Ryan Munzert was the only good thing about Natural Selection

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(I included the video because I didn’t want to have to write a summary myself.)

Let’s be honest. Natural Selection (2015) had an interesting premise (albeit one that has been tried and done before) but its overall execution was barely short of terrible. The acting was awkward. The blocking of the scenes felt off, as if the actors were always a couple of seconds behind. The dialogue was painful to sit through at times. The film strives to achieve too much, its main flaw ultimately being that it tried to take on too many storylines within a span of only 1 hour and 41 minutes. There were too many loose ends, unanswered questions and unsatisfying, even shallow, development of the issues at hand, leaving me constantly questioning, “What was the point of that interaction? That could have been taken out, and something more purposeful put in.”

I did consider briefly if that was supposed to be the point. A film that is messy and feels incredibly unresolved is probably the truest mimicry of real life. After all, real life doesn’t come neatly packaged like a cinematic documentary. Real life is convoluted and full of random small talk and little interactions that don’t matter, that go in one ear and out the other. Sadly, though, if that was what Natural Selection was aiming for, then I think it sacrificed a lot of the traditional components of cinema that make good films so magnetic to watch.

So, the only shining light in this franchise? Ryan Munzert’s portrayal of Indrid. The character of Indrid is probably the most interesting of the whole bunch, but the way Munzert brings him to life is just fascinating, and adds a whole other dimension to the character. He’s different from everyone else right from the start. He’s got his quirks and is unconventional, right down to his name.

“Indrid? What kind of an odd name is that?”

“Tyler? What kind of an ordinary name is that?”

ryan munzert mason dyes

He’s obviously meant to be the bad guy, but the best bad guys are always ones that are likeable. The ones that you know you should hate, but can’t, not completely. Indrid may make offhand, totally inappropriate insults, be a shitty friend, and be crooked in the head, what with all his manipulation and his superior god complex, but he’s also witty, charming, funny and personable. He’s not a flat, polarized character, but one that is at the heart of it human. If I could pick one perfect moment of audio and visual combination to symbolize the beautiful depths of this character, it would be when he’s in his bedroom, listening to soft, elegant piano music—and holding a gun. You can tell he’s envisioning the people he’d like to put a bullet through as he casually aims and shoots blanks. That was a powerful peak that ramped up the suspense and tension to high gear for the rest of the film.

Throughout the film, we get a constant sense of impending doom, of this delusional mind storing up more and more hate for the world, until the grand moment when he snaps and pulls out a gun on the school. This was a character that really left an impression, that was addictive to watch, and I think was the only one well and truly developed. Indrid is a complex, delusioned character with a lot of hatred just simmering below the surface, and that’s exciting to watch.

As Director Chad L. Scheifele said in an exclusive interview with Alienbee,

Ryan brought a whole different side to the character that wasn’t totally there from the start. Indrid was always viewed as just a pessimistic dude that the audience overall didn’t like. Ryan, on the other hand, made Indrid funny, outgoing and likeable while also having him equally cold-hearted, dark and callus (sic). This was extremely important to me because I wanted the audience to like him at times and not just paint him into a corner of always being the bad guy. Ryan brought the perfect balance of the character to the screen and he nailed it.

—Alien Bee; Director Chad L. Scheifele talks new film Natural Selection

I had so many favourite Indrid moments. His passionate, derisive monologue on love (“Without love, then what? What would people do with themselves?”), his calm defiance and arrogant disrespect when interacting with Tyler’s mom in her own apartment, his dark explanation of natural selection in the classroom, the unveiling of the tragedy in his past (“Everyone makes mistakes…” “But not everyone pays for them.” Cue the ominous music.), and, possibly most of all, his explosive rant at his sister.

ryan munzert natural selection

“You know what your problem is? And the whole world’s problem is? You judge people by their size and not by what they’re capable of.”

“And what could you possibly be capable of?”

This is the clincher. The quiet brilliance of the film is illuminated with moments like these. His sister means it in a derogatory way, implying that Indrid does not have potential, that he is worthless and will never amount to anything. But, in that long moment in which Indrid stares at his sister ominously, a smile in his eyes, we can all see the wheels spinning in his head, the plan he’s been sitting on for so long, just waiting for the right moment to unleash on the world. “You have no fucking idea,” he whispers, barely able to contain his glee. His sister is suitably horrified.

After all, we truly don’t know what any of us are capable of.

ryan munzert as indrid

Munzert is surprisingly, and sadly, not very well known. A quick Google search of his name didn’t bring up anything apart from a couple of sporadic short clips of his parts in other films. But he won a Best Actor award for his role in this film, one that I wholeheartedly believe he earned, and I’m excited to see what other films he puts out there.

It’s weird. What drew me to the film originally was the fact that Shadowhunters’ Katherine McNamara was starring in it. Every time she had a scene, I did a little squeal. She, and her relationship with Tyler, was the counterbalancing light to the progressive dark turn that the film took. I found her dynamic with Indrid incredibly intriguing. I don’t completely understand why Indrid has such an intense dislike of her specifically—I assume it’s because he wanted to control Tyler, but Tyler had his head elsewhere, smitten as he was with Paige—, but when Indrid gave Paige that earful in the hallways, it was literally hair-raising.

“Do you know how many people would kill—kill—to have your life? You haven’t had to worry about a goddamn thing since the day you were born. You have no idea what a bad day really feels like.”

“But, one day. One day, you will.”

natural selection ryan munzert katherine mcnamara

He shames and blames Paige, striding away and even looking back once to make sure he’s achieved his goal of making her cry. And then it cuts to the next scene where he’s grinning so broadly, it’s amazing his face doesn’t crack! Again, brilliant, that immediate contrast between his two personalities. It really drives home the depths of Indrid’s duality.

Oh, how Indrid feels cheated by the world. He looks down on anyone who has privilege, who goes about life carefree while he has so many demons to contend with. That scene made me wish there were more interactions between Paige and Indrid. I know this isn’t the point, but I could actually ship them together, because that would be such a compelling story route to go down. Plus, they have more chemistry as enemies than Paige and Tyler do as a couple. But, yes, I can see how that would be an out-of-character move for Indrid.

McNamara generally did well in the film, but one thing I couldn’t wrap my mind around about her character was that she was ever with that tool Matt in the first place. They were dating?! It was a “Wait, what the macaroni?” moment when Matt came up to her at her locker and broke up with her (by the way, also one of the harshest ways to dump someone) because there had been absolutely no signs that they were in a relationship. Not for even one second did Paige ever look at Matt with any affection. Their one scene together before the breakup was her shoving his book into his hands and giving ‘his seat’ to the new kid. Um, okay, you don’t always have to sit next to your significant other in class, but I’d be hardpressed to believe that one would be so blatantly rude to their SO about not sitting next to them, especially when the person they’re choosing to sit next to is a guy she clearly likes more than said SO. Also, she basically calls him out as an asshole and that he deserved the way she treated him in class the day before. So many things wrong with this! Why was she with an asshole, as she has absolutely no problem admitting, when she’s supposed to be this super sweet girl with a level head on her shoulders? I was so pumped that she put him in his place when he came crawling back to her—which brings me to my next point.

The fact that he even came crawling back to her. The fact that they were together in the first place. Like, I get that they set them up to create the necessary drama throughout the film to bring Paige and Tyler closer together, and then further apart, but everything about it smacked of artificial construction without even the most tenuous string of genuine connection. Therefore, it was simply unbelievable. Their relationship was basically told to us rather than shown. If they were hoping that viewers would just roll with it, well, this viewer couldn’t. And I think that’s a general sentiment for the whole show and why I felt it came across as quite awkward—because things were just presented to us not so much in actions but in words, as if that should be enough to convince me as to the depth of these characters.

Phew! That was a long review! Even though I had a lot of criticisms for Natural Selection, I’m still glad that I watched it, if only that I witnessed the acting genius that is Munzert. So, I came for Kat but stayed for Ryan. Rating Munzert’s performance alone, I’d give it a 20 out of 10. The film itself, I would give a 2 out of 5, possibly a 2.5 if you catch me on a good day.

You can watch the movie on Netflix.

natural selection poster kat mcnamara ryan munzert

Natural Selection (2015)

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