Strange Nature (2018)

For the last twenty years, thousands of deformed frogs have been popping up in Minnesota ponds with some populations having over 70% of their number mutated.  After years of testing, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency came up with plenty of theories for the cause but nothing definite and in 2001, the U.S. Government pulled all further research funding.

This isn’t something made up for a movie. It’s a true story and it’s nowhere near finished, as frog mutations have spread to other states and even India and China.

Strange Nature is a full-length feature film from writer/director James Ojala, who was part of the special effects crew for movies like ThorTron: LegacyJackalsJohn Dies at the End and more. It’s based on the Minnesota frogs and how they impact the lives of a single mother and her 11-year-old-son who have come back to her hometown.

Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan, who has appeared on TV shows like CSI: Miami and Invasion) and her son, Brody, are in town because they’ve run out of options. And with Chuck (Bruce Bohne, the Snyder Dawn of the Dead), her father, dying of liver cancer, there’s a chance for her to reconnect.

They’re in town for less than a few moments before mutated frogs start hopping up. The American Patriot organic pesticide plant may be the cause, but just like JawsBlood Beach and every other movie mayor ever, Mayor Paulson (Stephen Tobolowsky, Single White Female) squashes every attempt to get the story out. After all, they keep the town alive. The guys who work at the plant — like Sam (former WWE star John Hennigan) don’t want to hear a single thing about it, nor does the neighbor whose shed hides furry costumes in a moment of weird humor that takes the movie off the tracks for a bit.

That said — this movie really shines when it comes to the creature effects, like the mutant frogs, puppies, two-headed wolves and more that start to emerge. Maybe it’s all of the Bigfoot movies I’ve been watching, but I enjoyed that this film feels more like a 1970’s eco-horror film than a modern movie. Trust me, that’s a compliment. It balances real human drama — fitting in at a new school, befriending kids that others make fun of, trying to come back to a place that you thought you escaped, dealing with your life’s dream turning on you, going from being cared for by a parent to being their caregiver — with horrific elements well.

Soon, tourists start coming to town to make fun of the townsfolks with their Minnesota – Land of 1,000 Freaks shirts. Even worse, the mutations and child disappearances start to tie together, as do more and more mutant births. And when our heroine gets pregnant — to her son’s teacher no less — things go from bad to worse. Add in the fact that babies act like parasites, killing their mothers and this becomes a film that progressively paints its characters into deeper and darker corners.

Hennigan is really good here, as is Dave Mattey, who plays Joseph, who shares a birth defect with his daughter that the townsfolks wrongly take as the reason for their town’s issues.

Those that appreciate a decent story — as well as those that love gore — will be equally satisfied with this one.

You can learn more about the movie — which is making its theatrical debut at the Laemmle Glendale in Los Angeles September 22-27  — at the official site.

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