This film may be based on true events, but Strange Nature plays out as a grisly horror story. Nicely shot in a good local where you can see a good measure of backwoods mentality dominating the life style, the movie takes some twists and gives a lot of clues to where the story is heading. The true part of the story really happened, that being a frog mutation in large numbers in Duluth, Minnesota. It is not certain if director and writer James Ojala has created a Blair Witch takeoff, but much of his very scary horror film looks highly fictional.
Single mother and former rocker Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan) takes her son Brody (Jonah Beres) to her small hometown in Minnesota so she can take care of her father (Bruce Bohne) who has cancer. Having used the town to help further her career and then turning her back on them, she isn’t very popular with the town folks. She has also been an outspoken activist and that doesn’t bode well either. It’s a tough challenge and Brody feels the pressure especially in his new elementary school.
On a class hike in the woods near a lake lead by Assistant Science Teacher Eva (Lilli Passero), one of the boys comes across a deformed frog. Eva shows some concern and they find others that are mutated with extra legs and other body parts. Presenting the frogs to her Science Teacher Trent (Faust Checho), he’s amazed at the find and feels an investigation is in order. Teaming up with Kim, the two reach out to the EPA for assistance. Meanwhile there have been reports of persons being missing, one of which is an elementary school boy from the area.
Writer and director James Ojala sets up a vivid horror film with mutated animals, missing town’s people, a conflict with local farmers about their insecticides and a town on the edge of hysteria. It’s a good ploy for a fear flick and even though he does a good job on the production end, it just isn’t believable enough to cause the necessary fright that goes along with the genre.
For those who are not easily convinced that mutations that are highlighted in the film exist however, I have included quotes from two sources that in fact the deformed frogs are real:
According to the Duluth News Tribune on August 3, 2013- reporter LaReesa Sandretsky wrote: “Jim Ojala (the director and writer of Strange Nature) was 18 years old when a group of middle-school students on a field trip in Henderson, Minn., discovered a pond full of mutated frogs. Deformed frogs occur naturally, but the numbers were unprecedented — one-third of the frogs collected from the Henderson pond had mutations”.
In another story by Minnesota Public Radio reporter Stephanie Hemphill · Henderson, Minn. Jul 17, 2012- “Minnesota made headlines around the world in 1995 when schoolchildren discovered dozens of grossly deformed frogs in a pond in south central Minnesota. Soon there were more reports of deformed frogs from around Minnesota and other places — gruesome photographs of frogs with extra legs, or missing legs, or eyes in the wrong place. People wondered if the frogs were a sign that something in the environment was wrong, which could also spell trouble for humans”.
Well, that said you would think I am convinced that the movie is more than a The Blare Witch Project or even Cabin Fever. Let me continue, they start to find mutations believed from a parasite entering a person’s body from the pond water having been contaminated. Now we have a real horror flick with mutations of other animals and they are not friendly critters by any means.
The acting is decent in this low budget film that was made through donated funds. For the low funding however, they get a lot as writer/director James Ojala is also a make-up artist and a crafty person who knows how to make very frightening animals and humans. The vicious attacks by the creatures on the police, citizens and other animals look quite good and the fighting between the farmers and townspeople gets staged real well with some seamless editing.
Strange Nature has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains bloody violence, language and sexual suggestions. The film is not for the immature and should be considered an R rating.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A cool movie that’s about average among the onslaught of horror films coming out this Halloween season. (2.5 out of 5 Stars)
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Stephen Tobolowsky, Lisa Sheridan, Carlos Alazraqui, Bruce Bohne, Faust Checho, Jonah Beres, Angela Duffy, Tiffany Shepis, John Hennigan, and Justen Overlander, Lilli Passero
Directed and written by: James Ojala
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Opening Date: Saturday, September 22, 2018 in Los Angeles- Laemmle’s Glendale Theater, with other cities to follow.
Released in: Standard