Dark Nature


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Dark Nature
"Brady knows the landscape well and makes effective use of it." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Today, when psychology and related areas of pharmacology are rapidly advancing, people often talk about trauma as if it were a newly understood phenomenon. This is partly an artefact of previous atempts within Western culture to deny it. Other societies have been aware of it for centuries, and have found varied ways of understanding and dealing with it. In North America, a key factor has been the interpretation of predatory behaviour as a consequence of possession. This lets victims of abuse locate responsibility for their suffering outside themselves and continue to acknowledge apparently contradictory feelings for abusers whilst, crucially, accepting that people so possessed are not who they were, and, incurable, have become their enemies. The flip side is that spirits capable of causing such harm can also wander freely, and are every bit as dangerous in their natural form.

There are hints of these old stories in Berkley Brady’s Fantasia 2022 contribution Dark Nature, which takes us deep into the woods in the wild landscape of the Canadian Rockies as a group of women undertake a therapy exercise designed to treat trauma by forcing them to face and overcome other types of fear. Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson) escaped from a violent relationship six months previously after her boyfriend Derek killed her beloved dog. She has been persuaded to attend by longstanding best friend Carmen (Madison Walsh), who is convinced that group leader Doctor Carol Dunley (Kyra Harper) is onto something. Others in the group include the physically confident but emotionally insecure Shaina (Roseanne Supernault), who is carry a type of trauma which makes her disinclined to take the others’ struggles seriously, and Tara (Helen Belay), whose unspoken past has left her almost as nervous and highly strung as our heroine.

Sometimes in conversations between survivors, there is discussion of positive things acquired from trauma, and indeed, it can leave survivors well equipped for certain activities and professions. Doctor Dunley makes a big point of making sure that everybody has their bear spray, but there is no way that anything is going to sneak up on these women without them noticing. The trouble is, because Joy and Tara are known to be hypervigilant, when they do notice something, their concerns are dismissed. Although part of her knows it can’t be possible, Joy keeps thinking that she sees Derek amongst the trees. Is she really seeing something else? Naturally, this being a horror film, viewers will be biased towards a particular conclusion, but for these women, the experience of being doubted is also horrific.

There is a good deal of potential here. Brady knows the landscape well and makes effective use of it. It’s easy to believe that these troubled characters would begin to distrust each other when the cold, the strain of walking and a shortage of rations begin to affect them. The first half of the film, in which we observe this process of disintegration, is strong. It’s rare to see women in this kind of situation and still rarer to see them represented in such a raw, straightforward way, with not a thought for the male gaze. Unfortunately the film loses its way a little in the second half as the active threat materialises and the narrative becomes more routine. The action is competently handled but has little to offer that we haven’t seen before.

Worth a mention here is the unusually complex score by Ghostkeeper, which adds a real frisson to those early scenes when we’re uncertain what’s going on. it also helps when, it the latter half, we really need to keep empathising with the characters to appreciate their struggle, but when the trials they face are too familiar (onscreen) for that to happen easily. The film has been criticised for a weak ending, but this seems to stem from a failure to understand its central subject. Even when the threat is externalised, the greater struggle is internal. The challenge Joy faces lies in learning that she has value, that she has agency, and that there is a point at which it is acceptable to use it.

Dark Nature may not succeed in every aspect, but it’s a solid piece of filmmaking from a team which clearly has more to give.

Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2022
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Members of a therapy group are forced to confront the monsters of their past when an isolated weekend retreat tests their emotional resilience and ability to survive.

Director: Berkley Brady

Writer: Berkley Brady, Tim Cairo

Starring: Hannah Emily Anderson, Roseanne Supernault, Kyra Harper, Griffin Cork, Madison Walsh

Year: 2022

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Canada

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