Ojala Productions give you Strange Nature, the first feature written by special effects makeup artist Jim Ojala. It has now opened at the Laemmle’s Glendale Theatre and stars Lisa Sheridan (The 4400) Stephen Tobolowsky (Silicon Valley, Memento) and wrestling star Jim Hennigan. The highly anticipated eco-thriller is based on actual events where a pesticide company’s special blend of chemicals caused serious mutations and deformities in its surrounding areas of rural Minnesota.
This is not Ojala’s first time in the directors chair, but he is much well known for his effects work, which is definitely where the movie shines. Mutated people and animals are abound in the second half of this film, all of which are incredibly impressive. Please keep an eye out for the half-frog fever dream about two-thirds of the way through the film. Ojala has been working in films for decades, (Thor, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, True Blood) and his attention to detail shows. His work is disturbing and choice of story is exciting, which always is a good mix. It would have probably improved pace if we had gotten more of his most practiced talent earlier on, to root the story more into the horror category it falls into by the third act of the film.
The films runs into several issues, most of which pertaining to balance. It’s pitched as a horror film but plays more like an Erin Brockovich case. Sheridan spends most of her time in the movie being dogged (pun intended,) by the people in her town, and coming up against brick walls when she tries to prove there is a ecological disaster brewing in the town. Personal feelings aside, the townspeople could at the very least have taken her evidence to look at, or Sheridan’s character could have implored they take her information anonymously. But if that happened, we wouldn’t have any movie, and what is the fun in that?
Unfortunately, fun is also a big issue. The film is based in truth, and is clearly a story that is close to Ojala’s heart, being a Duluth native. But with it’s legal-eagle style and upsetting deaths, it is difficult to find enjoyment in watching. You are left feeling uneasy in the end, but not in a “there’s a monster under my bed” way, more like “I need to contact my local congressman,” and the political climate we’re in has enough drama as it is. People watch thrillers and horror for the ride, the dips in your stomach as you swirl along the track. But with convulsing dogs whimpering and dying for what feels like ages and scared babies screaming to their deaths, it’s hard to reach for the popcorn.
Bruce Bohne (Dawn of the Dead, Fargo) gives a valiant effort to add heart in all the torment, but he is only one man. Although the film tries for a little bit of levity at times, it is certainly not enough to make you feel better. As unbalanced as the film seems, though, it rises above B-level status by leaps and bounds, which would be a concern for your regular, run-of-the-mill mutant feature. A seasoned, competent cast is what makes Strange Nature spring along, but its leapfrogging from a drama to a monster movie is where this film falters.
Strange Nature is running in Los Angeles now. Look for it coming to a theater near you soon.