Unnatural (2015)

It’s James Remar VS a polar bear/wolf hybrid monster in the freezing coldest “Jaws” knock-off of the year. Any questions?

I’ve always been a sucker for a good monster movie, sometimes even a not so good monster movie, but I just can’t stomach the type of cartoony, CGI-laden, soullessly crapped out schlock like “Sharknado” that the SyFy Channel cranks out like ground sausage. So when I find out that a filmmaker has purposefully chosen to make a monster movie using nothing but old school, practical special effects like animatronics and suit-mation to bring their monster to life, my interest level rises considerably.

Good practical effects combined with my admitted childhood bear phobia makes “Unnatural” a perfect storm of B-movie shenanigans suited for a fine weeknight slice of terror-tainment. It’s one of those little horror movies that’s not quite ready for Saturday night, but sure does make Wednesday night go down easier.

In a year that has given us no fewer than three major “bear terror” thrillers including the A-list cast actioner “Into the Grizzly Maze” and the found footage survival yarn “Backcountry,” “Unnatural” is easily the most ridiculous and probably the most fun of the three. Shot on location in Fairbanks, Alaska, it also delivers beautiful frozen wilderness landscapes that bring on the frosty atmosphere perfect for snuggling up in a warm blanket by an open fire with a steaming cup of hot joe (alcohol optional).

Aging 80’s actors James Remar (“The Warriors,” “48 Hours”) and Sherilyn Fenn (“The Wraith,” “Twin Peaks”) are the two major characters grounding the more dubious aspects of this “nature runs amok” tale which combines  the DNA manipulation of “Jurassic World” with the inherent dangers of global warming. Fenn plays a scientist working on a secret government project to save endangered polar bears by combining their DNA with the more aggressive and adaptive genetic code of wolves. Of course, her prize subject is an uncontrollable Frankenstein monster that escapes, killing everyone in the lab but her and setting loose a monstrous polar bear/wolf hybrid (werebear?) on unsuspecting lodge owner, James Remar, who has just taken in a group of bikini models and their unsavory photographer for a winter calendar photo shoot.

The bikini models, of course, serve mostly as bear food in a series of gory werebear maulings, the first of which is a memorable attack from beneath the Alaskan ice. The remainder of “Unnatural” won’t be much of a surprise to anyone who has seen “Jaws,” “Grizzly” or any number of sequels and knock-offs produced to cash in on their box-office popularity over the last 30 years, but when it comes to these types of movies, it’s not about originality. It’s about how high the filmmaker sets the bar. There’s “Jaws” and then there’s “Sharktopus.”

Director Hank Braxton, who got his start in the world of fan filmmaking  with short fan films like “Freddy VS Ghostbusters” and “Return of the Ghostbusters,” is clearly a fan of the “nature runs amok” sub-genre and at least tries to put on a good show with a limited budget. He’s aided admirably by a good cinematographer and the icy Alaskan locations, a competent effects crew and a likable lead actor.

James Remar, a solid character actor who got his start working with director Walter Hill on “The Warriors”  and “48 Hours,” and who has made dozens of memorable appearances in movies throughout the 80’s and 90’s, makes a fine grizzled hero with his gruff and gravelly voice and man’s man demeanor. He’s a salt of the earth type who respects nature but knows how to use a rifle.

Remar faces down the practically created werebear in a finale that soaks the white snow red. That’s what you came to see, and “Unnatural” delivers the meat and potatoes. If you expect something more or were hoping for some insight on the topic of global warming, you’ve come to the wrong killer bear movie.

The Phantom of The Ville

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