Sosometimes all you need to see is a cast list for a film to catch your fancy; such was the case with 2015's "Unnatural" part of the "8 Films to Die For" series of smaller budget horror film offerings. In this case, it was the names James Remar, Sherilyn Fenn, and Ray Wise that raised an eyebrow from this reviewer; the simple thought of two of "Twin Peaks"' greatest characters along with the always interesting, grizzly Remar, made the thought of watching a previously unheard of horror film all the more palatable. Add to that mix an Alaskan setting, talks of genetic experiments gone awry and a small supporting role by Graham Greene, and on paper, "Unnatural" sets itself up for at least an average B-movie offering.
Written by co-star Ron Carlson, "Unnatural" is a cracking little horror offerings for its first 30-40 minutes as it largely focuses on Carlson's role as a fashion photographer out in the Alaskan wilderness at a lodge run by James Remar's naturally salty outdoorsman, Martin Nakos, and cutting back and forth just enough between Dr. Hannah Lindvall (Fenn) portion of the story as a scientist in a nearby secret facility where something awful has slaughtered her co-workers and has made it into the wild. It's worth noting here that Ray Wise plays the owner of the company Lindvall works for and only appears in brief opening and closing scenes in a largely throwaway role. Getting back to the big idea, what exactly is headed towards Nakos and company is not clear, but it's vicious and it fits nicely into the desolate environment.
Where "Unnatural" starts to unravel at the seams is towards the middle of the film when the monster is revealed and the carnage begins; the genetically modified bear of the film just doesn't manage to live up to the creepy buildup and the effects that bring it to life are quite hit or miss. Likewise, once Lindvall meets up with Nakos, the film quickly jumps into a steady comfortable trot that so many films of the killer animal/nature gone awry vein fall into. Lindvall is the brains, Nakos is the brawn but has the advantage because he naturally understands the environment. Everyone else in the film is little more than fodder as the minutes tick on to the inevitable chaotic showdown that mixes nature with science and brute force. It's not a groundbreaking set of events, but not a complete disaster by any stretch of the imagination.
"Unnatural" is held together by some very workmanlike performances from nearly all involved, in particular Remar and Greene, the latter of whom I can't recall really phoning in anything in his long and noteworthy career. There's not much depth anyone involved has to bring to their characters, but what they do bring is at least believable for the genre and does help to overshadow the film's biggest disappointment, the creature itself. Director Hank Braxtan manages to capture the creepy isolation of the Alaskan wilderness with a careful eye for style, evoking at times, Carpenter's "The Thing", but at the end of the day, the "thing" in this film is the one failure and a critical one at that. Those looking for a fairly average monster film, could do both better and worse than "Unnatural", a film which sadly just doesn't come together in anything other than a mildly intriguing end product.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a decided letdown. "Unnatural" is a made-on-demand disc and while the quality of these offerings from various studios has improved over the years and I generally don't comment on the format decision, I can't help but wonder here if something went wrong in the mastering process. The film's Alaskan environment should be a cold, crisp white, but is often plagued with a murky slightly grey tone to it. Detail is well below an average standard for a 2015 film, although compression issues are not as severe. Contrast is iffy, making some scenes come off as abnormally dark and ruining some of the little tension the film has to offer.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track delivers the expected goods at a much higher level than the transfer. Audio is clear and natural, with some quality use of the surrounds for atmosphere and affect; the whistling winds of the landscape are captured quite nicely and the roar of the film's few major action packed moments are a nice break from a generally dialogue heavy and warm sounding film.
While "Unnatural" doesn't do anything to advance the monster genre due largely to the fact the monster that is the backbone of the film's plot is rather boring and mundane, it is held together by a great creepy first act, some noteworthy genre performances and a refreshing visual style I wouldn't normally expect from a low budget horror film. Unfortunately, the boring monster coupled with a disappointing visual presentation from Fox, makes "Unnatural" a film that likely won't make its way into many collections. Rent It.