‘In A Violent Nature’ Director Chris Nash On Fileting The Slasher Genre

In A Violent Nature

Sundance Midnighters sometimes make headlines for someone passing out, throwing up, or otherwise freaking out at a screening—and In A Violent Nature is the rare film that actually deserves the hyperbole. The press event I attended in Park City peaked with a woman yelling, “Oh God. Oh, God. OH MY GOD,” during a gruesome kill scene, which got other people giggling, which spread into hooting and clapping. Just a good time at the movies, you know?

But emphasizing the squish factor is only telling half the story of In A Violent Nature, which boldly combines slasher-movie kicks with a meditative arthouse style. Reviewers have compared it to the Dardenne Brothers, Ingmar Bergman, and Terrence Malick—I detected notes of Jonathan Glazer, personally—and director Chris Nash namedrops Gus van Sant when talking about his debut feature. 

A lot of filmmakers talk about “reinventing the slasher,” but Nash and his crew have actually done it. So of course I had to talk to him at Sundance, digging deep into Nash’s intuitive, almost musical process.

Note that some light spoilers—nothing related to the plot, but there is a discussion of the film’s killer, Johnny, and his preferred killing implements—lie ahead. 

DC: What, in your opinion, is the relationship of this film to a classical slasher like Friday the 13th?

Chris Nash: It’s an offspring of it. I would say [Friday the 13th] is intrinsic to the existence of this film because it built the framework. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we are looking at the wheel from a different side. 

DC: That’s what I wanted to talk about. For example, this film doesn’t have a score. And that really struck me, because when I think about a film like Friday the 13th, the score is an intrinsic part of it. There are some choices that you make that are very different in terms of pacing. I’m curious if those are deliberate inversions of the genre, or if that’s just your style.

CN: So much of the movie was a test of, “is this going to work?” Because you’re absolutely correct. The score is intrinsic to a slasher. So what happens when you remove that? How do you feel? How do the deaths make you feel when you’re just faced with the stark vision of what they are? All of that definitely came into play. Every choice was very deliberate from the start. 

I feel like I’m always trying to rip off No Country for Old Men in some way. And that movie doesn’t have a score. I just think it’s letting every moment exist for what it is. Score can be such a crutch. After shooting this, I’ll be watching a movie and I’ll be like, “Man, this is a really good moment.” Then I think, “No, I just like this song. I can listen to this song [by itself] and feel the exact same way.” There is no interaction between what we’re seeing and the music. The music is carrying everything on its shoulders, and there’s got to be more symbiosis. 

We also didn’t want to drown out the sounds of the woods themselves. So much of what we’re feeling as an audience is from watching our monster man walk through the woods. This is such a rote film school thing to say, but the setting is a character, and you don’t want to have music blaring over the character’s dialogue. 

DC: How about pacing and editing? You do have a lot of scenes of Johnny walking through the woods, which I liked because—going back to the Friday the 13th movies—when you think about it, Jason Voorhees spends most of his time walking through the woods. It’s funny that you made that text in your movie, but it does slow down the pacing.

CN: I guess, if you’re going for something more traditional. 

DC: Exactly. That’s what I want to talk to you about, the non-traditional choices you’re making.

CN: The movie is so much of a mood piece. The character is also not in a rush to get anything done. And him being so methodical, just step one at a time walking to these kills, it does make it seem a little more sinister. A little more inhuman. He’s devoid of emotion. 

DC: Would you say that he’s also devoid of thought?

CN: I’ve never thought about that. I’ve only thought about emotional drive, and removing that. 

DC: You can look at Johnny as a soulless killing automaton, but there are times when he seems to make choices. 

CN: He’s not aimless, and he is making decisions to interact with his environment in certain ways. I don’t know where that thought comes from, though, I’ll say that. Because if you’re just trying to kill somebody, there are less bloody ways to do it. But are those going to be as fun? 

DC: There are some efficient kills in the movie as well.

CN: Those are cooldowns. You’re composing a whole piece. 

DC: Would you say you’re playing different notes in a melody?

CN: Yeah. So for instance, on set, I loved the walking. There were times when we were shooting, and I was like, “I just want to watch this movie.”

DC: Like an experimental piece of an hour and a half of walking?

CN: Yeah. Completely unsellable. So I loved it. [Laughs] 

My editor Alex and I did have to make choices with regard to, “How long are we going to stay on these [shots]?” For our first assembly cut, we used as much [footage] as we possibly could. There was a tracking shot that was a very specific choice in terms of the size of the lens we used, how much space [Johnny is] taking in the frame, and how long we stayed with it. And we love that shot. 

And playing the piece as a whole, with the ups and downs, there are deliberate choices like, “Okay, we’re going to use that shot right after our most gruesome kill, and have that be a palate cleanser.” Letting everybody sit with that for a while.

DC: I went to a screening the other day, and everybody lost their minds watching that [kill scene]. Where did that come from? Because that is one of the most original kills I’ve seen in a movie, and I know people are going to want to talk about it.

CN: That was such an autopilot.

DC: Really.

CN: Johnny has his tools. He’s got his weapons. For me, it was about thinking of ways to utilize them in more creative ways, where it’s like, “You couldn’t do this with a machete.” Using the tools to actually do something specific and unique to those [implements].

DC: Is that a logging tool? The chain with the hooks on either end?

CN: They’re called drag hooks, and they’re used for wrapping around big logs. You wrap ‘em, put ’em on a backhoe or whatever—or a horse, back when—and take them out of the woods and throw them in the river.

DC: So that whole scene was based around looking at these drag hooks and being like, “What could you do to a human body with these,” basically?

CN: And also a banana peel joke. 

DC: [Laughs] Oh my God. 

CN: Just the slapstick of it, too. 

DC: That brings me to something: You have these moments in the film where you have these faraway shots of characters walking through the woods and it’s still and calm. And then you have dumb jokes. How do these elements coexist in the melody you’re talking about?

CN: Well, some of them are just for me. “This is dumb, in a gloriously dumb way.” But you also need those moments of levity. You can’t have the film without them. 

DC: I mean, you could.

CN: It’d be a really, really bleak movie if you didn’t put those moments in.

DC: And slashers aren’t bleak.

CN: They’re fun. So you have to have some levity to it. But instead of the characters joking around with each other, we thought, “Let’s just make the kills [funny].” Even how they’re timed—the final death in the movie, for instance. That was funny to me, the duration of how long it goes on. I was like, “No, this will be funny. This will come back around. Don’t worry when he just doesn’t stop.”

DC: The sound mix in this film is really interesting. You’d have characters who were farther away, but their dialogue was way up front in the mix. And in that scene you’re talking about, the squishing is high up in the mix. You have a lot of wide, faraway shots, but the sound is right up front. What was your thinking there?

CN: Well, originally I really wanted all the sound to be from the perspective of Johnny the whole time. I was fine with barely hearing the dialogue. And so when we were mixing everything, that’s what I told our audio mixers, and they were like, “Okay, this will be cool.” And they did an amazing job. But when we watched the cut, it was so quiet that it was a white noise machine. It was totally ASMR. It was almost too relaxing. 

DC: Nature sounds can be very relaxing. 

CN: You’re hearing the wind through the trees, and it’s just like, “Oh, we’re going to put people to sleep.” Also, because we’re not giving [viewers] a conventional story, and we’re light on slasher tropes and conventional slasher structure—not giving the audience definitive [conversations] was too much. [In the original mix], a character’s talking, and we understand that there’s some conflict going on, but you just hear noise in the background. You might catch a bit of it at the end. We were like, “Oh, we can’t do that.”

DC: That’s too far.

CN: It was too far in that direction. So we had to pull back and bring those discussions forward in the mix. But we still had to create the feeling that this was happening in the background. Finding that balance was tricky.

DC: I want to come around on something that we were talking about with the walking scenes and the timing of the kills. How do you know when to cut away?

CN: Oh, just feeling it out. 

DC: You watch it and you’re like, “This feels right,” or “This feels long,” or whatever?

CN: Yeah. It’s super frame-specific too. My editor and I would say, “let’s take two more frames off of this before we cut.” The feel had to be perfect for us. 

DC: You’d take two frames off and say, “That’s right now.”

CN: Exactly. Nothing is really changing, but you’re playing a note, and you were a beat off.

DC: Are you a musician? Do you play music?

CN: I’ve been lugging a set of drums around from apartment to apartment for 20 years, but never playing them. [Laughs] So whatever that’s worth. 

DC: To pivot into a couple other things that I think people want to hear about: The mask that Johnny wears, is that a fire mask?

CN: It’s based on a 19th-century mask firefighters and smokejumpers used called the Vajen Bader fire protection helmet. It’s creepy as fuck—the idea that you’re already trapped in a burning building, or in the middle of a forest fire, and you just want to be saved, and then the scariest thing ever comes towards you… Seeing that mask, I was like, “Oh, that’s a great mask. That’s a good slasher thing.”

DC: You do some interesting stuff with Johnny’s face. You don’t see it at first, and then he’s in a mask. But then when you finally see his face, it’s in a really childlike moment.

CN: We were super specific about saving that reveal. It’s the closest we come to humanizing Johnny, but also never going so far as to treat this like a Frankenstein story. I don’t want any sympathy or empathy for him, just a hint that something was there once.

DC: It took a long time to shoot this movie, correct? 

CN: Yep. 

DC: How long?

CN: I started principal photography in September 2021, and we wrapped our final pickup unit in December 2022. 

DC: Wow. How come it took so long?

CN: There were two different blocks of shooting. We did significant reshoots, to the point where we essentially reshot the entire film. Our first four-week shoot in September of 2021 was our principal photography shoot, and being a low-budget production, we had low-budget production issues. A bunch of significant things happened that were really hard on us. 

There was a point where we were making concessions to try to get things done, get things shot. But in the end, we looked back at the footage and we did an assembly cut of everything we shot. And it was just like, “This is not the feeling. This is not the tone of this film.”

DC: And that was intuitive, as you were talking about before?

CN: It didn’t feel right. So we had to make the decision to reshoot the entirety of what we did. 

DC: Oh my God. 

CN: With significantly less money. 

DC: How did that feel? 

CN: It felt like the movie was kidnapped and then ransomed, both by ourselves, from ourselves.

DC: You were paying the ransom to yourself.

CN: The whole time we were like, “How are we going to come up with this money so we can see our film again?” So we had to really buckle down. We trimmed down the amount of crew, to the point where it was like, “Okay, now the producers are doing wardrobe.” It became the kind of low-budget backyard film that we’d made forever. And when the weather changed and it was winter, we couldn’t pick up until spring anyway. But that gave us six months to really figure out all this stuff and go at it stronger and more prepared the next time. 

DC: What refinements did you make to the tone in reshoots? Tone is so tricky—my understanding is that a lot of it’s made in the editing room.

CN: Well, for instance, we changed our camera package. We had a much larger camera package [on the first round of shooting] and just packing in and packing out—it’s incredibly difficult when you’re shooting in the middle of the woods. We didn’t fully realize the difficulty of that.

DC: A lot of schlepping.

CN: A lot of schlepping. So we need a package now that is versatile and we still get what we want, but throwing a backpack, things like that. Also, just looking at the footage and being like, “We should have taken Johnny just two or three steps further back.” Things like that, refining his space in the frame to just give it a different feeling. 



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