Judge Daryl Loomis finds his family vacations less stressful when he leaves the family at home.
Our review of Dark Nature (Blu-Ray), published June 1st, 2010, is also available.
Just do what you feel.
Just like a lot of kids who grew up on USA Up All Night, I fell in love with the Troma Team and their juvenile brand of splatter. Today, it's only in the rarest of cases (such as their recent Poultrygeist) that I can still make it through an entire film produced by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. That said, the independent productions the studio options for distribution are another matter entirely. With the first US release of Dario Argento's The Stendhal Syndrome, as well as lesser known films like Unspeakable and Pigs, Troma has a proven track record. I'm always ready to give one of these a shot, and this time we have Dark Nature, a Scottish slice of horror that lacks focus but delivers some entertaining thrills.
Facts of the Case
What was supposed to be a nice holiday with her kids and new boyfriend turns into an eco-nightmare for Jane (Vanya Eadie) and her family. They're on their way to her mother's secluded beach house when strange things start to happen. When they finally arrive, grandma has gone missing and the neighbors are acting very strange. They split up to look for grandma, but soon Jane realizes that external forces is causing people to attack each other. One of them really doesn't like the idea of outsiders snooping around and Jane must race to find her family before he gets to her children.
There is plenty to like about Dark Nature. It's beautifully shot, the inexperienced cast does very well with what they're given, and director Marc de Launay builds a dread-soaked atmosphere. There are a lot of problems with the story, though, which really hurts the otherwise strong film. The screenplay by Eddie Harrison never gets straight whether it wants to be a slice-and-dice thriller or an eco-horror film. It tries to have both and gets neither. The film opens with an evocative and effectively violent scene of a man killing his wife with her typewriter. He wraps her in a blanket for disposal, and then goes about his business. Suddenly, he hears music coming from the other room and hurries back to find his wife still dead, but now sitting up in a chair. As he walks over to her to investigate, an unknown figure emerges to stab him dead.
This scene is indicative of Dark Nature as a whole. First, you have the supernatural force that compelled the husband to kill his wife. It's a fine start, but the immediate inclusion of the other killer just confuses matters. So it goes throughout the entire film. For every reason given to make one believe that the Scottish landscape is exacting revenge on the people who have ravaged it, there is equal evidence that one individual is responsible for most of the violence. It isn't clear why the family is being targeted, and they often seem like part of another picture entirely.
The family relationship is the best part of the film by far. Though the actors have little film experience and Jane looks about five years older than her daughter, Chloe (Imogen Toner), they display some very good chemistry. Mom and daughter have some clear problems with one another; their animosity comes out in various ways from start to finish. The reasons are never really explained, but they don't need to be; the tension their relationship generates is more important. The boyfriend is just along for the ride, mostly serving as an extra body for slaughter, and the young son doesn't have much of a character. Chloe protects him, though, and that gives her some necessary humanity.
The supporting characters are a motley crew that doesn't seem to have a lot of motivation. We have a peeper with a video camera, an environmentalist who preserves insects, and a strange woman that Jane saw in a dream. At different points, each of them appears to be the killer, but as soon as that pesky eco-horror story comes back, anything you suspected becomes void. The unanswered questions aren't the problem. Had De Launay chosen one way or the other, the ambiguity would have worked fine, but he didn't, and the result is a messy, unfocused plot.
Dark Nature, surprisingly, doesn't sink because of the confusion. De Launay shows himself to be a skilled young filmmaker with a good sense of humor and a knack for atmosphere. There aren't a lot of jokes in the film, but I caught myself laughing at a few of the darker situations. The director balances the humor nicely with the dread, which comes through strongly in the foggy shores of the Scottish landscape. It looks beautiful, but quite foreboding. The forests and beaches completely fill up the screen and he holds steady, allowing us to enjoy the natural beauty, but also letting the oppressive atmosphere work its way into our heads. It is an overall great looking, technically strong film. If the story was narrower and more focused, Dark Nature really could have been something.
While I expressed my appreciation for Troma's release of The Stendhal Syndrome, the truth is that the Troma team released atrocious DVDs in the early days of the format; it took them nearly a decade to figure out widescreen. Luckily, they have finally learned their lesson, and the releases are generally good now. Dark Nature features a mixed transfer that looks great at times, but is conspicuously off at others. The landscapes in the film are very pretty and these are captured best in the transfer. The hills and forests are appropriately menacing, but you can still appreciate the beauty of the deep shadows and full, strong colors. In some of the indoor scenes, though, the edge enhancement is very noticeable. I'm sure it's there in the outdoor scenes as well, but they get around it somehow there. The stereo sound is nothing special, but perfectly clear. There are plenty of extras. An audio commentary from the director gives a basic rundown of the filmmaking process; standard stuff. Thirty minutes of behind the scenes footage gives us a glimpse backstage, but there's nothing particularly special here. A twenty minute interview with Vanya Eadie offers more of the same. The only interesting extra is a short film from De Launay called The Last Noel, a dark Christmas tale that is pretty cruel, but very funny. A group of Troma trailers, which always have a little comic value, finish us out.
Dark Nature has a lot of problems with the focus of the story but, for its budget, there's plenty of gore and some really beautiful scenery. I can give it a mild recommendation.
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