Father (Phillip Roebuck) and son Elliot (Elliot Liedgren) head out into the woods for some wilderness bonding, but from the jump nothing seems to go their way. For starters, there’s the large family that has already made camp at the site reserved for Father and Elliot, and they’re none too keen on moving, no matter how polite Father asks. Then there’s the odd couple, the creepy guy, Carl (Shawn Belyea), with his strange wife (Petra Wright), who appears to be humping a tree. Oh, and there’s the in-your-face, back-to-Nature woman (Karina Deyko) whose love of the woods is matched only by her seemingly dislike for wearing clothes. On top of all that, Father doesn’t have the matches, or a can opener, so food is suddenly a problem.
If the scenario doesn’t scream, “get in your car and do something else for the weekend,” I don’t know what does, but Father and Son decide to stick it out, even as interactions with the camp-squatting family get more aggressive and Carl seems to be getting himself more involved with matters all around, even to the point of questioning, and often challenging, Father’s manhood. You know this is going to end poorly for someone.
Johan Liedgren’s Mother Nature is suspenseful in that you know something horrible is on the horizon, you just don’t know when things will finally go bad, or exactly how. You know Father and Son are definitely out of their element, poorly prepared for anything and the situation can only get worse. It’s a waiting game as you piece together the various mini-mysteries of each character’s motivations.
And it is compelling and engaging for most of its two hour plus running time, only losing steam when it seems to hit its climax, and then continues on. The additional scenes, while I understand their relevance and importance, also serve to make you think the film is going to ramp up again, and when it doesn’t, the experience feels weaker for it. The film spends so much time building to something, and the energy seems to hit that peak, and then we spend a bit too much time in the valley on the other side, and you start to forget the power of the previous journey.
Visually the film is strong, delivering the unique perspective of a camping experience that at times feels like it is in the middle of nowhere when, if you just move the camera’s view to the parking lot, it’s really probably just a site off a highway. Still not a highly trafficked area, but not like the people in this film hiked up a mountain, or went on a Deliverance-friendly raft trip. Nope, this is as common, and simple, a camping setup as one can get, outside of staying at an actual campground full of many other sites and RVs. It’s back to Nature, but only just, and the camera does its job to help sell the isolation, and break it, when it needs to do so.
Overall, Mother Nature is ultimately a quiet suspense thriller that goes on slightly too much for its own good. Imagine it like a roller coaster ride for a second: you’ve been climbing for a while, and maybe there’s been a twist or turn to keep the incline exciting, and then you hit the drop and the intensity ratchets up. When that’s done, most roller coasters end immediately, and folks get off the ride. In this one, it’s like the “excitement” has ended, but we’re still on the coaster for a little bit, riding around. Some would welcome the relief and the opportunity to cool down, to ponder what has come before, others would be disappointed that such a fun ride has turned into a slow wind. I guess I’m in the latter camp, no pun intended.
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