The phenomenon of mysteriously deformed frogs populating rural American waterways provides the impetus for “Strange Nature,” an environmental horror film that’s better at exploring life in a decaying Minnesota farming community than at delivering old-fashioned monster-movie thrills.
Written and directed by native Minnesotan James Ojala (who has worked in the makeup departments for a handful of big-budget movies and TV series), “Strange Nature” stars Lisa Sheridan as Kim, a disgraced former pop idol who returns to her hometown with her son to help her dying father, Chuck (Bruce Bohne).
Not long after Kim arrives, the locals start finding six-legged frogs around the lake, then mutated puppies … and then gnarled human children. Meanwhile, teenagers keep disappearing, which may have something to do with the disturbingly mutilated animal corpses scattered around the woods.
The creature effects in “Strange Nature” are top-notch, but Ojala has trouble making them scary. His plot’s too scattered to build any momentum, with digressions into the heroine’s past, the town’s prejudices, and the cowardice of a mayor (played by Stephen Tobolowsky) who doesn’t want to risk bad PR.
Still, Kim and her family are likable characters; and Ojala deserves some kudos for making his setting essential to his story. Take away the freaky creatures, and this would be a decent little indie slice-of-life, about people facing up to their past mistakes — some mundane, some toxic.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.