How ‘In a Violent Nature’ Director Chris Nash Redefined Slashers With an Ultra-Gory Throwback That Evokes Terrence Malick

Chris Nash, who wrote and directed the indie horror movie “In A Violent Nature,” loves the slasher genre so much that he decided to totally deconstruct it.

Much like the “Friday the 13th” franchise, “Violent Nature” hits all the known beats: a masked killer named Johnny traipsing through the woods, camping teens, a local who escaped death years ago, buckets of gore. But including these cornerstones doesn’t feel like a retread—instead, it gave Nash room to play freely. Like, for example, making the perspective largely tethered to the killer. There’s no spotlight on heroes or final girls here, only the glimpses and whispers of those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the path of Johnny’s reign of terror.

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“We went in knowing that we were just following around this slasher character the entire time,” he said of the film, which is set to debut in the Midnight section of Sundance 2024. “To reveal any kind of story, we decided we’ll have overheard conversation establishing all that. We are standing on the shoulders of giants as far as the tropes that have been ingrained in audiences for decades. They know right away when the characters are talking: OK, this is the asshole boyfriend, this is the troubled hunk, this is the girl next door.’ It clicks right away.”

Beyond the unconventional storytelling, the film is sure to leave the audience gasping and shrieking at the extreme violence onscreen. Yet despite the outrageous setpieces, Nash had a unique vision of what he wanted to express with the scores of blood, often presenting these scenes in real-time with a clinical detachment that almost makes Johnny’s exploits seem workmanlike.

When speaking of one of the film’s key scenes — a long, methodical sequence that uses a log splitter in a nightmarish way — Nash underlined the effect he wanted it to have on the audience.

“I wanted it to play very long,” Nash said. “I wanted that one to almost get boring, to bore the audience with grotesque violence. I just found it interesting to have a large spectacle death, but have it be so meandering.”

Nash’s inspiration for “Violent Nature” was the observational visual language of deliberately paced filmmakers like Terrence Malick and Gus Van Sant.

“I love the vibe of following a character,” he said. “Sitting back and having somebody hold your hand through this story and just feeling a gentle breeze of the film pass by you. I kept thinking of slashers — what kind of direction could we go from there? We’re following a character, not even commenting on what’s happening or what they’re doing, we’re just on this ride.”

Sam Zimmerman, VP of programming for Shudder, said he was excited by the project and its unique influences.

“Chris had such a clarity of vision with what this film is,” he said. “It takes elements of very classical slashers and the very classical slasher aesthetic, but I understood the language he wanted to tell it in. At the time he was talking about films like Gerald Kargl’s “Angst,” which is one of my favorite home invasion films from Austria from the early ’80s. It has really revolutionary cinematography, so I knew he wanted to make this artful slasher that didn’t reject the hallmarks, but evolved the language of it forward and gave you a different perspective by tying you to the monster himself.”

Scott Shooman, the head of AMC Networks film group, which counts Shudder among its properties, said that IFC is going to release “In A Violent Nature” with an eye on theatrical expansion. Given Shudder’s box office success in 2023 with two exclusives that made plenty of noise in the horror community — “Skinamarink” and “When Evil Lurks” — Shooman believes “Nature” could have the same visceral impact on audiences as those two titles.

“When you surrender yourself to this movie at the theater, it’s a different experience,” he said. “It’s got the best slasher kills. It’s why we share armrests: To have the experience of something like ‘In A Violent Nature’ in the theater.”

Ultimately, Nash had to go through heavy reshoots and periods of anxiety while filming “Violent Nature,” but he was able to complete the vision with his creative team.

“Sometimes while making this movie you’re just like, ‘Is this working at all?'” he said. “We had no idea whether it was going to work, but we said, ‘Let’s just stick to the bit. Don’t falter.’ It could be pretty wild at times, but if you turn away from it at all, it could fall apart completely.”

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