With narrative shades reminiscent of 1979’s Prophecy, an ‘old-school’ practical effects approach, a grueling location shoot in Alaskan winter climes and a cast that includes ‘Twin Peaks’’ 1990’s bombshell Sherilyn Fenn, our interest was piqued from the onset. Now at long last, we’re finally able to bring you word on director Hank Braxtan’s wrapped feature Unnatural.
Helmed by Braxtan (who’s upcoming psychological horror feature Chemical Peel is due out via Lionsgate this coming October), Unnatural was produced by Ron Carlson with cinematography by Marc Carter and editing by filmmaker Mike Mendez (Big-Ass Spider), and was shot this past January and February on location in Fairbanks, Alaska. In addition to Fenn, the cast includes James Remar (‘Dexter’), Ray Wise (Jeepers Creepers 2, ‘Twin Peaks’), Graham Greene (The Green Mile), Q’orianka Kilcher (‘Sons of Anarchy’) and Ivana Korab.
‘With many species on the verge of extinction,’ reads the official synopsis of Unnatural, ‘a notorious environmental corporation seeks to genetically modify several animals to survive climate change. When a fashion photographer and his small crew arrive on location in Alaska, they as well as their local guides find themselves thrust into a nightmare when they become prey for one of the escaped creatures. Isolated in the wild, the clock is ticking as they attempt to hold out.’
As for what drew him to the shoot, of which required the director and his crew to brave sub-zero temperatures as they filmed on frozen rivers and in forests alike, Braxtan stated, “Honestly, the first thing that drew me to the material was the producer calling and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to direct a movie?’ That's my favorite kind of movie, right there. But in all seriousness, it was definitely up my alley from the moment the words ‘mutated polar bear’ hit my ears.”
“Growing up, I absolutely loved creature features, and still do,” offered Braxtan of his attraction to the material.
“My favorite films as a kid were all creature features; Predator, Aliens, even Freddy Krueger is a creature effect, and I've always admired the creativity of making a believable monster. If you think about it, you're really asking the audience a lot in order to believe that this outlandish monster could exist. Movies about psycho killers or other plausible antagonists aren't as risky in that fashion and I think, in the end, not as fun.”
Eschewing a CGI realization of the film’s creature, “I always go ‘old school’, and for my part, I will always try to do so,” Braxtan said of his approach.
“It's not that I don't think CGI has a place in filmmaking, it just doesn't have the same soul. I've seen some very impressive CGI, but I never leave the theater wondering how it was done. Not long ago, effects artists had to create things. They had to really think and come up with ways to pull off an effect. I love that kind of thing, and to me, what always drew me to creature features, were the creatures themselves. A movie monster absolutely has to be practical. That's not to say I don't make use of the great tool CGI is, but I try to keep it very limited, and hopefully, like any effect, unnoticed by the audience.”
(Writer’s note: we’ve got to keep the creature shots on the down-low, although from the footage we’ve seen, Amalgamated Dynamics delivered).
We asked Braxtan, aside from the cold, what aspects of shooting on the tundra he found most challenging.
“Nothing, really,” he stated.
“Not to dodge the question completely, but after working at minus thirty-five degrees, I didn't find any other aspect of filming in Alaska to be difficult. Everything was a delight once you got out of the cold. I've done a lot of things in my short life, including serving time in the military, and I have to say that shooting a film in those conditions was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.”
As for working with the famous Fenn (who skyrocketed to acclaim via her character of ‘Audrey Horne’ in David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ in 1990), “She was a doll from the first day!” said Braxtan.
“I felt kinda’ terrible that the instant she stepped on set, I had her wading through waist deep snow. She really had to endure a lot on this film, and sometimes I would wonder if she realized it was going to be this hard when she signed up! Everything always seems so easy on the page, but when you get out there and you feel that indescribable cold, shit gets real.”
As for actor Remar, "James is absolutely great in the movie, and I could go on and on about that, but what really stood out to me was how much he just loved doing it!" enthused the director.
"He wanted to get in that snow, crawl through the trees, and drive that snowmobile. When he wasn't in a shot, he was driving that snowmobile all over the place. He looked genuinely disappointed when we insisted on having the stunt double drive for one of the big 'jump' stunts."
With Unnatural currently in post-production, “There are some interesting scripts coming from both the writer of Chemical Peel, as well as the producer of Unnatural,” said Braxtan of his next possible feature.
“Ideally there will always be a next project, and really, that's all anyone can ask for.”
Stick around for our upcoming interviews with Unnatural stars Fenn and Wise, coming shortly.