Looking at Happy Little Trees IN A VIOLENT NATURE

A man in a mask looks out over a spot with a view

Welcome to a cinematic adventure with the gruesome kills of a slasher flick matched with the picturesque and hushed tones of a Bob Ross painting session.

When meddling young adults disturb the burial ground of a murdered citizen of White Pine Township (somewhere in the Ontario Wilderness), they unwittingly reanimate his corpse on a killing spree. The undead creature formerly known as Johnny (Ry Barrett) seeks to reclaim the golden necklace keeping his soul at rest. But the theft of the necklace mainly serves as an excuse to dispose of some downright unlikable people in ways only a citizen of a logging community could fathom.

A girl does yoga as man in a mask approaches her from behind
Ry Barrett as JOHNNY, Charlotte Creaghan as AURORA in IN A VIOLENT NATURE
IN A VIOLENT NATURE commands my respect for trying something new while clearly paying homage to old school slasher flicks like MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HALLOWEEN, and FRIDAY THE 13TH. In all of these films, the killer doles out gruesome deaths while wearing a mask. Comparisons to MY BLOODY VALENTINE prove especially applicable since, like IN A VIOLENT NATURE, the origins of the horror arise within an insular blue collar township where terrible violence occurred with no justice for the victims. Yet in these previous films, the camera follows the irresponsible kids getting picked off one by one. Not so with IN A VIOLENT NATURE. For the most part, we journey along with the flannel-shirt wearing, drag hook-touting killer-beast.

And therein lies the rub. Unlike most genres, horror is defined by emotions – the fear the audience feels for the characters in danger. How can we fear for characters we only see off-side or in glimpses? And there's little build up of suspense or tension because there's no impending terror. We know what the thing in the dark is, and we follow right along with him. In traditional horror, gruesome kills normally mean terrified screams, bulging eyes, and useless attempts to escape. IN A VIOLENT NATURE remains quiet and calm. If I felt any emotion during the film, it was curiosity as to how the next victim would be snuffed – not my usual preference for horror watching experiences. And while I did often admire the scenery, again, this only detracted from any terror I might have felt.

A man walks towards the carcass of a dead animal
Director and writer Chris Nash peppers the plot with moments when the perspective shifts momentarily to the next victim on the list, but these cuts again prove visually confusing. Only in the last section of the film does the perspective change from killer Johnny to a final girl type of character – the last survivor. While the masked logger is busy having a chop fest, Kris (Andrea Pavlovic) makes an escape attempt, running aimlessly through the woods. Kris runs in her white shirt through a shadowy forest, with constant and effective cuts that amp up the tension. This concluding section feels like the strongest part of the film, which is not a bad way to finish

Horror fans who favor gore and enjoy seeing creative deaths will find much to appreciate, but IN A VIOLENT NATURE will leave most audiences scratching their heads. For every kill, there's 10 picturesque nature-scapes, but I don't seek horror because of the scenery.

A man walks in the woods. We watch him from behind.
Things to like include the look of the town and the sets. Everything looks lived in and true to form, especially the nature center and the campsites of note. And the writing contains just the right amount of storytelling lore. We understand what's happening and why without unnecessary exposition.

Chris Nash clearly knows horror and demonstrates an ability and desire to experiment with the format and tropes of horror. He is definitely a director to watch.

Release info: In theaters May 31, 2024

Final score: 2 out of 5