10th Dec2018

‘Strange Nature’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Lisa Sheridan, Stephen Tobolowsky, Carlos Alazraqui, John Hennigan, Tiffany Shepis, David Mattey, Bruce Bohne, Jonah Beres, Chalet Lizette Brannan, Lilli Passero, Bryan Daniel Porter, Faust Checho | Written and Directed by James Ojala

strange-nature-poster

Ecological horror is a genre that is not often tapped for terror these days, though it was – at one time – a staple of the horror genre, with films like Frogs, The Bees, Day of the Triffids, Them! and a myriad of spider-based movies asking “what if?” questions  that captured the imagination of audiences for years.

Apparently based on true unsolved outbreaks of wildlife mutations (LOOSELY based), Strange Nature marks the directorial debut of fx maestro James Ojala (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Thor, Tron: Legacy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and tells the story of Kim (Lisa Sheridan) and her son Brody who move back in with Kim;s estranged hermit father in the backwoods of a small town and find themselves in the middle of a horrendous phenomenon where deadly offspring mutations spread from animals to humans.

James Ojala’s film is an odd one – part serious diatribe on the effects man is having on nature and part monster movie. And neither part of the film seems top mesh with the other. Oftentimes the serious nature is at odds with what is a fun old-school horror – there are aspects of this film that reminded me of the schlocky nature of Frogs and the terrifying horror of Humanoids From the Deep; yet at the same time we get long-winded, lofty-idealed discussion abvout what man has done to the planet, how our reliance on pesticides is harming nature. Yes, we’ve had similar “nature fights back” plotlines in eco-horror flicks before but Strange Nature takes things way too seriously for its own good.

Speaking of monster movies… the effects work in Strange Bature is fantastic – starting small with mutated frogs, we soon get deformed animals, mutated babies, dogs with their skin dropping off, throats torn out, intestines chomped on… as the “infection” escalates so do the often grisly effects! One of the films most impressive effects is a mutated baby – one that that looks like it’ll grow up into one of the titular characters from Sergio Martino’s Island of the Fishmen, its a small thing – in terms of the overall effects budget – but one that, thanks to how well it’s put together and used in terms of the storyline, brings a much-needed emotional depth to the film, humanising the mutations rather than making a monster out of them.

Ojala also throws in sub-plot about small-town racism, as a family is attacked for looking “different” to the rest of the townsfolk (think backwoods inbred folk) – which obviously means they get the blame for what’s happening rather than the big chemical company that people should be focused on. Hmmm, shades of a political agenda right there. But then Strange Nature is, at its core, a very political film, with Ojala firmly siding with nature!

Packed with great perfromances from all involved, in particular wrestler & actor John Hennigan – who turns in a superb dramatic performance rather than the usual droll action hero role he typically plays, Strange Nature is available now on digital and DVD from ITN Distribution.

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