Review: STRANGE NATURE Delivers Gory Fun, But Falls Short

Natural and ecological horror has been an unsung hero of the genre for decades. With creature features like ARACHNOPHOBIA and PIRANHA championing the genre, it’s safe to say a lot of films within the genre are full of campy fun. STRANGE NATURE is FX master Jim Ojala’s directorial debut eco-thriller film about a single mother trying to learn the truth about what’s causing genetic mutations in both humans and people in her dad’s small town. While the gore effects are grotesque, the film’s plot falls short and does nothing to raise the stakes, making it seem like there’s no tangible threat for most of the film.

Former small-time popstar and single mother Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan) moves to Minnesota with her son, Brody (Jonah Beres), to watch over her sick father, Chuck (Bruce Bohne). Upon moving, Brody and other children in the area find mutated frogs in the woods. In the meantime, a large animal is attacking townspeople, resulting in their “disappearances.” Kim takes her concerns over the frogs to many, including the mayor (Stephen Toblowsky), and no one seems to listen.  The mutations begin spilling over into others, causing a town panic, but questions still go unanswered.

The film spends its first half ruminating on the cause of genetic mutations in small frogs, all while some strange animal attacks happen to three townspeople. It feels like there’s a lot of beating around the bush here when trying to find out the source of the genetic mutations, so much so that viewers find out some compromising information about one of the local farmers that holds no weight, but is awkwardly comical.

Some genetic mutations happen to small animals here and there, but there feels like no real sense of danger until almost an hour into the film. Even then, the danger doesn’t feel all that dangerous. Aside from the two mysterious attacks that happen toward the beginning of the film, the stakes aren’t all that high. Even then, the attacks happen to characters the viewers know nothing about, so it’s difficult to care.

The second half of the film adds in some seemingly unnecessary complications, including Kim’s pregnancy after a one night stand with Brody’s science teacher (Faust Checho). I see where this could have been an interesting idea to be expanded upon, especially with the previous deformity in another woman’s child, but it felt shoehorned into the film’s end.

On that note, the film includes a lot of elements that have no closure where it feels like there should be some amount. When Chuck’s dog (which is named Kinky and I’m not sure why) gives birth to puppies, they are all horribly deformed and he puts them out of their misery with a shotgun, save for one Brody tries to rescue. Kim brings it onto a public broadcast television show to prove a point and demand answers from the mayor, but it just disappears from sight afterward, with no mention of where it is. The same thing happens after Kinky goes into violent shakes and starts sloughing off skin toward the end of the film. While the gore effect is incredible, what happens to Kinky is a mystery.

On the bright side, the gore and creature designs are phenomenal. It’s a shame those creatures don’t hold more significance, as they’re both horrifying and incredible to look at. Coming from the man who helped bring BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER to life, I’d expect just that. The few gore gags that are in the film are gnarly too, which make those scenes a great watch.

While this movie wasn’t a success for me, I feel like it does have some great ideas and nasty gore gags. Unfortunately, they just don’t feel very well-realized for me to consider this film a win. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but the clunky writing and lack of cohesion surrounding the big “threat” made STRANGE NATURE a pretty mediocre film in my book.