Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bio-thriller Strange Nature Births a Monster: A Film Review

full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by distributor October Coast.

Director/writer: James Ojala.

Cast: Tiffany Shepis, Stephen Tobolowsky, Lisa Sheridan, John Hennigan and Bruce Bohne.

Strange Nature is an eco-horror or bio-thriller film. This title was developed by first time feature film director and make-up effects guru James Ojala (Silent Retreat, 2016). This title features: Tiffany Shepis (Victor Crowley), Lisa Sheridan ("CSI: Miami"), Bruce Bohne and a few others. Fans of Shepis will be disappointed as she appears in only a couple of scenes. However, Strange Nature does bring a lot of interesting characters to the screen, including former pop star and protagonist Kim Sweet (Sheridan). A micro-budget feature, much of the production value is put into the many deformed creatures on-screen. As well, Strange Nature offers a few comedic bits, before moving into more horrifying territory. This film offers both light and dark tones as one town struggles to cope with a polluted water system.

There are lots of compelling characters, within Strange Nature. A mayor is struggling to deal with growing reports of missing people and deformed babies. This is no longer just a small, quiet town. Meanwhile, Sam (Hennigan) is a soon-to-be-father. But, when his child comes out with fish lips, he wants to unsee his offspring. The protagonist, Kim, is dealing with her former fame as a pop star, while also trying to deal with her dying father. Gramps (Bohne) tells everyone to stay out of the water as his liver gives out. And, all of the characters have an angle or two; few are one-dimensional or shallow.

All of the characters have to deal with a growing biological hazard. Parasites are polluting the local lakes. These parasites are entering the food supply. Pets are hit hard, first. Then, children appear with deformities. New babies do not stand a chance. And, everything and everyone is affected by this growing threat.

Still, there are a few laughs to be had along the way; the film offers a few, decent send-ups. Gramps' solution to the whole problem is: "just stay out of the water." This line and a few others prove that Chuck is losing his mind and his battle with liver cancer. A close-up of a newborn baby, with fish lips and scaly skin, might make some laugh. Another newborn is held by the mayor, at a press conference. This monstrosity will surely create some bad optics for the town. "Drink the water and birth a monster!" might be the town's new slogan. A nearby farmer is an undercover furry. He is shy at first, but wants others to enter his sex dungeon/barn. Not all of the comedic bits hit the mark. But, there are definitely a few laughs to be had, within Strange Nature.

Director Ojala brings his skills in make-up effects to the screen. There are bleeding skunks to shock. Or, a slaughtered deer lays dying next to the road. All of the newborns are hideous. And, a dog loses a patch of fur and skin, in one horrifying scene. However, Ojala brings his best in the final few scenes. A hellhound is unleashed onto the town. And, this dog is vicious! Very monstrous, it tears through some of the characters, while chasing others. The climax and finale are a bit off-killer. Yet, Ojala's practical effects are consistently on point.

Strange Nature is currently on a film festival run. An appearance, in Los Angeles, is scheduled for later in the week (Sept. 22nd). The film will have further appearances in New York and St. Louis Park. So, there are a few upcoming opportunities to see this gory film on the big screen. And, indie horror fans should see this production, simply for the entertainment factor. Many of the characters are well drawn. There is a decent amount of conflict, here. Also, the make-up effects are excellent, with a few laughs thrown in - tongue-in-cheek. Strange Nature also brings a darker tone, later in the picture. So, Strange Nature offers a lot in its short, but bloody runtime.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10.

*the film will play at the Great Western Catskills International Film Festival (October 19-21 in Andes, NY) and the Twin Cities Film Festival (October 17-27 in St. Louis Park, MN).

A homepage for the film: The Official Website for Strange Nature

A trailer for the film, on 28DLA: A Strange Nature Trailer on 28DLA

More info' on the film at AllHorror: Strange Nature Story Details at AllHorror

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