Strange Nature – USA, 2018

‘These waters are hiding a killer’

Strange Nature is a 2018 American ecological horror feature film about mutations, directed by James Ojala (special effects on Hellboy II: The Golden ArmyTotemTron: Legacy).

The Ojaja Productions movie stars Lisa Sheridan (Invasion), Stephen Tobolowsky (Memento), John Hennigan (Minutes to Midnight), Tiffany Shepis (Victor Crowley), and Carlos Alazraqui (The Funhouse Massacre).

Plot:

A children’s hiking group in rural Minnesota discover several live, mutated frogs along a pond. In the same area, a single mother, Kim, and her eleven year-old son, Brody, have just moved in with her estranged father, Chuck. It’s not long before they too start witnessing strange occurrences including a disemboweled deer and the family dog’s deformed puppies. 

As the fear rises the rumours begin to fly. Some blame the intimidating disfigured hermit father and daughter who live on a surrounding lake. Environmental science points to the water sources. Possibly causes are pesticides, parasites or both. As the chaos spreads it becomes clear that Chuck’s cabin is a hotspot ground zero for these mutations. 

Trent, a grade school science teacher investigating the cases begins to fall for Kim while trying to protect her and Brody from whatever is coming next. Suddenly, a couple of teenagers go missing. Their mutilated bodies are found only a mile away. The attacks are so brutal it doesn’t seem humanly possible. Then another. Could it be a man or a beast?

Finally, the unthinkable: the first human baby is born with similar horrid birth defects as the animals. Ultrasounds show an increasing number of abnormal fetuses with similar defects on the way. Upon delivery, the mothers start getting sick. Extremely sick. Fearful for her unborn child and family, Kim searches for answers and a safe escape…

Review:

Director James Ojala delivers his first feature film as an eco-thriller based on a true ecological mystery that occurred around Minnesota in the mid 90s. Disgraced pop star, Kim (Lisa Sheridan) returns to her hometown with her eleven-year-old son, Brody (Jonah Beres) to care for her father who has cancer.

Immediately, thousands of deformed frogs start to emerge from the lakes and when the family dog births a litter of mutant puppies, Kim turns to the elementary school’s science teacher and love interest, Trent (Faust Cecho) for help.

The pandemic spreads to human babies, as seen when Kim’s neighbour gives birth to a monstrous half-creature. People of the town are reluctant to aid Kim’s search for answers, believing that she’s seeking media attention to re-launch her career. Her research leads to several theories as to the origins of the infection, including parasites; an organic pesticide company and linkage to a series of mysterious murders.

A group of cliché rednecks blame a local man and his daughter, who both have unknown facial deformities, and decide to launch an attack on the family. It’s down to Kim and Brody to stop them, as well as having to fight off a crazed mutant dog that’s running loose and tearing residents apart.

Strange Nature tends to drag for the first hour as characters and back story are built up, but there’s a steady blend of science fiction and biology. Ojala is known in the film industry for his special FX work, and his talent comes to the fore in this creature feature.

Many scenes were shot using actual deformed frogs that were supplied by an ecologist who was involved in the bizarre phenomenon. For a micro-budget production, this kind of realism is highly effective and there are no over-the-top moments, aside from a policeman gargling at length on his own blood after getting his throat ripped out.

Towards the end of the film is where the more horrific elements creep in, and fans of Cabin Fever may see some familiar moments throughout. Characters are strong and it was nice to see young Brody making himself useful as a kid that can handle himself when necessary.

Strange Nature is well done for the most part, with the exception of one final scene that borders on laughable and seems out of place with the rest of the film.

Rae Louise, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

” …the movie’s final act features a handful of grisly moments, including one of the more disturbing throat rips I’ve seen in some time. Though it does sometimes struggle with the same issues that plague many low-budget horror films […] Strange Nature proved a pleasant surprise.” 2,500 Movies Challenge

“Despite the trappings of blood, gore and horrific imagery, Strange Nature is not presented as an out and out horror film. In fact, minus the splatter and grotesque puppetry of the animals, it plays much like a premium cable docudrama as Kim fights obstacles and hurdles thrown at her.” Horror News

“From the beautiful lakes, forests and hiking trails, to the practical special effects, to the action and gore, to the old school creature feature vibe this film’s category desperately needs, Strange Nature was a surprise hit. Writer/director Jim Ojala created a thematic, cinematic masterpiece hidden behind the guise of a monster movie meeting with The Hills Have Eyes.” Horror Society

” …indie horror fans should see this production, simply for the entertainment factor. Many of the characters are well drawn. There is a decent amount of conflict, here. Also, the make-up effects are excellent, with a few laughs thrown in tongue-in-cheek. Strange Nature also brings a darker tone, later in the picture.” Michael Allen, 28 Days Later Analysis

Filming locations:

Duluth, Minnesota
Los Angeles, California

Release:

Strange Nature leapt into US theaters on September 22, 2018 and is now on VOD.

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