Natural Selection full movie review - Still waters sometimes run very deep
I wasn't at all prepared for this home-grown, strangely moving indie from PA. I found it on DirecTV and these low-budget films are many times a real crap shoot.
Two things made me give it a try: 1) An opportunity to see Anthony Michael Hall in more than a cursory walk- on role (a nicely nuanced performance) and 2) The obvious devotion that director Chad Scheifele has to this project. He made a short film of the same title 6 years ago, penned a book, and he's now made a full length feature. As a writer myself, I understand the attachment to something you've poured a lot of yourself into. Scheifele obviously thinks it's been worth the effort. It is.
Let's clear the air about a few things first. This isn't a John Hughesy movie, despite Hall's ghostly presence as a security cop on a high school campus. It's not full of a lot of slick airbrushed teen models spouting witty catch phrases (no offense; I love JH). The script is thoughtful, spare, and not afraid to use silence, which I really liked a lot. It also doesn't appear to be (and I may be wrong) one of those Christian Coalition sponsored movies that attempts to push a Christian Message down your throat. Excepting the occasional mentions of God and Jesus, it never really takes that coarse of a path.
Tyler (Mason Dye) is the new kid in town and from the start it's obvious that he's the one taking care of his mom (Amy Carlson), an alcoholic, pill-popper who couldn't find her car keys if they were glued to her face. Tyler's only other friend at school besides good- girl Paige (Katherine McNamara) is the enigmatic, hostile Indrid Wardin (nice anagram, BTW). Indrid takes Tyler under his wing in a move that at first seems altruistic, but eventually reveals more sinister undertones. It's obvious Indrid's a man on a mission and it's not one with any sort of happy ending.
While this type of plot twist is nothing new, Scheifele doesn't really villainize Indrid the way you'd expect, nor does he wreath Tyler in a golden glow. These are both troubled boys and it doesn't take a PhD to figure out why they're screwed up. Natural Selection's themes are very basic and some might say even over-simplified, but the script and performances are so unadorned that it sells itself in it's genuineness.
Ryan Munzert's Indrid is definitely the dark spark here, but Mason Dye's introverted Tyler is in a way just as intriguing, a boiling pot ready to silently explode at any moment. Scheifele's direction and his competent crew's work isn't showy and doesn't draw attention to itself, but it matches the muted mood perfectly.
There's a lot to relate to here for most people with the patience to look for it. And it's a relief to know that a labor of love, about love --- love at it's purest, basest level --- can be made and made well.