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Dark Nature
Images Courtesy of Epic Pictures

Film

Dark Nature Stumbles Through Well-Worn Territory

Berkley Brady’s feature debut, Dark Nature, sends a group of trauma survivors into the Canadian Rockies to face their demons.

Fantasia 2022: Dark Nature Review

Almost nothing good comes from venturing out in the woods when you’re already on edge. While the idea of a retreat into wilderness sounds therapeutic on paper – isolated from the headaches of the world and able to finally find peace in solitude – horror movies have taught many to be weary of nature. Which is why Berkley Brady’s feature debut, Dark Nature stumbles just as often as it intrigues. A creepy atmospheric psychological horror film that uses trauma like a bag of tricks but fails to reconcile its supernatural elements with the emotional struggles of its characters.

Still reeling from a traumatic relationship that left her both emotionally and physically abused, Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson) still feels the grip of her ex (Daniel Arnold) in every action she makes. Her friend Carmen (Madison Walsh) takes her with for a weekend therapy retreat in the Canadian Rockies, hoping to help Joy confront her demons and move past the relationship. Surrounded by other women wrestling with their own past traumas and shepherded by Dr. Dunnley (Kyra Harper), Joy begins to suspect that peace might not be what she’s going to find in the woods.

Dark Nature
Images Courtesy of Epic Pictures

At the core of Dark Nature are fundamental trust issues that hold characters back from being able to let go and focus on the task at hand. A hike through the wilderness with people you barely know, all dealing with their own triggers and emotions, is not exactly a recipe for success. There’s also an air of confrontation often brought about by Shaina (Roseanne Supernault) that creates hostility within the group.

Dark Nature tends to lean a bit too heavily on its characters, all of whom are suffering from a variety of trauma, to the point where it comes off as slightly exploitative. There’s no right way to handle the subject matter, but Brady holds reveals too close to the chest making the obvious one have less of an impact while the more surprising twist emphasizes a desire to just play with the audience. Quick cuts to hallucinations and memories serve a purpose thematically but the film doesn’t treat it as severe as it does to jostle the audience. 

It’s a shame that the film doesn’t land the supernatural horror as effectively as it should. Primarily, there’s just a disconnect between what Dark Nature wants to focus on and where it wants to go. As every character experiences their own forms of trauma, the film is still centered mostly on Joy, though it takes a few detours with Tara (Helen Belay) as well. There’s this false sense of closure by the end of the film after its shifted from prodding characters’ anxieties to leaning into its horror elements that just begs for a better transition between the two halves of the screenplay. 

Dark Nature
Images Courtesy of Epic Pictures

When it all finally wraps up, Dark Nature’s strongest elements are on the surface. It looks nice with a mountainous, forested setting that befits a film about people lost in themselves – a place that should be calm and relaxing is more hostile in their minds. The performances are all really well done, with no character feeling completely one-note and Anderson in particular charging through the film with a character rife with baggage. There’s not a moment in Dark Nature where she doesn’t stand out as a strong lead wrestling with dark material.

It’s the fact that the screenplay fumbles with the execution of its reveals to the point where it becomes detrimental to enjoying the film itself that Dark Nature fails to be more captivating. There’s a predictability in its horror that it can’t quite shake and an emotional current that it just can’t tread. Had it been given a little more time to bridge the two gaps, the two separate parts of Dark Nature might have coalesced into a neater package. What it leaves behind instead is a neat idea executed conventionally and poorly.

The 26th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will run from July 14 – August 3, 2022.

Written By

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Victoria, British Columbia. Given a pint, he will talk for days about action films, video games, and the works of John Carpenter.

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