Don't be fooled by the fact that it's released by Troma. Dark Nature is a subtle, thoughtful film. A slasher film, yes, but a subtle and thoughtful one. It moves at its own pace, which might be annoying if one is looking for a whiz bang, explosion filled thriller. But this low budget offering does quite well enough without them.
Jane (Vanya Eadie) is a middle aged divorcee with a couple of kids and a new boyfriend just trying to have a relaxing weekend with a trip to her mother's isolated coastal home. Things are complicated by the decidedly difficult daughter Chloe (Imogen Turner) and Jane's lackadaisical relationship with boyfriend Alex (Len McCaffer). Oh, and her mother was murdered by her stepfather in the first scene, and he himself was subsequently murder a few minutes later by an unseen person. Ignorant of her parents' death, Jane and family arrive to an empty house and their friends, who are joining them for the weekend, waiting on the front porch.
What follows deviates from the normal template for films of this kind. Jane doesn't realize that her parents are dead until nearly the end of the film, and the traditional cat and mouse scenario is almost entirely absent. A couple of strong possibilities for the killer are present. It is probably either the sullen gamekeeper McKenzie (Niall Greig Fulton) or the environmentalist zealot John (James Bryce) who lives nearby. There are a couple of appropriately bloody deaths subsequent to Jane's arrival, but Jane, Alex and the children spend most of the film wandering around the extensive property, certain that the grandparents are simply a bit late returning from the market. While this is not conducive to high power tension, it does allow for a more subtle miasma of disquiet and fear, and also for quite a lot more character development than is possible in standard slasher fare.
The film spends quite a bit of time focused on the relationships, particularly between Jane and Chloe and between the Chloe and her brother Sean (Callum Warren-Brooker). It also looks more obliquely at the somewhat strained relationship between Jane and her mother (who we never see together on screen) and between Jane's mother and McKenzie. These are mostly implied, but they shed great light on the situation as a whole, rendering it complex without being confusing or uninteresting. The film manages to maintain ambiguity without reducing its dramatic impact.
Technically, the film is quite successful as well. The acting is all natural and believable. Vanya Eadie and Imogen Turner work together superbly as the battling mother and child. Along with Len McCaffer as the awkward boyfriend, they are definitely the standouts, but there is rarely a false note to be seen with any of the performers. The film is also beautifully shot, taking full advantage of the ruggedly picturesque scenery of coastal Scotland. The camera glides smoothly, and frames potent images of both metaphorical contrast and ambiguity. The visual language of the film is almost as effective at communicating themes and meaning as the dialogue. Having said all of this, the film does move a tad slowly at times, but this is much more in the order of "taking one's time" than "wandering around aimlessly". Director Marc de Launay is not an indecisive wanderer. He knows exactly where he is going, but takes the path of his own choosing and at his own pace. For those with a modicum of patience, and a taste for more refined fare, but who still want to see a good death by stabbing executed on screen, Dark Nature is the dish of choice. Recommended.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and has some issues. There is significant aliasing throughout, and some fleeting posterization. The aliasing is very disappointing, as it detracts from the impact of the visually effective film. It is constantly visible, annoying the viewer no matter how potent the imagery presented. Troma disappoints here with a poor transfer.
The sound is in Dolby digital 2 channel, and does the job but is nothing spectacular. Dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other issues can be heard. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
There are a number of extras included, but only a couple that are terribly noteworthy. They are:
Behind the Scenes of Dark Nature
At just over twenty seven minutes, this featurette is made up of interviews with the director de Launay and star Eadie, plus a lot of behind the scenes footage. This is mildly interesting but, like some of the other material, seems thrown together, minimally produced. It is simply interviews and shots of camera setups, etc. with little to no context.
Interview with star Vanya Eadie
This interview runs to just under thirteen minutes, and consists of an unedited interview with Eadie. Much of the material here is included in the previous featurette. Eadie does provide some insight into how she developed the character, and some difficulties of the shoot, but this is also presented with little context or production.
The Last Noel: A short film by Marc de Launay
This eight minute, Christmas themed short film is darkly comic and pretty fun.
Included are a quite effective trailer for the feature, as well as a trailer for Troma films in general which runs before the film.
These are trailers for Troma releases A Nocturne, Big Foot, Surf Nazis Must Die and Class of Nuke'em High.
Commentary by Director Marc de Launay
This is the most significant and the most engaging of the extras, and also includes Eddie Harrison, the writer of the film. Both Harrison and de Launay are interesting fellows, and they comment on a number of aspects of the film: its themes and how they were expressed, the various influences (including Lucio Fulci), working with actors and the intent to subvert the slasher genre. They also detail a couple of humorous stories, including how one of the actors told his costar that he was gay (he is not) in order to put her at ease during a love scene, and that the producers were questioned by animal welfare officials because of the realism of a scene in which a bird is hit by a car. The commentary is quite entertaining, and definitely the highlight of the extras.
Dark Nature is a slasher film and a character study and a relationship drama all wrapped into one. It is subtle, visually rich and well performed. Its slow pace and dramatic ambiguity may turn off the casual viewer, but more dedicated souls will find much to appreciate and enjoy.