Strange Nature presents itself as a thriller first, then quite a bit of drama, before setting on horror in the second half of the film, as if the film mutates itself slowly unsure which direction to project itself towards, this likely is the result of first-time director James Ojala, who many know as a make-up effects genius, he worked on Silent Retreat ). This movie mixes itself between the subgenres of eco-horror and bio-thriller with disfigured frogs, hideous newborns, monstrous-looking puppies and dogs. Although, produced on a microbudget, a high production value obviously shows on the screen with a few comedic lines mixed in to break the tension, while laying the groundwork for a horror flick by the conclusion.
Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan) and her son Brody (Jonah Beres) move back to Kim’s childhood home in rural Minnesota, to care for her father, Chuck aka ‘Gramps” (Bruce Bohne, who some will notice is Andy from Dawn of the Dead ), who has an inoperable tumor. In addition, Kim, deals with her former fame as a pop star, and some very distasteful things she said about her hometown, but karma is a pain when it bites back. while also trying to deal with her dying father. Most of the comedic lines are delivered by Gramps who tells everyone to stay out of the water as his liver gives out, his delivery quite amusing. The movie does contain some politically incorrect language directed at the character Michelle (wonderful part by Chalet Lizette Brannan (Occupants ), however that’s actually a good aspect of the dialogue, making it feel more natural and the horror genre pushing the boundaries once again. The growing parasites continue to wreck-havoc first with the lakes and frogs, then dogs, finally humans, the audience learns the cycle from biology teacher Trent (Faust Checho). A solid casting with Stephen Tobolowsky (Mirror Mirror  and Mississippi Burning ) as Mayor Paulson, who reminds one of Murray Hamilton’s Mayor Larry Vaughn in Jaws, who seems interested about the townsfolks on the surface, but accepts others input over the obvious turmoil, which originally dismissed as work of a serial killer, due to mutilated corpses and numerous missing person’s report. Attention, Tiffany Shepis’ fans, she’s greatly underused in the film, as she portrays Lisa a wildlife photographer, who encounters something off screen. By the last half of the movie the creatures emerge onto the screen though cloaked in the darkness, however they battle with Human Monsters, scared of what’s happening to their families and blaming others for it.
There truly are many subgenres in the land of horror, and possibly some that viewers unaware of the scope or depth of their existence such as eco-thrillers/horrors, in this grouping one finds Frogs (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976); Long Weekend (1978) to Cabin Fever (2002), just to name a few. These disastrous ecological flicks contain dire situations for the human race, as nature always stands ready to strike back in shocking manners. This film reminds one of director John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy (1979) where a logging firm dumps mercury into the rivers that causes mutations in babies of all species including human. Many of those creations exist in Strange Nature, though Ojala does a better job in showcasing the monsters’ appearances.
As James Ojala’s first offering as director, he also handled screenwriting, producing and of course lending his skillful hands to the makeup department, he shows both potential and limitations, a little more direction on screen and to cast and trusting to the crew, likely shows promise of greater work to come from him. The overall movie, just lacks the scare factors, it tries too hard to balance as a serious thriller and straight-up horror movie, if it chose the latter then a gruesome body count gathers more attention.
IMDb Rating: 4.3/10
Baron’s Rating: 4.5/10