Some of you might think I’m one of those critics who can appreciate only artsy and deep horror films that defy expectations and go against the grain.
Well, tough luck, because – other than horror flicks that are definitely underground and ‘artsy’ – I happen to have a soft spot for 80s slasher flicks, 70s exploitation cinema and… yes, creature-feature B-movies.
Strange Nature, a 2018 horror flick by first time director James Ojala (who has a long career in special effects for mainstream and successful movies like X-Men: The Final Stand, Thor and 2012), is indeed a B-movie a la Humanoids from the Deep (1980), featuring a strong connection to older and newer bio-thriller flicks along the lines of Toxic Zombies (1980) and The Bay (2012).
Set in Duluth, Minnesota, Strange Nature follows Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan) and her son Brody as they go to live with Kim’s father (Chuck, played by Bruce Bohne) in order to help him fight cancer. The cabin they move to is surrounded by swamps, as it’s the entire town, and these swamps are teemed with deformed frogs and insects, as a consequence of the use of illegal pesticides. Despite Kim’s concern, nobody seems to care too much… until it appears that even humans (and, say, dogs) could be affected by that, with possible dangerous outcomes.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Obviously, for a movie like that to work the tone needs to be somewhat comedic and self-aware. Strange Nature nails such a tone for the most part, which is immediately evident from the casting: Stephen Tobolowsky plays a cartoonish mayor providing the audience with some well-deserved chuckles; Bruce Bohne from the remake of Dawn of the Dead spits out some great, offensive jokes about cancer and deformities that are extremely politically incorrect; John Hennigan, best known for his ridiculous action-hero roles in some cheap Asylum flicks, is the tough guy who hates out-of-towners. And so on, and so forth.
In perfect B-movie fashion, Strange Nature introduces the ‘creatures’ from their point of view: the beginning of this film is filled with shots from the monster(s) POV, just like in the B-movies from the 50s and 80s.
Despite the shlock cinema vibe and the clearly low budget, Strange Nature doesn’t feel cheap as the locations are perfect for this type of film and the gore effects (which, unfortunately, are too few and far apart) are craftily executed, being at once funny and a bit disgusting.
Nevertheless, this flick doesn’t fully achieve its goal, as sometimes – especially over the last act – it wastes its potential with corny scenes where the characters try and fail to deliver emotions. In other words, whenever Strange Nature tries to be a serious film that asks you to care for the protagonists, it comes off as goofy and a bit boring.
Yet, the filmmakers probably used their budget for the gory scenes sparse throughout the runtime, since the last 10 minutes (which were supposed to be the highlight of violence and tension) are shot with an excessive use of shaky-cam and annoying cuts, so that the audience can’t even make out what’s happening on screen. After a promising beginning and a very uneasy yet amusing second act, Strange Nature becomes the worst kind of B-movie shlock and, as such, the ending is really hard to sit through.
Before I conclude this little review, it’s important to point out that – as crazy and unbelievable as this may sound – the movie is actually based on a true unsolved ecological mystery, when thousands of hideously deformed frogs have turned up in the waters of Minnesota in the early 2000s. If you watch the movie with this knowledge in the back of your mind, you might get an eerie feeling while sitting through Strange Nature.
To wrap up my thoughts on the film, I’d say it’s a good, entertaining 100-minute-long ride that will please fans of a specific kind of horror flicks, but it’s also a movie that might leave you with a sour taste in your mouth: both because of the real case it’s based on and because the potential isn’t completely fulfilled.
Strange Nature 6/10