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In a Violent Nature is playing in theaters now, with a streaming date coming soon. Courtesy IFC Films

They’re selling In a Violent Nature as a retro 1980s-style horror flick. That’s not quite true, although it does have a bunch of stupid young people being chased around the woods by some slow-moving, unkillable, super-strong slasher with a fondness for sharp objects. Even so, this innovative Canadian film would never have been made in the ’80s, and it will make you see the genre from a whole other angle — literally.

That’s because writer-director Chris Nash spends so much time having his camera follow behind Johnny (Ry Barrett), the aforementioned slasher. At other points, it does not show Johnny’s face, which is in any event often covered by a 1920s firefighting hood filched from a ranger station. It is an effective tactic, as the film moves at Johnny’s plodding pace while he roams the wilds of northern Ontario. None of the murders come as any surprise, as we see the victims’ reactions to his appearance. It works well enough that it’s jarring when Nash breaks from it, as when the stoner among the young people (Sam Roulston) gives the others the backstory about how Johnny was a mentally challenged teenager in the 1950s who was killed by a group of lumberjacks who were playing a practical joke.

Better stuff happens near the beginning, as Johnny bears down on a house where a park ranger (Reece Presley) is having a heated argument with a hunter (Timothy Paul McCarthy) who’s laying illegal bear traps in the woods. Who will be the first victim? Johnny is searching for his mother’s gold locket, whose removal is responsible for him rising from his grave, and one of the few funny moments here is when he grabs the jewelry off the first victim, only to find that it’s engraved with the words “#1 Motherfucker” — not a gift most mothers would give their kids.

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For all Nash’s ruthless display of technique, the movie comes up short of the best recent slasher flicks. The Cabin in the Woods commented on the tropes of the genre in a funnier way, as did Behind the Mask. The film gets an extended cameo by Lauren-Marie Taylor, who starred in Friday the 13th Part 2 more than 40 years ago, and her monologue about a bear that went feral and killed everything in its path is on point. Still, The Blair Witch Project made a better statement about pitiless nature swallowing up callow city kids.

Still, there’s no denying this first-time feature director’s talent behind the camera. Johnny seems as much a part of the scenery as the trees around him, so much that our final girl (Andrea Pavlovic) looks directly at him early on from her room in the cabin and fails to see him. Then too, he stalks one camper who’s swimming in a lake by going underwater for longer than humanly possible, which is quietly more impressive than Michael Myers rising up against the lynch mob in Halloween Kills. I shouldn’t forget Johnny’s first appearance, where what appears to be his eye staring up from the ground turns out to be a length of pipe that he’s using to come up to the surface. Putting the killer in the spotlight gives In a Violent Nature more than just novelty value. It makes us rethink what we know about this hoary old genre. With a few more bright ideas, Nash will be a filmmaker to reckon with.

In a Violent Nature
Starring Ry Barrett and Andrea Pavlovic. Written and directed by Chris Nash. Not rated.

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