STRANGE NATURE ** USA 2018 Dir: James Ojala. 100 mins
A low-budget variation of John Frankenheimer’s underrated 70’s eco-horror PROPHECY, set against an appropriately depressing back drop of post-economic-crash small town U.S.A. – all boarded-up shops, unhealthy locals and corrupt politicians. Former teen pop star Lisa Sheridan returns home to a frosty reception thanks to earlier badmouthing of the town and the scandalous reveal that she didn’t sing on her records. She finds a spate of missing persons, deformed local children, and mutated frogs in the woods that may be connected to pesticides and an off-camera monster killing guest stars including Tiffany Shepis.
It’s an overlong, tonally awkward picture that gets bogged down in soap opera sub-plots about Sheridan’s terminally ill father and her romance with a drab local science teacher. Attempts at self-conscious humour include Stephen Tobolowsky channelling JAWS’ Murray Hamilton as the untrustworthy mayor, all too clearly in the pocket of “American Patriot Chemicals”; in case we didn’t quite get the joke, someone actually says “God, you’re like some movie mayor!” The themes are topical (“I only use organic shit!”) but it’s light on horror until a lively climax that brings welcome practical FX and old-school creature feature fun. You also get a mutant baby resembling an unloved younger sibling of the new born from COMBAT SHOCK and a final shot thoroughly in the spirit of all those downbeat cutaways in 1970’s American horror.
Review by Steven West