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‘Dark Nature’ Review – Wild Thriller Gets Lost in the Woods

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Writer/Director’s Logline Berkeley Bradydirector’s first feature film dark nature describes it as “the story of a therapy group who are forced to confront the monsters of their past when a lonely weekend tests their emotional resilience and ability to survive”. It’s fitting enough, but with one small problem: The Canadian film – with its all-female cast, wild setting, and trauma-centric narrative – bears a very close resemblance to Neil Marshall’s. Lowering, aka one of the most iconic contemporary horror films. Like it or not, comparisons between the two films are inevitable.

The first act of dark nature is very strong: it opens with an incredibly disturbing incident of domestic violence as Joy (What keeps you aliveit is Hannah Emily Anderson) is strangled by her boyfriend, Derek (Daniel Arnold). The violence is visceral and triggering, so it only makes sense that Joy is still suffering from the aftereffects months later. These manifest visually as Derek’s hallucinations and are accompanied by the telltale audio cue of his Zippo opening, a recurring motif throughout the film.

Carmen, Joy’s best friend (madison walch) is sympathetic, but frustrated. Not only did Joy retreat into near-agoraphobia, but she also stopped engaging with anyone, including Carmen. The Interim Conciliation Solution is an all-female weekend therapy group, led by the famous and eccentric Dr. Dunley (Kyra Harper). It’s Carmen’s attempt to help Joy regain a sense of agency and control, but it’s also a last-ditch attempt to salvage their friendship. In this sense, the relationship between women is essential; it’s as important as the disturbing series of incidents that occur as the women go deeper into the desert.

The film was shot in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, and the on-location filming makes effective use of the natural geography (rocky quarries, thick woods, and ominous bodies of water). Like most horror films set in the forest, the geography is both beautiful and terrifying: Brady and the cinematographer Jaryl Lim frequently use aerial shots of trees and rocks as far as the eye can see to reinforce the extreme isolation. These women are truly alone…except for the threat that accompanies them.

The first half of the film deftly walks the line without revealing too much about what’s going on. Joy is clearly experiencing PTSD flashbacks to her trauma, making her an unreliable protagonist. In this capacity, dark nature borrows familiar narrative ground from recent films like Sainte Maud and Knock, in which female-identifying characters spend the film questioning their sanity.

It’s a bit of a tired trope, but thankfully Brady adopts the now-familiar POV slasher shot early on to confirm that he is something else in the woods with them. It’s important to note that these moments not only feature Joy, but also Carmen and the other Patients: Self-Harm Tara (Helen Belay) and former soldier Shaina (Roseanne Supernault). The question is not whether this is all on Joy’s mind, but rather who is outside with them: Derek… or someone else?

Alas, the revelation of what is happening is also the point where dark nature loses its way. The film’s low budget dampens the effectiveness of several key moments of violence and the plausibility of certain characters’ decisions and the film’s overall pacing suffer as the danger increases.

This slippage is particularly frustrating because we have known for Lowering that this premise is winning. Unfortunately, dark nature skips its most unique and intriguing elements – the nature of Dr. Dunley’s treatment and the relationship between the women and their respective traumas – in order to get to the only somewhat satisfying violent elements. The make-up effects are solid, sure, but the film laid the groundwork for a deeper exploration of healing via female friendships and therapy that ultimately doesn’t pay off.

Is it cathartic to finally see Joy solve her problems in a bloody way? Absolutely… but dark nature could have been so much more.