The reclamation of relevance, the affirmation to the world that you still mean something and still have some gas in the tank to make your mark upon it, can be a powerful narrative device in the realm of horror filmmaking. Anthony Cousins’ deceptively silly-titled debut feature, Frogman, is an exploration of these themes in the guise of a seemingly run-of-the-mill found footage movie that dares to mix up expectations and narrative structures to create something fresh but familiar, something just knowable enough to pull in for an unexpectedly wild premise that revolves around an anthropomorphic frog. With a wand.

Frogman is the story of Dallas, a hopeful young filmmaker who has come to realize that his best years might be behind him. As a child, he enjoyed a brief bout of celebrity when a picture he took of the fabled Loveland Frog became the Surgeon’s Photo of the creature. Now, as an adult, he is living at his sister’s after a relationship has fallen apart and is roundly mocked by obnoxious YouTubers for squeezing his childhood photo for every drop of relevancy. Determined to show the world he’s not lying and that he actually saw such a creature all those years ago, Dallas sets off with two of his closest friends to capture evidence of the mythical creature and show the world he’s not some washed up, quasi child star. Unsurprisingly, the trio soon find themselves in over their heads in a psychedelic, Wicker Man-by-Lovecraft, amphibious nightmare.

What sets Cousins’ film apart from other stories of American cryptid folklore is how deeply weird it is. Cousins could have very easily let the film rest on the laurels of most found footage monster films: unlucky crew ventures out into the wilderness, finds out the legend is real, and they’re picked off one by one. Cousins chooses to take a different route, injecting a healthy dose of cosmic horror into an otherwise boilerplate monster story. There’s more than a touch of Lovecraft present; Loveland’s secretive citizens would be more than at home in Innsmouth. It’s just enough off the beaten path to carry a mundane premise across the finish line.

An unexpectedly emotional core to the film is Dallas’ passion to prove the world wrong. It’s a drive that borders on desperation and mania, and what makes it all the more real and powerful is his friends believing in him, even if he is pursuing a giant frog. No matter how absurd the idea is, they’re there for him in a genuine way. It’s a strangely touching concept in a film about an Abe Sapien-like creature wielding a wand as it wanders the back roads of the Ohio river country, but it really helps push the movie from goofy to almost poignant.

The key to any successful found footage story is having believable characters and believable shooting. Unlike the majority of found footage, Frogman feels like we’re actually seeing footage shot by people on the run from…whatever. There’s a lot of footage that you can’t really see much in, which might be frustrating if you’re hoping for a lot of Frogman action, but it lends the film a sense of reality. And the seemingly mundane bickering between the characters feels like the frustrated arguments between a group of people fed up with their dear leader’s bullshit, just wanting to get out of the wilderness.

Frogman won’t change your mind if you hate found footage films, but it’s a fun movie with a lot of heart that does a lot with very little.