Dark Nature (2022) Review
Dark Nature begins with a much different, and more realistic horror than what follows. Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson, What Keeps You Alive, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) is busy in the kitchen making dinner when Derek (Daniel Arnold, Grace: The Possession, Even Lambs Have Teeth) gets home. It’s obvious he’s not happy and from the way both Joy and the dog react we know that is a very bad thing. She barely escapes, the dog isn’t so lucky.
Six months later Joy is still trying to get past this trauma and her friend Carmen (Madison Walsh, The Toll, Don’t Say It’s Name) thinks she has the solution. She convinces her to join her, Tara (Helen Belay, Abracadavers), Shaina (Roseanne Supernault, The Northlander, River of Silence) and some others on a camping trip/therapy session with the somewhat controversial Dr. Dunnely (Kyra Harper, To Die For, Hellmington), “You guys talk about her like you’re in a cult”.
Berkley Brady (Creepypasta, Uncanny Circumstances) makes her feature debut as a director and as a writer, working from a story by Tim Cairo who has several shorts and one feature, the inexplicably well received Lowlife, to his credit. Thankfully there’s none of that film’s forced attempts at outrageousness here and Dark Nature’s script plays things straight, introducing the characters and slipping in hints, a wrecked car just off the road, a bloody piece of equipment found on the trail, that something isn’t right.
The cliche therapy session gone badly wrong angle actually works well here as the women begin to have flashbacks and visions related to their trauma. Joy begins to distrust Dr. Dunnely and also becomes convinced that Derek is stalking them. After finding the remains of a deer the others think it might be a bear or other predator that she senses. They have no ideas how right they are.
The tension that builds during the film’s first half is helped immensely by cinematographer Jaryl Lim (Daddy Issues, Spring Heeled Jack) who brings out both the beauty and the threat of the Canadian Rockies where Dark Nature was filmed. From scenic views that remind the viewer how far from civilization the group is to a walk through a claustrophobic passage between two cliff faces, the forest itself becomes a character in the film.
The film’s sound crew adds an overlay of menace with odd sounds of the forest, whispering voices and what Joy insists is the clicking of Derek’s Zippo. The combination creates an atmosphere of dread even in bright daylight. And helps keep Dark Nature from dragging when it makes us wait a bit too long for the creature to make itself known. Once it does however Brady delivers an effective payoff that draws both on genre films such as The Descent and wilderness survival thrillers with cliffs and river currents posing their own threats. Most fittingly it builds to a climax that cleverly unites and resolves both of Dark Nature’s plot threads.
The creature itself is the work of Kyra Macpherson (The Last of Us, Z) and her crew who created the suit worn by Luke Moore (Sex, Lies & Murder, The Secret History of: The Wild West). It’s an effectively creepy variation on the standard monster that may have a humanoid form but looks nothing like a human otherwise. There’s not a lot in the way of gore, but what we do get is practical and nicely done.
While the entire cast does a solid job, only Walsh and Anderson have characters developed enough to really shine. While not exactly blank slates, the other two patients would have been better served by having their backstories revealed sooner and Dr. Dunnely’s ideas given a bit more examination.
In the end, though, that doesn’t stop Dark Nature from being an above average film that manages to work serious issues of abuse, PTSD and guilt into a more conventional creature in the woods film. And, more impressively, manages to do it and examine both the dark nature of our species and the primal dark nature that predates humanity without feeling like those issues are tacked on or turning into an “elevated” film.