In a time following the recent tragedy at Parkland, amidst a loud push for gun reform in the U.S., no film is more heavy-hitting than one which takes an up-close look at a school shooter. Written and directed by Chad Scheifele, Natural Selection explores the fictional events leading up to an attempted high-school shooting.
The story centers on Tyler (Mason Dye), a shy, religious teen new in town who befriends the resident rebel with a cause Indrid (Ryan Munzert). It’s obvious to all those but Tyler that his new friend is a bad influence. From the get-go, Indrid spins a web of manipulation which he tries to trap Tyler. We see him do his utmost to isolate Tyler from the other people in his life, with the intent to bring the misunderstood boy into his premeditated plan of attack. A plot like this has promise but is of course dependant on the strength of the production. Unfortunately, this is where Natural Selection falls short.
“…the fictional events leading up to an attempted high-school shooting.”
One of the key issues with this movie is the direction. All 120 minutes feels downright unnatural. The grey, innocuous setting only succeeds in giving the film a very Twilight-esque background, filling it with washed out tones. Its exaggerated cinematic angles are a mixed bag. The script manages to be both too dull and too sensationalized. Natural Selection’s only saving grace is its young cast. Munzert’s dark tortured take on Indrid is easily one of the main reasons to watch through to the end. Regrettably, that’s not saying much, as he is one of the few characters that demonstrates any level of complexity
Film protagonist Tyler is uncharismatic but is still able to attract sympathy thanks to the versatility of Dye’s performance. Katherine McNamara, known for Netflix hit Shadowhunters, commits to her role as love interest Paige but at times delivers an over-dramatic rendition (Spoiler alert! She cries…a lot). Playing Mr. Stevenson, school cop, Anthony Michael Hall isn’t on-screen enough to make much of a difference. Everyone else just adds to the flat tone of the film.
This brings to light another shortcoming: a cast that struggles to connect. It’s clear that Scheifele intended to emphasize the bond between the two leading characters in order to progress the story. Dye and Munzert individually manage to command the screen, but together they disappointedly lack chemistry. When you should be contemplating their downward spiral, you’re instead left to wonder why the two are even friends in the first place.
“…instead left to wonder why the two are even friends in the first place.”
With such riveting, emotional subject matter, you want Natural Selection to succeed. You want to be thrust into the throes of the darkness that must exist in the days leading up to a person’s decision to become a school shooter. As the final credits roll, you want to emerge from this film completely shattered, grieving, and angry that this fictional narrative is very close to countless realities in American schools today.
Woefully, Natural Selection is unable to deliver. From the script to production quality, it plays off as overdone and out of touch. Still, what makes it worth watching are newcomers Munzert, Dye and McNamara. Although not entirely consistent, they manage to salvage the wreckage and turn it into a piece that will undoubtedly have you scanning their IMDb pages for other work.
A one-dimensional depiction of a heart-wrenching topic, Scheifele’s Natural Selection ultimately fails to make us feel what it should.
Natural Selection (2016) Written and directed by Chad Scheifele. Starring Katherine McNamara, Anthony Michael Hall, Mason Dye, Amy Carlson, Ryan Munzert.
2 out of 5 stars