‘Dark Nature’: Fantasia Review | Comments
Dir/scr: Berkley Brady. Canada. 2022. 85 minutes
In the vast wilderness of the Canadian Rockies, a group of women embark on a weekend retreat in an attempt to exorcise past traumas, but soon find themselves confronting more than their personal demons. The feature debut of Canadian short film Berkley Brady (The immaculate welcome, Sundance 2014) begins as an intriguing study of the arduous journey of psychological recovery, but quickly succumbs to familiar “deep, dark woods” horror tropes. Nonetheless, its mix of spiritualism, survivalism, and genuine scares make for solid entertainment.
It’s always a pleasure to see a genre film populated by hardy female characters – in this particular case, native women
These qualities should see dark nature – TIFF’s selection for this year’s Cannes Fantastic 7 genre showcase – heads to other festivals after its Fantasia premiere, particularly those with a gender or Indigenous focus (Brady belongs to the Métis group native and the cast also includes a number of mixed-race individuals). While his stunning landscapes would benefit from being seen on the big screen, he’s more likely to find a grateful audience via a streaming platform.
A well-handled opening sequence of domestic violence immediately shows why, six months after these terrible events, the ironically named Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson) is in desperate need of help; even if she won’t admit it. Best friend Carmen (Madison Walsh), clearly feeling the pressure to try to help an unresponsive Joy, insists she join her and another woman, Tara (Helen Belay), on a an isolationist weekend retreat in the mountains. It’s run by indigenous and somewhat unconventional Doctor Dunnley (Kyra Harper); troubled former soldier Shaina (Roseanne Supernault) is also on board.
Each of these women carries an emotional load far heavier than their backpacks and, as they venture deeper into the woods – despite the ominous warning signs of toxic rivers and bloodstained belongings that litter the path – the cracks begin to appear. When they arrive at an ancient site where, Dr. Dunnley tells them, people used to make offerings to spirits, Joy experiences intense flashbacks and becomes convinced that her abusive ex-partner is following them. Skeptical at first, soon the other women experience the same hallucinogenic journeys into their past and realize that they may be trapped in a very real nightmare.
It is at this point, when the threat shifts from paranoid delirium to something altogether more flesh and blood, that dark nature starting to feel a bit more stereotypical. Any survivalist horror connoisseur – especially those films set in the back of the afterlife, such as The ghost Where The ritual — will know these rhythms well; the drone footage of looming forests, the whispers in the wind, the looming shapes among the trees, the gaping mouth of a cave in which unimaginable horrors likely reside.
Still, it’s always a pleasure to see a genre film populated by hardy female characters – in this particular case, indigenous women – and it’s undoubtedly one of the dark nature’its greatest strengths. It’s a shame, then, that the script doesn’t delve deeply into indigenous issues; there are mentions of the sanctity of the land and the power of restless spirits, but these are overshadowed by the actual fears of the women and a denouement that could just as easily have happened in the backwoods of America or of outback Australia.
However, dark nature delivers horror involving the wilderness, backed by engaged performances, clearly grueling filming captured in exquisite detail by cinematographer Jaryl Lim, and excellent physical effects that effectively heighten the tension. Of particular note is the film’s immersive sound design, which unfolds the sounds of nature to unsettling effect.
Production companies: Peterson Polaris, Nika Productions
International Sales: Epic Pictures
Producer: Michael Peterson, Berkley Brady
Editing: David Hiatt
Photography: Jaryl Lim
Main Cast: Hannah Emily Anderson, Madison Walsh, Helen Belay, Kyra Harper, Roseanne Supernault