Coined as an eco-horror/thriller, James Ojala’s feature debut Strange Nature makes a bold semi-political statement with its choice of new sub-genre. Aiming to uncover an unsolved ecological mystery when the waters of a lake in Duluth, Minnesota churn out a series of deformed frogs, Ojala’s story is more akin to B-Movie Zombeavers than the scientific intensity of an environmental film.
Easily viewed as two confused halves, we start out following Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan), an ex-pop singer with a muddled backstory that has no reference to the film, and her son Brody (Jonah Beres), who move back to Kim’s hometown to live with her father Chuck (Bruce Bohne) while he struggles with cancer. After spending some time around the lake that is opposite their new home, Kim discovers an array of deformed frogs and decides to investigate what caused the mutations. Heading to other residents, farmers, a teacher and even the mayor, Kim spends a very good amount of time saying ‘Have you seen the deformed frogs? Are you talking about the deformed frogs? Why are these frogs deformed?’ in a script that seems to be lacking any real intrigue from the character. It is absolutely unbeknownst why Kim is so bloody interested in discovering why these frogs have extra pairs of legs as she quickly becomes an ecological warrior in the local sphere, appearing on local cable to ask for help.
On the other side of the tale we have multiple cases of missing people, a deformed family across the lake and other mutants popping up here and there that quite clearly link together. While Kim’s off trying to save Duluth from pesticides and contaminated water the rest of the story leans fully into its horror elements, with some highly entertaining and accomplished practical effects of various mutated creatures that are a testament to Ojala’s work as an SFX artist on productions such as X-Men: The Last Stand and Hellboy 2. Clearly with a knack for the macabre and disgusting, Ojala finds a fun and campy rhythm in the chaos and bloodshed caused by these creatures and Strange Nature suddenly is revived into the ridiculous creature feature it should have always set out to be. Refining the sheer amount of creatures by the final half would have allowed some more character development and scientific explanation, should the films intention’s still remain that of an ecological thriller.
Whilst there are some more intriguing loose ends that never come to fruition (largely wondering what happens to the people who go missing in the woods?) in favour of a shoed-in romance and loose emotional connections between various mediocre characters, Strange Nature is ultimately the creation of a first time director- lots of promising ideas but not enough editing. Achievements in campy creature fun and practical effects that horror fans love might not be enough to keep audiences in seats past an unstable first hour.
Strange Nature is released on Friday 21st September
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here