Some of Epic Pictures most notable titles include Terrifier, Midnight, Sacrifice, Benny Loves You, V/H/S and Colonials. But it’s their latest Dread release, Dark Nature, that is currently garnering attention from horror fans and critics. Originally premiering at the Fantasia International Film Festival last year, Dark Nature follows Joy, a survivor of an abusive relationship, as she joins her friend Carmen (and her therapy group) on an isolated weekend retreat in the Canadian Rockies. Led by the enigmatic Dr. Dunnley, whose methods are experimental and, at times, dubious from Joy’s outside perspective, the experience eventually shatters the border between reality and delusion. Joy begins to suspect that they are being stalked by her abuser, when in truth, the entire group will be forced to confront a monstrous entity more terrifying than the ghosts of their pasts. Dark Nature marks the directorial debut for writer/director Berkley Brady. To learn more about how the film was made, we conducted a Q & A with her. In the interview she talks about sharing a set with Disney’s Prey, getting inspiration from Disney’s Watcher in the Woods, and much more.
Dark Nature is available on VOD now.
Wicked Horror: Not only did you direct Dark Nature, but you wrote it too. Where did you get the idea for the film?
Berkley Brady: The idea developed in collaboration with my producer, Michael Peterson, my favourite co-writer—David Bond, and his co-writer, Rebecca Swan. They initially brought me on to develop the script, which skewered therapists and therapy; at the time they wanted a woman’s perspective on the concept. I ended up working on the script for over a year, and changing it completely. I actually believe therapy can be a very good thing, and I was interested in both group dynamics and how trauma affects a person’s friendships. While I explored this, Michael and David gave me notes. After we got funding, we brought on Tim Cairo to do a pass. They each have a great sense of story and it was through constant collaboration that the shooting script was born.
Wicked Horror: How long did it take you to write the script?
Berkley Brady: Nearly two years! I was re-writing and making adjustments during the shoot.
Wicked Horror: What did preproduction look like for Dark Nature?
Berkley Brady: We started shooting at the very end of August, 2021, and pre-production started in earnest in July. We shot in and around the Calgary area, which is actually bustling with productions in the summer especially. Predator, Prey was shooting just before us, as was the show Joe Picket. This is great for our industry here, but tough for indie productions like ours. There was no equipment available to rent. There weren’t actually any film trucks or vans available, so we actually bought an old bread truck to move things. Of course, it had mechanical issues and we had to address those. It was also really hard to secure a crew.
While the producers worked on crew contracts, I did location scouting, shot listing, and started working with HODs (head of departments) so that we were all on the same page.
The highlight, for our producer Michael at least, was testing out the fire stunts…by getting lit on fire in the studio.
Wicked Horror: There are a few sequences in the film that take place in a dark cave. How did you light these?
Berkley Brady: The lighting and beauty of this film is all thanks to the genius and hard worker that is Director of Photography, Jaryl Lim. He has such a thorough and vast understanding of lighting and what’s possible with each camera and lens.
Story-wise, we talked a lot about what light would be in the cave, and decided that any and all light should appear to come from the women themselves…their headlamps, fire or glow sticks. Logically, if you watch the film, each lighting source has a logic and be traced to them. Beyond that, Jaryl added subtle lights to give the cave depth.
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Wicked Horror: There are a couple underwater shots. What type of camera did you use for this?
Berkley Brady: We used DP Jaryl Lim’s Alexa Mini, which we housed in a plastic case that came from Vancouver. It actually came with a hole in it, to be more clear. Our focus puller, Soloman Chinequay—who’s also an incredible photographer—spent the night before shooting patching it.
This case was not our first choice, but our first choice was not available. The problem with the plastic cases is that they are hard to submerge. There’s too much air in them. So Jaryl really had to fight to keep the camera stable underwater.
Wicked Horror: Did you have to change any of the shots unexpectedly because of weather or logistics? If so, can you talk about those and how you pivoted?
Berkley Brady: Pivoting is the name of the game when shooting in these locations. We had a scene—when Joy and Tara run out of the cave—where it started to snow. A couple hours later, when they emerge on the riverside, it was full summer sun. A pivot was moving in closer, so we wouldn’t be as distracted by the sky. The problem is that we got an epic wide shot of them moving through this snowy landscape. But we couldn’t use it. There are so many great shots that didn’t make it. I’m sure I’ll still be lamenting them when I get to a nursing home one day, so I apologize in advance to my roommates there. But I don’t think any directors ever forget shots they loved but didn’t work out. I can still think of ones from my thesis short that get me.
Wicked Horror: What would you say is key to a good jump scare?
Berkley Brady: Timing!
Wicked Horror: There are a lot of scenes in the film that are lit with a red background, whether it be in a cave, tent or flashback. Why did you decide to heavily lean into this?
Berkley Brady: Red is a powerful colour. It’s strong and triggers strong emotions. It evokes blood, the heart and passion. A perfect fit.
Wicked Horror: Dark Nature has been compared to a cross between The Descent and Predator. Would you say this is an accurate comparison?
Of course it is an homage to The Descent, though I actually hadn’t seen Predator before I wrote the script. I did watch it once we were pretty far along, and it gave me a great way to think about how to differentiate between a human and non-human point-of-view. In Predator, we are always sure of who’s POV we’re in, and it’s fun to get into the creature’s mind. That being said, they nailed it so clearly that I didn’t want to copy any of the visuals Predator has. Instead, I made sure to evoke the creature’s POV from the forest, using the bizarre Disney classic, Watcher in the Woods, as a touchstone. Apart from that, I focused on creating the subjective experience of what it feels like to be targeted by the creature. When he’s zoning in on you, he infiltrates your mind. Sound goes away. Your worse fears come forward.
And as a fun trivia fact, Predator, Prey and Dark Nature share a location…the water where we shot is also where the main character in that movie escapes the bear and runs into the Predator for the first time. I will add, to our actor’s credit, that they did not have a hot tub and port potties standing by, which Predator had! They helicopter those things in for the performers. We didn’t do much aka any helicoptering on this budget, but who needs them with actors as tough and pro as ours?