The task of sorting and processing our traumas can be tricky. Society pressures us to just get over it. To go back to normal. The thing is trauma isn’t something that can just be gotten over nor is the healing process a fast one. It can take years, even decades, to tackle the complexities involved with reconciliation. The process isn’t pretty. It can become all-consuming, sometimes to the point of driving your loved ones away. But it isn’t until we embrace the darkness of the experiences that we can truly start to recover. This and more are explored in Berkley Brady‘s feature directorial debut, DARK NATURE.
DARK NATURE opens with a scene of domestic violence. This clues us in immediately to what Joy will battle during the film. Six months after the breakup, she joins her friend Carmen and her therapy group on an isolated weekend retreat in the Canadian Rockies. Rule of thumb, don’t go hiking with people you don’t know. The group is led by Dr. Dunnley and has two returning members still battling their issues. Not long into their hike, Joy begins to suspect that they are being stalked. At first, she thinks it’s her abuser. But it’s not long before the group realizes it’s something far worse.
DARK NATURE is an uncomfortable watch. It’s an excellent decision to start the film with such tension and violence, but it will raise the hackles. The handling of addressing trauma in this film reveals some ugly truths: the pressure and lack of patience from loved ones, how hard it is to leave abusive situations, and the odd, unnecessary competitions over whose trauma is more valid. Yes, that does happen a lot and all it does is invalidate. The group members coming to deal with different types of trauma is also a great addition. Trauma isn’t limited to a select handful of experiences. Its reach is long and breaks off into different branches, touching everything it can.
As the main character, Hannah Emily Anderson’s Joy is the most fleshed out. There are various intricacies to Anderson’s performance that highlight her internal turmoil. Her arc is the most rewarding and also highlights a significant message. In order to address our trauma and take the next step, we must embrace the darkness. We must take it in, accept it, and then dismantle it. If we continue to reject or run away from it, we are doomed to fail.
The other characters do take a bit of a backseat comparatively. However, they are fully developed enough for the viewer to know who the characters are in large part due to the dialogue hints provided and the performances. Roseanne Supernault plays the tough soldier scarred by her time on the battlefield. Kyra Harper is Dr. Dunnley, a therapist who only desires to help but fears failure. Madison Walsh plays Carmen, the best friend who is grasping at straws to try to help her friend recover. Helen Belay’s Tara is gripped with demons and trying hard to overcome them. Her struggle will touch many. All may get less time than Joy onscreen, but all read as fully realized.
The camerawork here by Jaryl Lim is done well. The voyeuristic shots in the forest amplify the feeling of being watched. Combined with the score from Ghostkeeper and it’s tricky not to feel the hairs on your neck stand on end. The camera also serves to highlight both the isolation and beauty of the Canadian Rockies. The Rockies themselves are a character. Many have visited. Many have died and been reabsorbed back into the landscape. It is unforgiving, yet a source of peace. If there was a nitpick to be had, there is a moment when a shot lingers too long on a practical FX moment.
Speaking of practical FX, the creature design is well-thought-out. A dark spirit entity, the design lends itself to the mythos introduced in DARK NATURE. It embodies the absorbed dark energies and traumas that many have poured into it across centuries. Covered in sores and other gross things, it represents the dark nature of what we carry. Props to all involved for coming up with and executing the design of this thing because it adds a lot to the overall story. Heck, it even highlights how trauma can literally manifest in the body.
For a feature directorial debut, Brady is off to a strong start, but there are a couple of things to think about moving forward. There was room for expansion of the story. More time could have been spent on the creature and its purpose. Though we do get some explanation, it could have been fleshed out a bit more and would make the subsequent reveal feel a little less rushed. What we do get works, but just some minor tweaking here and there would smooth out the pacing.
Overall, DARK NATURE will get under your skin. It doesn’t shy away from its subject matter. In fact, it turns it over, dissects, and aims to open our eyes. While not entirely perfect, it highlights Brady’s promise as both a director and storyteller. And, in the film’s final act, there’s something that viewers should definitely take away regardless of how scary it might be. DARK NATURE reminds us that if we want to heal from what haunts us, we need to be brave and embrace the ugliest memories of our experiences. Perhaps then, we can take the next step in our recovery.
DARK NATURE had its world premiere at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
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