CONTENT WARNING: Dark Nature and this review handle themes of Domestic Violence
The first horror feature for Berkley Brady, Dark Nature feels like standing in a pool with your toes barely touching the bottom, knowing that you can’t swim. I can’t find a better way to explain this raw and dark exploration of trauma and violence, a horror in more ways than one.
Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson) is a domestic violence survivor. In a jarring change from romance to violence, the film’s opener tosses the viewer into trauma as we see the very real physical danger that Joy is in. Lucikly, the focus of this film isn’t about working up courage to leave, instead its about what happens after. Having left the abusive relationship, Joy doesn’t know who she is anymore and needs to learn how to be herself again.
Experiencing PTSD flashbacks of the violence, her best friend Carmen (Madison Walsh) encourages her to go on a retreat to heal with a psychologist leading the way. The hike through the Rocky Mountains is led by Dr. Dunnley (Kyra Harper), a specialist in helping trauma survivors face their demons. But it isn’t a one-on-one experience. Instead, Joy joins other women who are also working through their own battles with PTSD and violence.
While the film does a phenomenal job of making trauma and the past a monster that needs to be fought off constantly, there is more for the women to fear than they realize. As Joy begins the exercises mapped out by Dr. Dunnley, she begins to think that her ex-boyfriend is following them. Then, the women also find discarded items of past hikers on the path, hear strange noises, and begin to share a strange nightmare. Quickly, flashbacks become overwhelming for the women, and as more danger rears its head, and more people get injured, it’s clear that they’re not just fighting an internal battle.
A rather simple survival horror film, Dark Nature hits its stride when its leads begin experiencing the past all over again and are pushed to the edge. Surviving a mysterious danger in the wilderness is hard enough, throw in debilitating flashbacks that leave you gasping for breath, and fighting everything that says “curl up into a ball and just die” is a whole other level. Fear is an emotion that when acted well in horror films, grips the audience. Add in the anxiety and PTSD and for a survivor like me, I found myself holding my breath too.
Dark Nature is a visceral experience in the best and worst ways. A labor to get through if you’ve similarly experienced trauma; the way that Berkley Brady has written and captured episodes of PTSD on screen, and how the actresses perform them feels too real. It’s raw and unsettling, with a shifting perspective of reality that adds chaos to the trauma. If there is a movie this year that has made me want to crawl out of my skin, it’s this one. A true testament to Brady’s understanding that horror is sometimes a real experience and fruitful ground for cultivating a larger narrative. Not to mention a twisting final act that is better left unspoiled.
Dark Nature screened as a part of the Fantasia International Film Festival 2022.
Dark Nature is a visceral experience in the best and worst way. A labor to get through if you’ve experienced trauma in a similar way, the way that Berkley Brady has written and captured episodes of PTSD on screen, and how the actresses perform them feels too real. It’s raw and unsettling, with a shifting perspective of reality that adds chaos to the trauma. If there is a movie this year that has made me want to crawl out of my skin, it’s this one.