Frogman Review: An Oozy Ode to ’90s Found Footage Horror

Found footage horror has been done to death over the past couple decades, but every so often a film comes along that breathes new life into the shaky cam chaos. Frogman had all the ingredients to be that revitalizing breath of fresh air – an intriguing real-life cryptid mythology to draw from, a nostalgic camcorder aesthetic that immediately transports you back to the 90s heyday of The Blair Witch Project, and a strong core trio of friends whose complicated dynamics and history provide relatable emotional anchors amidst the escalating supernatural insanity.

While director Anthony Cousins’ film doesn’t entirely stick the landing, getting bogged down at times by familiar found footage tropes, it’s still a highly entertaining and oftentimes clever romp through the Ohio woods in search of the legendary, bipedal Frogman creature.

With clear reverence for the classics that blazed this horror trail before it, yet an admirable willingness to chart its own audacious path into Lovecraftian cult territory, Frogman overcomes its familiar foundations through sheer inventiveness, a game cast, and a wholehearted commitment to practical creature madness.

It may not rewrite the horror rulebook, but for fans of cryptids, folklore-inspired frights, and creative low-budget storytelling, this frog’s ribbit is well worth a listen. Gripping you with its plucky ambition from the outset, Frogman makes a solid case for why the found footage format still has unexpected places to go.

Frogman Review

The core premise of Frogman is deceptively simple – three old friends, Dallas (Nathan Tymoshuk), Scotty (Benny Barrett), and Amy (Chelsey Grant), venture into the woods near the town of Loveland, Ohio to investigate the urban legend of a massive, bipedal frog-creature. Dallas is the driving force, haunted since childhood by a brief glimpse of the so-called “Frogman” that he caught on camcorder during a family vacation back in 1999. His obsession to prove the creature’s existence has strained his relationships and left his dreams of becoming a filmmaker floundering.

This quest then is about more than just capturing evidence of a monster – it’s Dallas’ last ditch effort to validate a formative life experience and silence the doubters who have mocked his “hoax” for decades. Tymoshuk imbues Dallas with the perfect mixture of impassioned determination and world-weariness, making you root for his underdog mission even as his tunnel vision blinds him to potential dangers. His chemistry with the more skeptical Scotty and Amy is incredibly naturalistic, with the three friends’ complicated history providing a solid base to build tension upon.

While the setup is somewhat boilerplate for a found footage horror, Frogman quickly establishes its own quirky identity and willingness to get delightfully weird and meta with the premise. The escalating strangeness in the town of Loveland, from a shopkeeper hawking ludicrous Frogman merchandise to the suggestions of a deeper cult-like appreciation for the creature, starts to blur the line between what’s real and what’s manufactured for the documentary. This sly, self-aware approach allows Cousins to poke fun at found footage conventions while still maintaining the suspension of disbelief.

Where Frogman really flexes its creative muscles is in its inspired creature design and practical effects work. Early glimpses of the titular Frogman are appropriately fleeting – a shadowy figure in the woods, an unsettling croaking from the darkness. But as the hapless trio gets in over their heads, the movie goes full tilt into gloriously grotesque, Lovecraftian body horror territory.

The Frogman itself is an amazingly realized mesh of human and amphibian features, moving with an unnatural loping gait that will have your skin crawling. Even more disturbing are the cult members who worship the creature, their bodies disfigured by oozing warts and protruding eyes in a way that feels ripped straight from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft himself. These aren’t CGI monstrosities, but exquisitely crafted practical effects that ooze an unsettling tangibility.

It’s a level of committed madness that is startlingly ambitious for a low-budget found footage affair. Cousins doesn’t hold back in shoving his camera operators (and by extension, the audience) into the slimy, inescapable heart of his deranged Frogman mythology. The night vision-drenched climax is a hallucinatory descent into primal body horror chaos that pulls no punches in its unrelenting onslaught of visceral imagery.

For horror fans jaded by the constant barrage of cheaply rendered CGI monstrosities, there’s a raw, punk rock spirit to Frogman’s proudly practical approach that is impossible to ignore. It’s the kind of deliriously unrestrained creativity from a clearly impassioned filmmaker that the genre was built on. Even if the found footage framing device grows a bit strained by the end, you can’t say Cousins didn’t pour his soul into this demented vision.

As much as the film gets gnawingly right in its wild third act exploration of small-town cryptid lore gone horribly awry, there are times when Frogman still can’t quite transcend the conventions it’s sending up. Despite the strong character work early on, the constant questioning of “why are we still filming?” from the friends starts to ring hollow as the danger escalates. You find yourself wishing they’d occasionally just drop the cameras and run.

Similarly, while the climactic creature encounters are a masterclass in grotesque practical effects, they are filmed and edited in that same frantic, incoherent shaky-cam style that has become far too prevalent in modern found footage affairs. There’s certainly a gritty authenticity to the approach, but it also makes it maddeningly difficult to actually discern what’s happening amidst the chaos at times.

Ultimately, Frogman’s biggest strength and weakness is its unabashed love for and adherence to the found footage format’s roots. By proudly embracing the grainy, DIY aesthetics of late 90s classics like The Blair Witch Project, it captures a refreshing sense of guerilla-style horror filmmaking at its scrappiest. However, that dedication to verisimilitude also means falling into some of the subgenre’s most tired and distracting tropes along the way.

Yet even with those familiar pitfalls, it’s hard not to get swept up in the movie’s admirable ambition and passion for clever, effects-driven horror on a shoestring budget. Frogman doesn’t represent a major evolutionary leap for found footage, but more of a celebratory look back at what made the format so exciting in the first place – a simple premise stretched to outrageously mad extremes through crafty camera trickery and an endless well of ghoulish imagination.

Frogman (2023)
Frogman (2023)

The Bottom Line on Frogman

For horror fans who have grown numb to the constant onslaught of generic found footage jump scares and cheap digital trickery, Frogman will likely feel like a refreshing throwback. A clear labor of love that wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeves, the film is a delirious, no-holds-barred ode to the scrappy simplicity and handmade horrors that made the subgenre so exciting in the first place.

Director Anthony Cousins swings for the fences with an admirably committed, practical effects-driven descent into small-town cryptid madness that pushes the outrageous premise to its grotesquely Lovecraftian limits. While it can’t fully escape some of the format’s more tired tropes and the frenetic shaky-cam can obscure as much as it reveals, there’s an undeniable punk rock spirit to Frogman’s go-for-broke ambition.

It won’t win over any detractors of found footage, but for fans who revel in the subgenre’s scrappy ingenuity and wonderfully weird mythology-building, Cousins’ film is a lovingly crafted reminder of why the format still has scary surprises lurking around every corner. An energetic, slimy, and thoroughly entertaining celebration of low-budget horror at its most unhinged.

Frogman gets a 3.5 out of 5 stars from me – an imperfect but admirable addition to the found footage canon that introduces a memorable new creature for the pantheon. For cryptid enthusiasts and lovers of gloriously oozy practical creature effects, this is a can’t-miss cult item.

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