Some unfortunate marital problems force a father to take an impromptu camping trip with his son. Hoping to escape his problems just for a little while he and his son enjoy serenity of nature, things actually become worse for the man. At the camp site, he continuously has bizarre encounters with the other campers but the confrontations he has with a man named Carl quickly go from bizarre to dark and eventually violent. A quiet camping trip becomes a fight for survival as the father has to forgo his usual passive nature in order to defend himself and his son from the psychotic Carl.
There's something to be said about the insecurities of men. I'm not talking about penis size either. No, I mean the second most predominant thing we constantly question and worry about is our masculinity. As the years continue to pass, most men tend to lose those primitive hunter-and-gatherer parts that we often use to measure the stature of our machismo. Generally we remain content with this loss as it doesn't seem necessary with modern times yet it remains as a fear that we won't measure up to those who are deemed rugged. The last of the manly-men. Johan Liedgren taps into that insecurity with his film "Mother Nature" as a middle-class white-collar man takes his son into the woods for a camping trip and ends up having to confront the issues from his everyday life that he's trying to avoid.
A nameless father and his son, Elliot, head out into the woods to go camping in the wilderness of Washington due to some marital problems at home. Once there, the father has confrontations with several other campers: a redneck family, a sexually aggressive woman and a strange man, named Carl, and his even stranger wife who seem to take offense at the very presence of Elliot's father. As the day wears on and the night comes, the redneck family and the woman uproot and take off, leaving Carl and the father alone where each unpleasant confrontation is worse than the next with results of impending violence. It soon becomes apparent that only one of these men will be leaving the woods alive.
"Mother Nature" caught my attention with a rather nondescript trailer that seemed to only indicate that it would be a survivalist-thriller-esque type of a movie. Which it was and with an incredible amount of suspense but what I found most fascinating was the way that it dealt with the often unspoken insecurities of men. In a way, it reminded me of "Straw Dogs" where Dustin Hoffman's character, a pacifist, has to deal with what it means to be a man as a husband. In "Mother Nature" the unnamed Father character deals with what it means to be a man as a father to a son. Having to face a suppressed fear of, "Am I able to raise a boy into a man? A man that can meet the social standards of manhood?"
The Father character is indicative to how most men are these days -- less emphasis on masculinity and more on contentment -- and what happens when his passive nature is challenged by all things that questions where he stands as a man. The Father is so set on avoiding confrontations that he is even willing to degrade himself if it means resolving the issue without having to take a stand. You begin to realize that this meek and complacent personality is the cause of his personal problems, particularly his marital problems. When the Father seeks solace out in the woods with his son, he not only is confronted with these problems but is forced to deal with them. Each interaction is reflective of what it is he is avoiding: A redneck family that takes his reserved camping spot and claims it as their own. A sexually aggressive woman who intimidates him. And finally, a psychopath that takes great offense to the Father's presence and constantly challenges him with physical altercations and threatens his fatherhood.
That's where a majority of the tension lies within "Mother Nature". It's watching this believable and relatable character deal with these conflicts. As odd as it sounds, even his interaction with the sexually aggressive woman who is both attracted to and disgusted by the Father creates a great amount of tension. From the start of the movie, you know it's building to something. Each confrontation is slowly cranking up the levels -- something has to give and someone is going to snap. But when and who? "Mother Nature" does become a bit of a standard survivalist tale when the Father finally has to face off with Carl -- the psychotic man who finds the Father's inferiority to be unacceptable -- and you realize that everything is going to come to boil at the climax and only one man will be leaving the woods.
It is unfortunately the least interesting aspect of the movie and the eventual resolution, while believable, is a little unsatisfactory. However, it's something that I don't believe causes a great deal of harm to the overall quality of the movie because more time is spent focusing on the Father, who he is as a character, and the often weird yet tense interactions he has on what should have been a simple camping trip. What transpires between the Father and Carl is a culmination of all those fears, anxieties and insecurities of manhood and whether or not he will conform to what is expected out of him as a man, or will he defend himself and his son as he is.
Then again, maybe this is a gross over-analyzation of the movie. Either way, "Mother Nature" will definitely not appeal to a number of people due to the more unusual directions Johan Liedgren took with the movie of bouncing between a survivalist themed thriller, to a more artistically expressed movie that focuses what it is to be a man. The movie seemed to fizzle out by the climax but it creates enough tension in the beginning and carries it throughout most of the runtime that it was still satisfying by the end credits. The performances were solid, cinematography was beautiful. I found "Mother Nature" to a be a tense and engaging viewing experience. It's a movie that I'd recommend to those who enjoy films along the lines of "Straw Dogs" or even "Eden Lake".