Greetings from the WLE underground! There is a new entry in to the Eco-Horror genre from director James Ojala called Strange Nature. The story is based on a true unsolved ecological mystery that occurred in Minnesota. Once famous singer-turned-mother Kim Sweet and her 11 year old son return to Sweet’s hometown to take care of her ailing father. While at her childhood home, Sweet and her son discover mutated frogs coming from a nearby pond. She soon embarks on a mission to find out what caused of the mutation and how far it spreads.
James Ojala’s Strange Nature was entertaining, eye-opening and down right scary. Ojala gives a story that is a perfect balance of standard horror tropes with real-life facts about the possible causes of the mutations. There is an unexpected subplot involving a little girl and her father who are treated poorly by many residents of the town for the unusual way they look. Ojala includes this element to not only emphasize the main message of the film but to also make a statement about how poorly those who are different can be treated in our culture.
Lisa Sheridan puts in an authentic performance as Kim Sweet. There was more depth to her character than you normally see in a film like this, and the fact she was a former pop star was a great twist. Jonah Beres also puts in a solid performance as Kim’s son, Brody. It was great seeing Stephen Tobolowsky as the town’s mayor who is reluctant yet sympathetic to Kim’s mission to find the cause of the mutations. One of my favorite indie film actresses, Tiffany Shepis, also shows up for a short yet intense scene. Much of the dialog in here was PSA-like but I never felt slapped in the face with it. It was informative but not preachy or forced. This was thanks to the cast which managed to make the conversations feel natural.
Considering Ojala’s background, it is no surprise the practical effects in the film look great; from the mysterious creature in the woods that is attacking people to the makeup effects on the little girl and her father. I am not sure if the mutant frogs were also the work of special effects or if they were real mutant frogs. Either way, they were creepy and effective.
I don’t normally enjoy films that are so up front with their message but Strange Nature manages to walk the fine line between PSA and entertainment without falling too much to one side or the other. This is a decent horror film with a high production value that successfully conveys the message of how chemicals can affect our environment and us.
Currently Strange Nature is being released to select theaters with its next showing at Zinema Theater in Duluth, MN on October 21.