Film Review: FOUND.

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With Hollywood and the studio system seeming to distance themselves from the horror genre more frequently, and watering down the horror films they do produce into PG-13 jokes with no payoff, horror fans have to turn to independent films more and more to get their fix of blood and mayhem. While a good portion of independent horror suffers from low budgets, inexperienced actors, and amateur production values, there is a growing number of films that defy expectation and dare Hollywood to up their game – or be left in the dust by films that have more interest in going for the jugular than providing sanitized scares to a pre-pubescent crowd. These independent features are filling a void left by the profit-before-product studio films and highly frightening liberal censors (I’m looking at you, MPAA). When thinking of independent horror that both satisfies my love of a good bloodbath AND my love of a solid, thoughtful narrative, I can think of no better recent example than Scott Schirmer’s FOUND.

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Marty (Gavin Brown) in “Found.”

FOUND. (spelled with a period, making my auto-correct go into overdrive) is based on the novella of the same name by Todd Rigney (reviewed here), and, simply put, is both a love-letter to horror fans and an examination of the genre itself – specifically interested in exploring where the fantasy of the genre ends and the horrors of real life begin. A coming of age story, FOUND. tells the story of Marty (newcomer Gavin Brown), a fifth grade loner who is into horror films and graphic novels. Although Marty is well behaved, he is often bullied by his classmates and ignored by his parents. Marty has a secret, though:  his older brother Steve (Ethan Philbeck) is a serial killer who keeps the heads of his victims in a bowling ball bag, hidden in his closet. Unbeknownst to Steve, Marty spends his alone time at home studying the heads of Steve’s victims, horrified but fascinated by his brother’s terrible secret. Only when bullied by his best friend does Marty reveal Steve’s deeds, and this revelation starts a spiral that changes Marty’s life forever.

FOUND.’s story is one that will resonate with many horror fans, encapsulating the morbid fascination of the genre with the sometimes-alienating subject matter. The themes of FOUND. encompass alienated youth, bullying, racism, psychopathy, incest, violence, family trauma, and sexuality, but the most powerful truths in FOUND. are the ones that deal specifically with Marty’s journey. Marty’s fascination with horror and his brother become tempered as the reality of Steve’s slayings set in, and there are times in which Steve’s sickness (and, possibly, their father’s) threatens to overcome Marty – and in these segments, Marty’s internal processes give strength and sensitivity to the horrible proceedings.

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Steve (Ethan Philbeck) in “Found.”

Under Schirmer’s direction, FOUND. is a beautiful and frightening film, just as concerned with the story of a lonely and sensitive boy who is very much lost, as well as the horror and truths that he has “found.” The cinematography by DP (and producer) Leya Taylor is gorgeous, transcending the film’s meager ($8,000) budget. The opening shots of the film, in which we are first introduced to Marty’s ritualistic inspection of Steve’s bowling ball bag, show a loving attention to detail. Much of the film’s atmosphere evokes as much nostalgia for youth as it does horror, and this balance serves mainly to heighten the terrible acts while keeping more sensitive moments true to the emotion. Speaking of atmosphere, the animated title sequence by Lowell Isaac sets the tone of the film perfectly, showing some of the grisly dealings of “Bag Lunch” and “Roach Man,” the two anti-heros from Marty’s graphic novel (here’s hoping that there will be more “Bag Lunch and Roach Man” in the future). While some of the musical cues in the film were still set as “temp tracks” at the time of my viewing, musical contributions from the Bloomington metal band Racebannon kept the tension at a maximum level.

When dealing with a plotline that centers itself on a young boy, it is a hard fact that the film will most likely succeed or fail on the shoulders of its young lead. The filmmakers of FOUND. should be thankful, and be applauded, for finding their lead in Gavin Brown, who plays Marty with a harrowing sensitivity. Viewers will easily emotionally identify with Brown’s Marty, a boy who (like many horror fans – myself very much included) is a loner, mostly due to his macabre tastes. As a horror fan who viewed many a mature-audiences-only film at a very early age, I was immediately taken with Marty and his plight. As Marty’s sociopathic older brother Steve, Ethan Philbeck nearly steals every scene he’s in, displaying both a frightening psychosis and a steadfast devotion to his little brother. Philbeck’s work in FOUND. is top notch, playing a believable (and never over-the-top) killer. Phyllis Munro and Louie Lawless play the parents effectively, with Munro adding brief flashes of genuine caring for Marty, while also staying blind to his plight; Lawless brings some familial truths to the proceedings as a racist, abusive father. Alex Kogin, Edward Jackson, and Adrian Cox-Thurmond all do well as Marty’s classmates/tormentors, while Kate Braun, Andy Alphonse, and Kitsie Duncan all shine in their supporting roles. It is wonderfully refreshing to view an independent film that features such solid work from its actors; considering the age and relative low experience of much of the cast, this is quite a feat.

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The “Headless” Killer (Shane Beasley) inspects his handiwork.

I would be remiss to fail to mention the visual horror on display, and the film’s more visceral moments are due, mostly, to the fabulous work of the special effects team:  Arthur Cullipher, Shane Beasley, and The Clockwerk Creature Company. While most of the violence perpetrated in the film is shown in aftermath (featuring some of the best severed heads this reviewer has seen on screen in some time), the good folks at Clockwerk show off some of their best work in “Headless,” a horror film that Marty and his friend watch during a sleepover. “Headless” is a torture-porn/slasher film in which the skull-masked “Headless killer” (played with frightening ferocity by Beasley) tortures two very unfortunate victims (Angela Denton and Brigid Macaulay). “Headless” provides a majority of FOUND.’s bloodletting, and gorehounds will be happy to know that Cullipher, Beasley and company don’t pull any punches. Considered by itself, “Headless” is an amazing piece of gore cinema; as a part of FOUND., it is a nasty piece of work that, despite its depravity, actually lightens the real horror of the proceedings. The Clockwerk Creature Company also fashioned a full-bodied swamp monster (Dwellie) for the other film watched by Marty, entitled “Deep Dwellers.” In a film featuring a true-to-life killer, it was a refreshing joy to see a monster pop into the proceedings, and Dwellie is a great example of the range of Clockwerk’s expertise – covering the spectrum from the fantastical to the visceral.

For fans of extreme cinema, horror flicks, coming-of-age dramas, and excellent film in general, aficionados need to do themselves a favor and seek out FOUND. immediately. Scott Schirmer has taken Rigney’s effective novella and created a rich and immersive film that delivers on both the story and the thrills. Well acted, well shot, and well produced, FOUND. represents everything that is right in the world of independent cinema, and hopefully will be able to connect with a large audience. Set to play the film festival circuit in the coming year, FOUND. is a film that demands to be viewed, re-viewed, and discussed at length. What FOUND. says about family ties, sexuality, masculinity, and growing up is only matched by what it has to contribute to the horror genre – it’s a shock to the system that rattles the mind as well as churns the guts.

Rating: 5/5 ★★★★★ 

For more information on “Found.,” and other films by Scott Schirmer, visit Chameleon Arts Entertainment here.

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About Nathan_E

Nathan Erdel is a screenwriter. He wrote Headless and some other stuff. He likes beer, metal, pizza, and horror. He has three cats and one wife.

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