When we first see FBI agent Erickson (Adam Meirick) he's sporting long hair and an unkempt beard, is coved in blood and is about to stove someone's skull in with a thick wooden stick.
This scene serves as a welcomingly intriguing pre-credits opening to UNHUMAN NATURE.
We now shift to the present day. Enter an internal affairs investigator, who now sits in an office opposite a somewhat more tidy-looking Erikson. The only tell-tale signs that this is the same man we witnessed acting homicidally in the prologue, are that same haunted look in his eyes and the butterfly clips across an injury to his forehead. He's also in a wheelchair by this point.
The investigator explains that he's there purely to go over what happened: how did Erickson get to the point where he was found blood-soaked and hovering over a dead body? The investigator ensures Howard that he's not there to analyse his psychological well-being, but rather to evaluate his behaviours.
And so Erickson's story begins. We quickly learn that he's been with the FBI for eight years, largely working on border control as part of the human trafficking department. Following "the New Mexico situation" (something which is only elaborated upon later into proceedings), Erickson was placed on mandatory leave for a period of six months. Upon his return to work, he keenly took on a missing persons case which involved him travelling out to a remote, run-down coastal town named Humboldt. Once there, Erickson was to work alongside local Sheriff Duffy (Shawn McAninch) and hi deputy Abby (Cate Hatfield).
Told mainly in flashback, we too meet Duffy and Abby, and bear witness as they initially take umbrage to Erickson's perceived city boy arrogance, while he believes their laconic approach to procedural work to reek of ineptitude. However, the three of them bond later over an evening meal - which is good, because "prominent member of the community" Dave (Gary Sommers) has just become the latest person to go missing in the neighbouring woods whilst out hunting.
Erickson remarks on the town's history of missing people, which is odd considering the community is a close-knit one and consists of roughly only 600 people to begin with: they are "all but cut off from civilisation", as Duffy puts it.
We also learn that it was numerous letters from one of the locals which brought Erickson to the town in the first place. Howard (Les Best), dismissed as a crazy old fool by his peers, snarls at the FBI agent's suggestion that the disappearances may be linked to a human trafficking ring. Instead, Howard insists he has encountered a beast in the woods which emits a strange song capable of compelling people to commit random acts (in his own case, he was taken to giving his wife a good beating). The old crank even has a hand-drawn map pointing out where in the woods he believes the beast's lair to be.
Erickson is nonplussed by Howard's claims. Although one thing does strike him: several witness accounts make mention of a strange song-like sound being heard around the time of various disappearances occurring.
Erickson is keen to survey the woods. Knowing that the island natives won't take kindly to an outsider raking about in their greenery, Duffy enlists the aid of local guide Oscar (Edward Guyer II) to chaperone them. Upon meeting him, Erickson asks Oscar if he has any knowledge of attacks in the woods; Oscar is quick to establish he's there to guide him through the woods only, and small talk is out of the question. And so, Oscar leads Erickson, Duffy and Abby into the nearby woodlands ...
Before long they've encountered a cave with human remains scattered in its entrance, and happened upon the missing Dave - who immediately attacks Duffy, prompting Erickson to shoot him dead. With all this commotion going on, no-one even notices Oscar getting his throat torn out by an unseen assailant.
With renewed faith in Howard's testimony, Erickson visits him the following day for more info on the creature he claims to have encountered ...
UNHUMAN NATURE is a low-budget addition to the currently popular folk horror cycle, flirting as it does with an urban legend of a dispute between island natives and settlers which culminated in a horrendous massacre of women and children in the 19th Century, and even bringing whispers of a Wendigo into the equation.
Director Thor Moreno is aware of his budgetary restrictions and plays to his strengths. The rural California and Iowa locations are chosen well and filmed beautifully in widescreen by cinematographer Raphael Smadja, with many landscape compositions achieving a striking impact. They also complement the steady pace of the action, which is agreeably low-key but never slow-moving. The plot thickens at a deliberate speed, while the transitions between flashback and current-day interview footage are edited together with finesse.
The film is low on gore and special effects, perhaps through necessity, but this allows for a focus on human drama in exchange. I found this approach to be engaging for the large part, thanks largely to an intelligent script (co-written by Morena and lead actor Meirick) and solid performances from most of the cast.
I also enjoyed the score (uncredited - library music, perhaps?), which is a mixture of low sinister hums, children's giggles, reversed violin strokes and electronic beats simulating an increased heartbeat.
UNHUMAN NATURE is a Fearless Cinema production and is currently available to stream for free on Amazon Prime. It's presented in HD in its original 2.35:1 ratio and looks great: sharp, bright and colourful. Detail is fine throughout, while night scenes benefit from sturdy smoothness.
English stereo audio is similarly impressive; optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are well-written and easy to read throughout.
The film is presented uncut at 66 minutes and 33 seconds in length.
While hardly essential and lacking in a satisfying resolution (the end feels quite rushed), UNHUMAN NATURE is a decent entry in the modern folk horror cycle. It takes up just over an hour of your time. There are worse things you could be watching.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Fearless Cinema|