While watching "Strange Nature", a horror/thriller with a description that mentions mutated frogs, I was pleasantly surprised to notice that this movie was more than just cheap visual thrills you'd find in a B grade horror film. There was an actual message here, and a pretty good one, that involved a few plot twists and some solid acting performances.
The story revolves around Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan) and her son Brody (Jonah Beres) as they return home to a small town in Minnesota to live/care for Kim's father Chuck (Bruce Bohne) who has cancer. Kim experienced fleeting fame as a pop start back in the day and that part of her past, along with her less than stellar relationship with her father, makes coming home a bitter pill to swallow.
However, it doesn't take long for Kim to stumble upon some bizarre things going on with the local wildlife and as she investigates, she finds it's more serious and widespread than anyone realizes. She has difficulty getting the local townspeople to believe her, her past pop reputation makes people believe she is just looking for attention, and even Mayor Paulson (played by the always wonderful Stephen Tobolowsky) pushes her concerns aside. So she begins digging deeper and really, this is where the movie gets interesting.
The story takes the over used plot device of little guy versus the big, bad corporation and twists it a few times, leaving the viewers scratching their collective heads in terms of what exactly is going on. Writer and director James Ojala does a good job in mixing up the story and keeping it moving at a good pace, especially in the first half where there is a lot more talking than there is bloodshed.
There is a nice build up in the gore as well, first introducing the mutations, then the killings until we have the big showdown at the end. There are some nasty visual bits, not just with animals but newborn babies as well, so people with weak stomachs in that regards have now been officially warned. They manage to pull off the effects pretty well, with quick camera shots and even quicker acts of violence, to cover up anything that might look too fake.
The actors are solid, especially Lisa Sheridan as Kim, who does the haunted kid returning to small-town America routine very well. She sells her character with ease, making her investigation into what's going on seem more plausible. Also, Stephen Tobolowsky is great as the mayor, giving him many different shades for the audience to ponder as we try and figure out if he's going to be helpful or if he's been in on what's going on the whole time.
There are a few times during the movie where things don't work so well. The first forty minutes or so is heavy on story, which is asking a lot for an audience who is most likely made up of fans from the mutant frog side of the genre pool. Also, some interactions between certain characters don't work and the bad boys in town part of the story could probably have been cut back or cut out completely.
That being said, there was a lot to like in "Strange Nature", which surprised me on more than one occasion with the twists in the story. Mutations and morals have never looked better together, leaving me satisfied and eager to encourage others to check out this solid film.