By SHAWN MACOMBER
Starring Lisa Sheridan, Bruce Bohne and Jonah Beres
Written and directed by Jim Ojala
The celebrated Canadian geneticist and activist David Suzuki once warned those of us who believe we can avoid individual consequences of our collective environmental depravities that, in reality, “we all live downstream.” And that is certainly true. But not all of us live downstream from gut-chomping, beastly incarnations of that irresponsibility.
At least, not yet.
If you want a peek at that potential future, look no further than the prophetic endgame explored in STRANGE NATURE, which begins a weeklong run in Los Angeles today with fest play and VOD release to come (see details here). It weaves threads of ERIN BROCKOVICH, IT’S ALIVE and CABIN FEVER into a quirky, nasty, sometimes inspiring tapestry of unlikely-hero-vs.-enviro-terror.
Here’s the setup: Once upon a time, Kim (Lisa Sheridan) was a one-hit-wonder tween-pop sensation. Alas, time has been kind to neither her career nor sense of self-worth. The erstwhile star is now forced to return to the rural Minnesota hometown she ditched and disparaged to regroup at the home of her eccentric father (Bruce Bohne), with young son (Jonah Beres) in tow. The side eye and schadenfreude of the townspeople would be a tough enough pill to swallow; toss an epidemic of grotesquely mutated frogs, eviscerated deer and missing persons into the mix, and…well, to quote THE MUSIC MAN, ya got trouble with a capital T.
And when the powers that be, local “organic” pesticide enthusiasts and mega-agrochemical interests refuse to face the true nature of the threat—even as the mutations jump to human newborns and disappearances accelerate—it falls to the former pop star and her elementary-school science-teacher lover to solve the mystery, vanquish the monster and save the town from its own monstrous inclinations as neighbor begins to turn on scapegoated neighbor.
That’s a tall order for anyone—never mind a cynic—and the charismatic, relatable Sheridan does a wonderful job of portraying Kim’s journey from world-weary defeatist to reluctant town crier to full-on bad-ass guardian angel. It’s really her show, but some of the supporting cast choices are great as well, including Stephen Tobolowsky (GROUNDHOG DAY) as a do-nothing mayor, WWE wrestler John Hennigan as a backwoods bully who gets an extremely icky taste of his own medicine and horror stalwart Tiffany Shepis (TALES OF HALLOWEEN) finding out just how strange the nature is in these parts.
The narrative is a little busy—you’d be surprised how many character sketches, subplots and philosophical/scientific ideas can be shoehorned into 100 minutes or so. But the aforementioned ensemble, three-dimensional characterizations, some tastefully placed comic relief, vibrant cinematography courtesy of Alec Schwandt and the confident, spirited shepherding of special-effects-ace-turned-writer/director Jim Ojala turn what otherwise may have been an albatross into part of the film’s multifaceted charm. STRANGE NATURE will have you rooting for a rocker mom to make it back upstream, while simultaneously showing us all just how difficult it very likely will be—for her and us.