'Found' is an occasionally elegiac but mostly amateurish slice of suburban horror
Found XLrator Media
Director: Scott Schirmer
Screenplay: Scott Schirmer, based on the novel by Todd Rigney
Starring: Gavin Brown, Ethan Philbeck, Phyllis Munro, Louie Lawless and Alex Kogin
Not rated / 1 hour, 43 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
Found is a film sharply divided between fascinating and terrible. Its contemplative and emotionally complex impulses reveal a piece of work of impressive, serious-minded ambition, and yet many of its scenes are hopelessly amateurish, to such an extent that they resist much comparison to professional filmmaking.
And yet it would not surprise me one bit if Scott Schirmer - the film's director, writer and editor - were to one day make a damn good horror movie. There is a clear confidence at work from the outset, and it's for good reason; the way the mournful musical score and quiet, matter-of-fact narration buttresses the horror introduced by the opening images, Schirmer immediately captures a distinctive tone. In that opening passage, we catch a glimpse of the movie Found wants to be - elegant, disturbing, and sincere in its sorrow.
But then full scenes start to play out, and characters actually have to start talking to one another, and the mood snaps in an instant. There are whole sequences that are virtually no better or more competent than the camcorder-shot amateur movies you made with your friends when you were a teenager. The acting - particularly from the adults in the cast - is often painful, singlehandedly dismantling even the scenes that may have otherwise worked.
That's not to say the eerie effectiveness of the film's early moments disappears permanently - it comes back from time to time, but never stays for long. One remarkably savage and bizarre segment late in the film is particularly strong - once again, almost entirely on the strength of its mood, with its ghastly centerpiece shot mollified by the somber buzzing of the score and the earnest (if horrifying) expression of unhinged emotional release.
If only the rest of the movie were that well put-together. Schirmer seems much more confident in his editing than he does in staging and blocking his scenes. It makes for such a frustrating experience, I began to wish he would have made the whole movie with as few words as possible, allowing the events to speak for themselves and for the mood to take over and do the rest.
Instead, we get far too many awkwardly staged moments and poorly delivered lines. If you accept or forgive the obvious shortcomings (to put it nicely) of Found, you're basically grading on a curve. Sorry, but ineptitude is ineptitude, and this movie has far too much of it to be taken seriously.
Based on a novel by Todd Rigney, Found examines the emotional and moral haze of a young boy who discovers that his older brother is a serial killer. Potentially lurid material, but the film takes a melancholy approach that grounds the story, deliberately making the horror feel somewhat mundane. In certain moments, like when Marty (Gavin Brown) sneaks into his older brother's room to sneak a glance at his latest decapitated head - which he keeps in a bowling bag in his closet - border on the dreamlike. As you watch this 12-year-old kid unzip the bag to reveal the latest emblem of his once-loving brother's psychosis, you almost feel lightheaded. No pun intended.
Steve (Ethan Philbeck), the brother, is cartoonishly typical as the distant, angry suburban son - the way he talks back to his parents, barricades himself in his bedroom, refuses to smile - so there's no real contrast to the impression painted by his violent extracurricular activities. Which is fine - it just doesn't allow for much room for the character to breathe.
The film surrounds Marty's discovery of his brother's actions with various attempts at commentary, all equally flat. Both boys have a predilection for violent horror movies - which their father encourages and their mother frowns upon - and Steve quite explicitly uses one movie in particular as direct inspiration for his killing methods. (Yawn.) Then there's the racial commentary, as the racist father's attitudes toward minorities have been passed on directly to his oldest son, whose murders are committed mostly against black women.
And finally, there's the matter of Steve's growing effect on his little brother, as we see Marty gradually shift from meek and forgiving to aggressive and bitter, thanks largely to big brother's advice and influence. Shopworn material is OK by me, but in this case it feels like it's being shoehorned in to give artificial meaning to a thin narrative.
Found is peculiar enough that it's inherently interesting on some level, and in its moodiest and most mature moments - especially very early and very late - it's a promising film. But the rest of the time, it hardly feels like a real movie at all.