Strange Nature Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Ojala Productions
Written and directed by James Ojala
2018, 100 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 21st, 2018
Lisa Sheridan as Kim Sweet
Jonah Beres as Brody
Bruce Bonhe as Chuck
Faust Checho as Trent
John Hennigan as Sam
Carlos Alazraqui as Greg
Justen Overlander as Larry
Stephen Tobolowsky as Mayor Paulson
Tiffany Shepis as Tina Stevens
David Mattey as Joseph
I like mutations. CORRECTION: I’m glad that I am not mutated or deformed, but I love when a movie goes heavy on the freaky shit. When that movie is written and directed by a special effects makeup guru like James Ojala (John Dies at the End, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead), you can bet that at least the SFX will be on point.
I also like movies made with real heart, even when they might not hit every mark right in center mass. Another good sign is when the writer is also the director; that tells you the movie you’re watching is someone’s obsession. Add to that the fact that Ojala set and shot this one in his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, and you’re seeing a project where the passion bleeds through the screen.
Strange Nature is the tale of Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan, CBS TV’s CSI: Miami), a one-hit wonder who returns home to rural Minnesota with her son, Brody (Jonah Beres, Stephanie), to care her cancer-stricken father, Chuck (Bruce Bonhe, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead). The town doesn’t want her back after her disparaging remarks about her humble roots, and her son hates being there. All of that is soon forgotten as mutated frogs turn up in large numbers along the lake. Before you can say “what the hell is that?!”, other animals are birthing deformities…and the people soon follow. What is causing the mutations? Pesticides? Parasites? The local deformed man and his daughter?
As you’d expect, the SFX are top-notch. The deformities are believable without being cartoonish, and the gore is wet and nasty. Creature FX in the finale call to mind John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s no need to be tricky in the cinematography or lighting; the longer you look, the more unnerving the various horrors become.
The location is also used to great effect to enhance the story of the town that is slowly dwindling away but still surrounded by natural beauty. Location can be a character in and of itself when done properly. Everything from the picturesque lake to the downtown from another time to the family outhouse puts you in the moment and the place. The cinematography adequately makes the most of it as well.
The tone is a little imbalanced at times in the early going, though. You’re not sure if you should be taking it seriously or if that Tromatic flavor is the way to go. The cameo by Lloyd Kaufman is a nice touch (have you ever noticed that Troma alumni never forget where they came from?). There’s a rather large missed opportunity in the paltry few seconds of screen time given to the goddess, Tiffany Shepis. Low blow to tease us with that.
By the final act, Strange Nature settles nicely into the category of Tromatic with surprising depth. That depth comes in the form of the town’s undisguised hatred of Kim, but it’s also present in the persecution of the deformed family across the lake, Joseph (David Mattey, Hancock) and his daughter.
Much of that persecution comes from the greasy rednecks who serve as most of the comedic relief: bartender Greg (legendary voice actor Carlos Alazraqui), backwoods farmer Larry (Justen Overlander, The Devil’s Hour), and father-to-be Sam (John Hennigan a.k.a. pro wrestler John Morrison). They’re an over-the-top, repulsive, and utterly ridiculous trio that provide a tight-rope walk between comedy and tragedy.
Strange Nature is simply unlike anything else that’s out there right now. It’s based on and inspired by the rash of frog mutations in Minnesota in the mid 1990’s and wants to dig deeply into the problem of pollution swept under the rug in the form socially conscious eco-horror. That’s a hard act to pull off. James Ojala’s first feature-length film manages to do so, even if the balance is 60-40 in favor of the horror and comedy.
Like I said, he is Troma. You’ve got to stay true to your roots.