How Ultra-Violent ‘In a Violent Nature’ Captured the Vibe of a Comfort Watch: ‘It’s a Mesmerizing Effect’

“It’s just a thrill a minute,” filmmaker Chris Nash is quick to joke of his debut feature, “In a Violent Nature.”

“We made this movie with an audience of maybe five people in mind. So having anybody like it and endure the walking and just the pace of the film, it’s been a testament to the patience of an audience,” he said.

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Nash cuts himself short — a metaphor made more apt when you’ve seen just how creative the filmmaker can be with a paralyzed victim and a well-placed log splitter. The extra gutsy first-time feature writer/director and his star Ry Barrett spoke with IndieWire in April at The Overlook Film Festival. That’s an annual horror event in Louisiana, where Nash’s spellbinding slasher deconstruction for IFC Films and Shudder screened for the second time after making its world premiere at Sundance. “In a Violent Nature” is now in theaters with plans to stream later this year.

“Because I don’t see my face at all, I can just watch it as a movie, and it’s got this mesmerizing effect,” Barrett said. The mostly silent “Johnny” wears an antique firefighter’s hood that had the actor sweating his brains out while on set in rural Canada and taking photos at the festival in New Orleans this spring. “It mesmerizes and then suddenly there’s blood and guts everywhere. I just love listening to the reactions. It’s all the same reactions from the first screening. All those same beats, all the right laughs.”

“Almost like it was on purpose,” Nash quipped. “Almost like it wasn’t an accident we just fell into.”

A plodding walk in the woods that surveys a murder spree from over its killer’s hulking shoulders, “In a Violent Nature” is meticulously made. Breathtaking shots of Northern Ontario envelop a sly script that swings between extreme violence and winking humor with a singular confidence that screams rewatch. That hypnotic quality lulls the right viewers — ones who are brave enough to stomach some gore but self-assured enough to enjoy a comfortable silence — into a bewitching cycle of laughing and languishing. It’s a delicate tonal balance that Nash says he achieved by working in synchronicity with his cast and crew.

“I attribute so much of that to Ry’s performance, it’s very deliberate and very calculated,” Nash said. “And our sound design from Michelle Hwu and Tim Atkins is just really mesmerizing to me. Our editor, Alex Jacobs, and our cinematographer Pierce Derks. Everything just kind of came together so that we’re all playing the same song in a way that I don’t think you see a lot these days. We lucked out finding everybody who got it right away and knew what we were going for.”

Nash cites various inspirations behind his debut feature, including standard slasher fare, the more naturalistic works of Terrence Malick, and Gus Van Sant’s trilogy of “Gerry,” “Elephant,” and “Last Days.” To prepare for his part — a physically draining role that would require significant hiking from much of the “In a Violent Nature” team — Barrett devoured monster movies as well as real animal attack videos. He recalled enjoying a double feature with Nash at producer Peter Kuplowsky’s house while in preproduction.

“They showed me Gerald Kargl’s ‘Angst’ and Alan Clarke’s ‘Elephant,’ just to give me an idea of what the feel was going to be,” the actor said. “For me, I was thinking of ‘Irréversible’ too, just the way the viewer is an onlooker for the whole thing. I was watching that stuff and then putting it all together and trying to do exactly what Chris wanted because it was very specific. Johnny had to be that way because of the cinematography and the effects and everything working all around it.”

In A Violent Nature monster walks through the French Quarter on April 5, 2024, in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Erika Goldring Photo)
(Credit: Erika Goldring)Erika Goldring

The actor and director bonded in a love of deeply unsettling cinema, but Barrett and Nash agree that timing drove much of their practical collaboration on set. With very little dialogue to go off of, the duo described an internal metronome that helped dictate the pulse of their film. “In a Violent Nature” reflects its antagonist’s unspoken motivations and emotions primarily through cadence and movement.

“The main way that Johnny communicates with the audience is through his pace,” Barrett said. “So I had this kind of click track in my head and Chris was very specific when it had to be faster.”

“The only notes Ry and I ever really talked about involved speed,” said Nash. “Even just moments of like picking up the ax. There are these specific parts in the film that have to be just a bit quicker. Or the second time Johnny circles the cabin, we said, ‘OK, now do this one like it is almost going to be double time.'”

Messing with viewers’ sense of momentum — in that example, first showing Johnny being stealthy during one rotation before he embarks on a suddenly determined pursuit — “creates an instant change in how the audience perceives what’s going to happen,” the filmmaker said. That’s not necessarily a novel approach to horror, but Nash was particularly intentional. Here, the director’s strong creative hand resembles a hypnotist’s wrist with Johnny serving as a kind of an extraordinarily pissed-off pocket watch, accurate to the exact second and holding onlookers’ complete and total attention.

“In a Violent Nature” isn’t for everyone. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, for example, didn’t love it and specifically critiqued the hypnotic effect at play. Although Nash said critics aren’t wrong (“This is a movie with a lot of walking!”), for certain horror heads, Johnny’s divisive reign of terror feels not just like a good enough attempt but an instantaneous favorite — akin almost to a comfort watch. Nash describes enjoying David Fincher’s genre masterpiece “Zodiac” in that same vein.

“I can watch ‘Zodiac’ anytime as soon as it’s on,” Nash said. “It just puts me in a mood. It puts me in a vibe. It’s that same kind of calculated feel that I like where I’m just thinking, ‘Oh, this is a plan. This isn’t just let’s throw the camera anywhere and figure it out as it goes along.’ I think that goes a long way for creating any kind of mood or any kind of re-watchability.” (Nash also recommends Jeff Burr’s “Night of the Scarecrow” and Charles B. Pierece’s “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.”)

Barrett has a similar fondness for films like “An American Werewolf in London” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” which he watches at least once a year. For the actor, who again thanks to that hood has surprising perspective on his performance, “In a Violent Nature” is just as memorable — surprising audiences with unforgettable scenes that speak to the very heart of the slasher.

“I’ve read some of the comments after the trailer released, and there were so many people who were just like, ‘Oh, so it’s another ‘Friday the 13th’ movie!’ or ‘Oh, so it’s just Jason,'” Barrett said. “But it’s so funny. I just can’t wait for those people to see it if they do. They know that it’s obviously an homage to that stuff, but it is not one of those movies. They’re just going to get smacked in the face.”

“Very slowly smacked in the face,” Nash joked. “Very, very slowly and deliberately smacked in the face.”

In A Violent Nature monster walks through the French Quarter on April 5, 2024, in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Erika Goldring Photo)
(Credit: Erika Goldring)Erika Goldring

An IFC Films and Shudder release, “In a Violent Nature” began playing in theaters May 31. It is expected to stream later this year.

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