Survival of the Fittest: Natural Selection (1994)

After the dizzying heights of his ’80s successes, the ’90s saw Jack Sholder retreat to the small screen, where Dave unearths one of his best.

With a degree of apathy towards horror movies, and harbouring a not-so-secret desire to follow in the footsteps of his idol Jean Renoir, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) director Jack Sholder begrudgingly kept on coming back to the genre in which he made his name. Not that I have an issue with that – on the contrary, NATURAL SELECTION is a real diamond amongst the buried small screen treasures, and Sholder should take much of the credit for that.

Ben Braden (C. Thomas Howell) is a software programmer who seemingly has it all: a doting wife, an angelic child, and a lavish house. However, a chance encounter at the gym leads to him crossing paths with Alex Connolly (also C. Thomas Howell), a complete stranger, yet one that bears more than a passing physical resemblance to himself. Initially shrugging it off, things take a sinister turn when Alex begins to infiltrate Ben’s personal life, leading him to investigate both his own and Alex’s lineage which leads to a startling revelation.

Where Natural Selection falls short in scientific credibility, it certainly makes up for in terms of sinister melodrama and edge-of-the-seat intrigue. Props to Howell, who balances the task of playing two different characters yet somehow convinces you that you’re watching two totally different actors. Sholder directs the sequences that see both Ben and Alex on-screen with aplomb, all while maintaining the very same illusion thanks in no small part to a good body double and the experienced editing of Caroline Biggerstaff (The Stunt Man (1980), Cutter’s Way (1981)).

Debuting on FOX in the middle of January ’94, it’s Howell’s brat-pack buddy Kiefer Sutherland who serves as Executive Producer on this long-forgotten TV movie, which eventually took a bow in the UK under the alternative title of ‘Dark Reflection’. Ambitious and tense, this rock solid horror-thriller has enough psychological and moral complexity to make even Rod Serling puff contentedly on his Marlboro lights.

USA ● 1994 ● Horror, Thriller, TVM ● 90mins

C. Thomas Howell, Lisa Zane, Miko Hughes ● Dir. Jack Sholder Wri. Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer

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