In many ways, Strange Nature plays out like a throwback thriller — in a good way — until it’s undone by an uneven final act.
Lisa Sheridan (Invasion) plays Kim Sweet, a disgraced former teen pop singer who’s returned to her childhood home of Duluth. Kim’s father, Chuck (Bruce Bohne, Dawn of the Dead), has a bum liver and she’s bringing her son, Brody (Jonah Beres) to connect with him.
Early on, Kim and Brody see some puzzling signs that not everything is right in the town including an unusual amount of mutated frogs. The film is based on true unsolved outbreaks of wildlife mutations sorta like the infamous three-eyed fish in The Simpsons opening.
Kim’s concerns are largely ignored as alarmist conspiracies until the mutations evolve to more frightening levels including expectant mothers. But by that point it’s far too late to contain.
Director/writer James Ojala shows commendable patience to world building and character development while a malevolent force starts killing off residents.
Strange Nature marks Ojala’s full length feature film directorial and screenwriting debut. There’s enough evidence here to suggest that Ojala is going to be a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on with more experience and better financing. His character development is better than we typically see in this genre and they behave realistically.
There’s some funny exchanges when Kim tries to get the mayor (Stephen Tobolowsky, Glee) to do something about the mutations. And Kim and Chuck make a surprising discovery concerning the odd farmer Larry (Justen Overlander). Impact Wrestling superstar John Hennigan has an understated role as a town industrial worker.
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For a lower budget film, the performances were much better than the norm. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but too often, interesting premises get derailed by awful acting.
The performances here kept me engaged in the characters’ subplots beyond if they’d survive. Sheridan makes for a flawed and layered protagonist and Bohne is very enjoyable as the carefree father and grandfather.
Strange Nature establishes a strong mystery both in terms of what’s causing the mutations and who could be behind it. And does it have something to do with the disfigured family on the other side of the lake?
Despite the solid buildup, Ojala fails to properly deliver on the all the teased horror elements. I suspect Ojala recognized his special effects for the killer monsters weren’t the most impressive and tried to delay the reveal as long as possible. This eventually leads to an underwhelming final act when it’s time to pay up.
Ojala will also need to tighten up his transitions as too many scenes end abruptly. That’s a minor issue that should get resolved with more experience.
With a bigger budget, Strange Nature honestly could have worked as a larger theatrical release. Its financial limitations are the main issues in what’s otherwise a very solid and surprisingly entertaining low budget thriller.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Photo Credit: ITN distribution