Starring James Remar, Sherilyn Fenn, Graham Greene
Directed by Hank Braxtan
The elements are simply too brutal for human longevity – harsh sub-zero temperatures, whipping icy winds that feel as if you’re being pelted by flying nails, and let’s not forget all that damn snow! Oh yeah, by the way… there’s also a 20-foot tall rampaging genetically altered killer polar bear on the loose. Hope you brought your thermal undies.
In Unnatural, one of the “8 Films to Die For” from After Dark Films, we bear witness to the sheer power of nature and what can happen when it’s tampered with recklessly. The setup is easy as pie: A remote cabin in the deepest stretches of Alaska plays host to a small group of people who are chilling their buns while on a photography shoot (along the lines of “Girls Gone Wild” in Alaska), led by unsavory lensman Brooking (Ron Carlson, who also co-wrote) – he’s abrasive, offputting, and frankly wouldn’t be missed if something unfortunate were to happen to him. They’re welcomed to their cabin by Martin (Remar), Buffalo (Greene), and Lily (Q’orianka Kilcher) – a trio of locals who have been well versed in the native lore of “Maneater.”
Who (or what) is Maneater, you ask? Well, it just happens to be a supposedly vicious, bloodthirsty, carnivorous polar bear that was inhabited by a vengeful spirit, and NO ONE is particularly keen about leaving the cabin to head towards the woods. That concludes our little safety lesson; let’s carry on, shall we?
Enter the ever-so-sightly Sherilyn Fenn as Dr. Hannah Lindval – her work for the Clobirch Corporation is nothing less than advantageous, especially when it comes to preserving wildlife – allow me to direct the audience to red flag #1. Don’t screw with mother nature and her cubs… big problems will arise – BIG PROBLEMS. So as our bodacious models have their images captured for posterity out in the freezing cold, they’re being watched – stalked, more likely. When the larger-than-large frame of Maneater makes its presence on screen, I was reminded of some of the puppetry-like work in An American Werewolf in London when the beast was running amok through Picadilly Circus – a lot of stabilized shots with just a head doing some rendering of delicate flesh. It doesn’t look overdone, and as far as I’m concerned, Braxtan should be applauded for not taking a CGI route with this particular presentation.
Secrets will be exposed, lives will be lost, lots of blood will be spilled, and keesters will be chilled to the bone; and although the film takes place in the Alaskan wilderness, there is a certain perimeter of claustrophobia that settles in when watching our helpless camera crew suffer amidst the elements – hairy and weather-wise.
Remar is the anchor of the cast’s performance: his wise, territorial know-how is complemented by a cool demeanor that would make me want the guy at my back when things got rough. We’re even treated to a nice cameo by industry heavyweight Ray Wise as Victor Clobirch, the man behind the curtain of uncertainty – his crooked smile gives the illusion that he’s got more on his mind than he’s letting on. In all actuality, each and every performance is exceptional, be it a simple conversation between two characters or the bloodcurdling screams that come with someone’s liver being forcefully removed by a ginsu-like set of choppers. I’ll have to gently break the news to some potential watchers that the pacing in the film is rather slow – letting you simmer in anticipation rather than slamming you in the face with polar brutality. Overall, Unnatural acts as a nice sectional piece to the octet that is “8 Films to Die For.” If this one makes it to your town, I’ll definitely recommend it to lovers of nature gone awry.