How IN A VIOLENT NATURE Reshapes Slasher Point-of-View

“Slasher-cam” has been a part of the slasher subgenre since its inception, even before the genre’s various tropes were codified in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Go all the way back to Michael Powell’s brilliant proto-slasher Peeping Tom and you’ll see elements of it, thanks to the presence of a literal camera in the killer’s hands. In the 1970s, Black Christmas and Halloween entrenched the device as part of the formula; by the time Friday the 13th rolled around in 1980, it was an inescapable piece of the slasher genre.

Writer/Director Chris Nash knows this, just as he knows many other elements of the slasher that he poured into his haunting film In A Violent Nature. But as with so many other elements of this film, the slasher-cam doesn’t play by the typical rules of the genre. Instead, it becomes a powerful perspective tool that shapes the film’s themes, lingering questions, and deepest scares to tremendous effect.

So, now that the film’s out in the world, let’s talk about why.

SPOILERS AHEAD for In A Violent Nature!

Billed as a slasher “from the killer’s point of view,” In A Violent Nature makes good on that promise almost immediately when Johnny (Ry Barrett) rises from his grave in the middle of a forest and begins his business of killing. We hear the youths who disturb his lonely improvised grave by taking a locket left hanging over his burial place, but we never see them. Instead, the first human shape we are confronted with is Johnny, rotting and scarred, as he pulls himself from the dirt and sets out to reclaim that locket–which we later learn is the only thing keeping his restless soul rooted to the ground. 

Johnny wakes to get his locket back because it reminds him of his mother and the gentler life he once led. Of course, he doesn’t see the locket go missing: he just knows that it’s gone, and that he must search for it.

Through Nash’s steady, patient camera, we follow Johnny as he begins his search, but while the film does unfold from “the killer’s point of view,” the traditional “slasher-cam” is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Nash hovers not in Johnny’s eyes, but around his massive body as he shambles through the forest. The camera tracks behind him like a steadfast follower, occasionally drifting to the side or even overhead to give the viewer a note of added suspense, as well as giving us a wider view of what’s going through Johnny’s head at any given moment. 

A more traditional “slasher-cam” viewpoint accomplishes one of two things. In the case of something like Peeping Tom, it’s a chance to present a voyeuristic view of the violence, implicating the audience as we look through the same camera lens as the killer. When it comes to something like Black Christmas or Friday the 13th, it helps preserve the whodunit aspects of the story, building suspense as we walk with the killer through dark corners. In a Violent Nature isn’t necessarily out to accomplish either goal, but there are reasons for Nash’s camera choices.

It’s no accident that the word “nature” is right there in the title of this film; it’s there to indicate a probing of Johnny as an entity, yes, but also because Nash is intent on immersing us in the Canadian forest where the story takes place. This forest, dense, green, and full of life, is more than just a backdrop: it’s a character, a living thing containing multitudes both horrific and beautiful. As we follow Johnny through the trees, we can’t help but feel that he’s a part of that. The forest is his, and he is the forest’s, something further cemented by our brief glimpses into his tragic backstory. It’s why he stops early in the film to ponder the corpse of a fox who died in a hunter’s trap, and why he subsequently punishes that same hunter even after he realizes the man doesn’t have his locket. The camera choices allow us not just to see the forest through Johnny’s eyes, but to see Johnny within the forest.

This view, in which the camera follows Johnny but never inhabits him, also allows us a rarity in slasher films, something we usually only get in glimpses: a chance to watch Johnny think. He’s a killing machine, yes, but he’s also a killing machine who has to place himself in the right place at the right time, has to select weapons improvisationally or deliberately, and has to observe his victims in their natural habitat (more nature metaphors) before he can prey on them. Because we are watching him nearly the entire time, we get to see Johnny decide to go down beneath the water of a lake to drown one girl, then follow the other to the edge of a cliff. We get to see him choose to drag the Park Ranger into that shed and then test out the log splitter to see if it will work. We get to watch as he slowly stalks around buildings, knowing all the while what he’s about to do, waiting for that inevitable slaughter. It’s a mesmeric, almost meditative way to make a slasher film.

But even that’s not the end of Nash’s point-of-view playfulness in this film. Because we get so used to following Johnny around, moving with him from kill to kill, our eyes are trained to notice when the camera actually moves away from this method. Our bodies are trained to clench with anxiety as we look for Johnny and ponder his next move, because we’re so used to seeing him, following him, knowing him. It starts with small things, like when the camera flips around to show us one of Johnny’s victims as she hovers right at the edge of a cliff, making decisions that inform the last moments of her life. Then it gets more pronounced, as when Johnny leaves the Park Ranger paralyzed while he rummages around for an appropriate killing device. And finally, it culminates in Kris (Andrea Pavlovic) driving away from the site of the murders, having left Johnny’s precious locket behind. Even as a kindly woman (Lauren-Marie Taylor) works to get her to safety, Kris keeps looking back at the woods, because that’s exactly what we would do. When the woman stops her truck to apply first aid to Kris’s injuries, the steady blur of trees in a car window becomes a slow, probing look at the forest. In one breathtaking final sequence of shots, Nash lingers over the forest one more time, an extension of Kris’s eyes as she scans the trees for signs of violence and encroaching death. The woods are calm again, order seemingly restored, but these are the same woods that gave us Johnny. They’re part of him and he’s part of them. How safe can they really be?

That’s the power of a judiciously used slasher-cam, reshaped and repurposed to fit one very specific film’s very specific needs. It’s what makes In a Violent Nature not just a gripping slasher film, but a tremendous exercise in using the standard implements in the horror toolbox in a new, terrifying way.

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