obsessive” approach meant he had to back to the drawing board.

“We didn’t have to reshoot anything, it was a lot of me coercing my producers into it! Losing our main actor was the big thing, but we also had a lot of weather issues in that original shoot, which was crucial in a movie that takes place outside – mishaps happen in every movie, but on an indie with a tight budget, it stings a lot more.

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“We technically could have used all that footage, it was all salvageable, but I wanted the character to feel consistent and familiar even if he’s just a guy in a suit walking from point A to point B! It needed to feel like Johnny was the same in every frame, so that first shoot became a costly dry run.”

Nash ended up being validated at the eventual cast and crew screening, when he showed an assembly cut of the footage he shot that first time, spliced with the new footage to plug in the remaining 20% that hadn’t been filmed.

“It’s jarring to go from one performance to another, especially halfway through a take. The way somebody walks, or positions their head, can be striking even if it’s just the normal manner that’s natural to them – you can tell right away it’s a different actor.”

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Hopefully, that same issue won’t arise when Nash makes a sequel, which he’s already started discussing with his producers, teasing that it would be “tonally the same, but not treading the same water. I wouldn’t want to do another movie set over his shoulder the entire time.”

So should we expect a return to the Ontario woods very soon then? “No, he’s going to be in space – we’re sending him straight to space!”

In a Violent Nature is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 12th July.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder

Writer

Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.