Producers: Shannon Hanmer and Peter Kuplowsky   Director: Chris Nash   Screenplay: Chris Nash   Cast: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Cameron Love, Reece Presley, Liam Leone, Charlotte Creaghan, Lea Rose Sebastianis, Sam Roulston, Alexander Oliver, Timothy Paul McCarthy and Lauren-Marie Taylor   Distributor: IFC Films/Shudder

Grade: B-

This is a brutal slasher movie that goes out of its way to advertise taking its inspiration from the “Friday the 13th” franchise, but writer-director Chris Nash, cinematographer Perce Derks (using the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio) and ever-patient editor Alex Jacobs offer an unusual take on the venerable Unstoppable Masked Killer genre.  Told from the perspective of the hulking monster while treating his numerous victims as anonymous material for graphic slaughter, moving with glacial slowness and eschewing a music score in favor of ambient outdoor sounds and snatches of barely-heard conversation (so effectively chilling a tactic that it might make you reconsider whether Bernard Herrmann was right about adding violins to that shower scene), the Ontario-shot effort will appeal to aficionados of the form because of its departures from the norm. 

And while others are bound to be more ambivalent because of the gory content, rendered in old-fashioned prosthetically-based mayhem, their interest may be piqued by the movie’s artistic ambitions (or, if you’re less admiring, pretensions)—like it or not, Nash has them.  That’s evident from the title, which embodies the idea that Johnny (Ry Barrett), the Jason Voorhees stand-in, is a force of a violent natural world much like a predatory forest beast stalking prey—a comparison explicitly drawn, without any subtlety, in a long concluding sequence that couldn’t be a more direct reference to the first “Friday.”

The film begins with an evocative shot from the inside of a dilapidated wooden structure (an ancient fire tower, we will learn), a shard of which has hanging from it a golden locket.  The voices of some unseen young campers discuss the shed, and one takes the locket—a mistake, as we’re told later by a forest ranger (Reece Presley), who informs them that it was a talisman keeping Johnny trapped below ground there.  With its removal, he pushes himself from the earth and slowly clomps away, searching for the stolen item while dispatching all in his path.

The first victim is a poacher (Timothy Paul McCarthy), squatting in a deserted house that might once have been Johnny’s home, whom the ranger has been arguing with over the traps he’s set in the woods.  After dispatching him Johnny moves on to the campers, one of whom, Ehren (Sam Roulston), relates over their campfire the legend of the White Pines Massacre of loggers that Johnny, a “slow” boy, was purported to have carried out after they ridiculed and accidentally killed him, and then disposed of his revenge-seeking father as well.  Going off to relieve himself, Ehren is promptly decapitated by Johnny, who’s been listening.  The undead creature then proceeds to the ranger station, where he collects an assortment of murderous tools from exhibits of the area’s logging past and an old goggle-equipped fire-fighting mask he uses to obscure his face (which, when briefly revealed, is much disfigured, with rotting teeth).

He then trudges to a lake, where Aurora (Charlotte Creaghan) and Brodie (Lea Rose Sebastianis) are arguing on the dock.  Aurora goes off to do her yoga exercises, while Brodie takes a swim and Johnny—in a scene obviously inspired by the opening of “Jaws”—walks under her with dire result.  He then turns on Aurora and eviscerates her in an especially brutal fashion, any yoga contortions multiplied exponentially by what he does to her.

The remaining campers are next on Johnny’s menu.  After Colt (Cameron Love) and Kris (Andrea Pavlovic), concerned over Ehren’s disappearance, take the ATV to look for help at the ranger station, he dispatches bickering Troy (Liam Leone) and Evan (Alexander Oliver) before proceeding to the station. There Colt and Kris learn of Johnny’s legendary status from the ranger (who’s apparently dealt with him before) and flee when he arrives. The ranger intends to return him to his underground prison again, but this time he fails: in a protracted but largely bloodless scene, the poor fellow is introduced to a log-splitting machine after being incapacitated..

Still determined to retrieve the locket Kris is wearing, Johnny pursues the two surviving campers and kills Colt with an axe, sending Kris fleeing into the woods after leaving the locket behind.  Limping to a road, she encounters a woman (Lauren-Marie Taylor) who offers her a ride to the hospital, relating as they go a story about a fierce bear that once ripped everything in its path to shreds, mauling her brother nearly to death in the process.  She then stops the car to apply a tourniquet to Kris’s leg as the girl fearfully scans the woods with her eyes, expecting the worst.  One can’t help but remember the final sequence from “Friday the 13th” with Betsy Palmer, especially since Taylor appeared in its immediate sequel, and anticipate what might be about to happen with dread.

“In a Violent Nature” will turn off many with its unrelenting portrayal of endless brutality in an unforgiving world, and the acting could most charitably described as workmanlike, but its cannily minimalist approach gives its unrelievedly gruesome content an arguably artistic veneer.  Like its equally innovative predecessor “The Blair Witch Project” it may spawn sequels and imitators, but if so you can be certain they won’t measure up to it: this is probably a trick that can be successfully pulled off only once. But Nash has managed it.