It's Bay Of Blood (or, by default, Friday The 13th if you prefer) meets Long Weekend in this slow burn, atmospheric horror film from Scotland. Directed quite skillfully by Marc de Launay, this isn't the type of film that surprises you with jump scares or flashy gore but rather one that creeps up on you with subtlety and unsuspected menace.
The film follows a family headed up by a middle aged woman named Jane (Vanya Eadie) and her two kids, a snotty teenage daughter named Chloe (Imogen Turner) and her younger brother, Sean (Callum Warren-Brooker). They're joined by Jane's meek boyfriend, a tall gangly guy named Alex (Len McCaffer), and it's obvious that Chloe isn't keen on mom's new man even if Sean seems okay with him. At any rate, the four are off for a stay at their grandmother's Oceanside home, a beautiful stately old stone manor on a remote section of the coast when they hit a bird on the way. The bird is obviously struggling and in pain, and Chloe encourages Alex to put the poor thing out of its misery.
What no one realizes is that grandma is dead. In the opening sequence she's hit over the head with a typewriter by Jane's stepfather, who in turn was brutally stabbed by an unseen killer. The family arrives at the home safe and sound but don't understand why grandma hasn't shown up yet. Regardless, they don't let that stop them from wandering around and checking out the property, all while a bizarre bug collecting scientist named John (James Bryce) and a rather morose looking handyman type named McKenzie (Niall Greig Fulton) appear to be up to no good. As the family explore the area and wait for grandma to show up, the body count steadily increases and what was to be a relaxing family vacation soon turns into a nightmare.
Dark Nature isn't a particularly original film - it borrows very, very heavily from the aforementioned Mario Bava film and while if you're going to borrow it pays to borrow from the best, those familiar with the earlier film will get a definite sense of déjà vu. Elements from the Australian nature gone amok film Long Weekend (recently remade with Jim Caviezel in the lead) are also worked into the film, the scene involving the dying bird on the roadway absolutely invoking memories of that earlier picture. These familiar elements do go some way towards diminishing the film's suspense factor, but thankfully Launay and his cast are able to compensate for this by working in some believable performances and providing a couple of memorably tense set pieces.
The film moves at a very deliberate pace and at times almost feels padded with its endless scenes of characters wandering the undeniably picturesque shore, but it wraps up nicely with a solid twist ending, even if, again, that ending is a bit predictable. Shot with a modest budget on digital video, the film isn't flashy but it does have some effective murder set pieces that allow for some solid effects work though it's by and large a film that relies far more heavily on atmosphere and mood than on gore and shock value. It's also a beautifully shot film, with the cinematography really doing an excellent job of capturing the loneliness of the remote locations and allowing for the otherwise very scenic locations to take on an ominous and macabre tone.
Dark Nature isn't a classic for a new generation, it just simply borrows too heavily for that to apply here, but it is a solid thriller with an interesting, if familiar, storyline, some strong performances from a cast of appropriately cast actors, and some great visuals. Those who enjoy the build up as much as the pay off ought to give this a shot, as really is quite well done.
Dark Nature debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer. The quality of the image is limited by the format on which it was shot and you don't quite get the depth and detail here that you would out of a good film sourced HD transfer, but the quality is okay. Some shots look a bit flat but color reproduction is nice. Some ringing is noticeable in spots and some aliasing as well but detail is definitely above what standard definition can offer in some spots. There aren't any compression artifacts to not but sometimes the blacks look a bit noisy for whatever reason.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio track on this disc is the only audio option provided - there are no alternate language dubs or even any subtitles offered. There are spots where the dialogue is a bit low in the mix and you might have to adjust the volume here and there, but there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to note and aside from the periodic dialogue levels, the rest of the track is well balanced. Some channel separation is noticeable in spots, though a 5.1 mix probably would have opened things up and allowed for some interesting directional effects in some key scenes - that didn't happen, but generally the movie sounds okay.
Director Marc de Launay and screenwriter Eddie Harrison provide a pretty solid commentary track that acknowledges the influence of a few other horror films on their project in addition to providing some interesting facts about the production. The detail what it was like shooting on location, some of the effects work, casting the picture, and how they almost wound up in trouble for depicting the dying bird scene so realistically. This is a well rounded track that gives us a pretty solid overview not just of the production and its history but also the filmmakers' intentions.
Troma have also supplied a pair of featurettes on this disc, the first of which is the twenty-eight minute Behind The Scenes Of Dark Nature which includes interviews with the film's director and some of the cast members alongside some interesting footage shot on the set while the production was underway. The second featurette is a thirteen minute Interview With Vanya Eadie in which the actress talks about her character's personality and traits and her experiences on some of the more memorable scenes in the film. For some reason, both featurettes wind up using some of the same footage. Neither one is all that in depth or revelatory, but they're worth skimming through.
Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature, an amusing eight minute short film from de Launay called The Last Noel (a dark comedy in which Santa Clause squares off against a kid with a gun!), trailers for a few unrelated Troma films, a list of credits, animated menus and chapter stops. All of the supplements on the disc are in standard definition.
Dark Nature doesn't bring anything new to the horror genre, in fact, we've seen much of what the film offers done before and done more effectively but it's tense enough in spots and quite well made. Troma's Blu-ray release won't floor you but it looks and sounds okay and contains a good commentary alongside some less interesting featurettes to add some value. This isn't an essential film, but it is worth a look - rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.