Troma // 2008 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 1st, 2010
"Never lets up until the final seconds"
Genre is a funny beast. If a film sticks too closely to the generic formula, it generally becomes forgettable. If it strays too far, the faithful are at best disappointed and at worst totally confused. Genres do evolve, however slowly, and the best path seems to be one of combination. Borrowing elements from a closely allied genre allows filmmakers to give fans what they came for without resorting to simple cookie-cutter outlines. That seems to be the path of Dark Nature, which actively combines the backwoods slasher with hints of Seventies European (like Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci) and ecological horror. Although not a quantum leap for for slashers, Dark Nature (Blu-ray) presents a visually interesting take on murder.
The film opens on a man in an isolated house killing his wife, but he is in turn killed by another, anonymous figure. Later, a family shows up at that same house (which we learn is in the remote Scottish countryside) to see their matriarch. Like all good families on vacation, as soon as they show up, they immediately separate and go off to meet their fates with a killer on the loose.
The box for Dark Nature includes a review quote that says the film "ticks all the right slasher boxes," and the film's website claims the film is "a straightforward thriller based around traditional narrative hooks and suspense." These quotes pretty much sum up Dark Nature's approach. The film is, in pretty much every way, a typical slasher. Aside from the film's "look" -- which dates it to the digital age -- all the rules and influences that direct the film are firmly from the late Seventies, early Eighties playbook. There's a mysterious killer, at least one red herring, a dysfunctional family on a secluded vacation, the gratuitous death (simulated, of course) of a wild animal, some grisly killings, and a final twist at the end that gives the whole affair a darkly comic edge.
That's not to say that Dark Nature is totally generic, a Friday the 13th ripoff. No, Dark Nature combines the by-the-numbers slasher tropes with a certain continental sensibility. Director Marc de Launay has obviously watched his old Bava and Fulci films. This lends the film a strong sense of atmosphere, and also a more languidly paced narrative.
These aspects are a double-edged sword. Certainly fans of old-school slashers will be happy to see a return to more primal basics. However, these are also the people most likely to be bored by all the same old elements. Also, like all experiments, there's a significant chance of failure, especially when combining the sensibilities of the more fast-paced slasher genre with a European influence that privileges atmosphere over narrative drive. So, despite Dark Nature's strengths in the gore and violence department, the hits probably won't come fast enough for many horror fans (especially for a 74-minute movie).
Much of Dark Nature is fairly typical, but there are a number of elements that jump out from the typical horror crowd. The first is the film's visual style. Marc de Launay has a flair for composition and color. Every place he puts the camera makes the scene drip with tension, and his sense of color gives the idea that the film has been locked in a dank basement for a couple of decades, as if we're watching some rediscovered gore treasure. I'm not sure such a narratively sparse film is the best use of his talents, but it does show that de Launay could be a force in horror filmmaking if he put his mind to it.
Dark Nature obviously didn't have the world's biggest budget to work with, but it managed to avoid one of the bigger traps of the indie filmmaker: bad acting. Nope, pretty much every performance in Dark Nature is spot on. Niall Greig Fulton plays a wonderfully creepy gamekeeper, Imogen Turner is fantastic as a disaffected young woman, and even characters whose only function is to die are portrayed by solid actors. Many horror fans will be drawn to the flick for no other reason than the fact that the cast isn't comprised of D-list actors and/or teen TV stars.
Dark Nature is being released on Blu-ray by the folks at Troma. They're not known for their stellar digital offerings, but for anyone who isn't a diehard Troma acolyte, this is by far their best release. Although not as packed with Tromatic extras as their Poultrygeist Blu-ray, Dark Nature nonetheless offers a much stronger audiovisual presentation. It's obviously a low-budget film that's never going to look pristine, and this transfer reflects that. Noise is occasionally an issue, detail isn't the best, blacks aren't particularly deep, and softness can creep in here and there. However, to judge Dark Nature by the big-budget Blu-ray standards would be to miss its impressive atmosphere and strong visual sense. There's nothing in this transfer that distracts from de Launay's careful compositions and strong use of color. The simple stereo mix keeps the dialogue audible, but the lack of subtitles might be a problem for those averse to British accents.
The extras outstrip the presentation in quality. The first is an audio commentary by director de Launay and writer Eddie Harrison. The pair discusses the film's thematic material, its generic origins, and the production itself. We also get a peek at the production in a behind the scenes featurette that spends about 30 minutes mixing interviews and production footage. There's also an interview with actress Vanya Eadie, and a bonus short film entitled "The Last Noel." The last Dark Nature extra is the film's trailer, and the disc ends with some Tromatic extras, namely Troma trailers.
Dark Nature pretty much defines mixed bag. There's definitely some interesting things going on, with the mixture of old-school slasher and Euro-horror styles, but the 74-minute film drags too much to appeal to most gorehounds, and the atmosphere and slow pacing never develop into a coherent take on the slasher genre. The Blu-ray disc is pretty strong by Troma standards, but won't win any technical awards. This one's hard to judge; at less than 80 minutes, the disc is worth at least a rental for horror fans.
Dark Nature doesn't quite live up to its promise, but it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film