Studio: XLrator Media
Director: Scott Schirmer
Writer: Todd Rigney, Scott Schirmer
Producer: Leya Taylor, Damien Wesner
Stars: Gavin Brown, Ethan Philbeck, Phyllis Munro, Louie Lawless, Alex Kogin, Andy Alphonse, Kitsie Duncan, Kate Braun, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Cox-Thurmond, Brigid Macaulay, Angela Denton, Shane Beasley
A young boy with a love of graphic novels and horror movies discovers that his older brother is secretly a serial killer.
Beneath the surface of spotty acting and sharp edges that come with being a fledgling filmmaker’s first feature, “Found” has a sinister story with chilling connotations fighting to break free. In parts, the film even rises above its limitations to dip toes in a hauntingly dark atmosphere. But carelessness when it comes to tastefully handling the more delicate material keeps “Found” from holding steady at a fully fitting stride.
“Found” is a shockingly earnest illustration of both the wonderment and the terror that comes with adapting to adolescence under unfathomable circumstances. Marty is a mostly typical twelve-year-old boy fascinated with the exotic allure of horror movies, illustrating a homemade graphic novel, and discovering what secrets are hidden in his older brother’s closet. Where Marty’s childhood differs from those with similar interests is that Marty’s brother Steve has something other than skin mags and cigarettes tucked away from prying eyes. He has a human head in a bowling ball bag, and the identity of that head changes each week.
Narration can be a sign of lazy filmmaking. Vocal thought bubbles often serve no vital function aside from reiterating what can already be seen, or giving inflated importance to indulgent inner monologues. Both tactics are counterproductive, and a seasoned storyteller knows how to accomplish the same goals through cinematic language instead.
“Found” earns an exception. Adapted from a novella by Todd Rigney, “Found” comes from source material naturally text heavy and framed around a first-person perspective. As an introspective examination of how a confused boy processes thoughts and emotions, Marty’s narration is essential for giving heft and intimacy to the pain he is forced to confront.
Newcomer Gavin Brown is convincing as the younger brother. Marty is as complex as any 12-year-old can possibly be. He is at a difficult age when many might marginalize the struggles of a child with no adult worries to speak of. Yet even when the stress of having a serial killing sibling is off the table, “Found” gives honest sympathy to the plights of loneliness, bullying, and identity struggles in a mature manner, with Brown’s posture, head tilts, and tears aptly accenting each emotion along the way. It is a heartfelt performance and a heartbreaking portrayal of how frightening the transition into adulthood can really be.
The believability Brown embodies is called upon to carry most of the film. Thankfully so, because the supporting performances range from inconsistent to inexperienced. Ethan Philbeck as Steve and Phyllis Munro and Louie Lawless as the parents play some scenes better than they do others. Marty’s kid classmates have trouble finding even one success. It is a case of a homegrown production having to go with available resources, but the amateur nature of certain performances unavoidably hurts the overall impact.
The same goes for the production quality. In particular, the audio has that telltale low-budget ring of cheap and/or improperly oriented microphones lacing some interior dialogue with echoes or garbled distortion. Though if you pass off its flaws in light of the meager budget and relative freshness of the cast and crew involved, “Found” is a remarkable effort that definitely has memorable moments of multi-layered tension.
Where “Found” falls off the balance beam is in how it chooses to showcase gore. Marty and his buddy David spend an abundant multitude of minutes basking in the bloody glory of an unrated slasher trash knockoff named “Headless.” “Found” takes a cheeky route by adding this film within a film where most of the violent sadism can take place, but it goes so far with the imagery that the narrative loses direction in the meanwhile.
The movie’s minor problem of letting scenes go on too long becomes a major hurdle when so much time is given to the “Headless” killer sawing off a woman’s breast, scooping out her eyeballs with a spoon, and then having sex with her decapitated head. Director Scott Schirmer doesn’t need to cross this line in such graphic detail to make his point, and that is the difference between a first-timer and a veteran who knows when to pull back in order to move forward.
Scratching that itch of extreme violence turns into an irresistible urge when the savagery takes a nastier turn during the actual movie’s climax, too. I’m not a “shame on you” Puritan when it comes to uncomfortable depictions of horror, but a 12-year-old boy restrained with a ball gag is a suggestive image that needs to consider its purpose carefully. “Found” does not possess the kid glove finesse it takes to pull off being provocative without being perverted. There is a difference between brutality and depravity. One evokes visceral terror while the other is salaciously senseless, and “Found” treats both interchangeably. Misconstruing these utilities ultimately undermines the credibility of the film’s serious commentary on racism, homophobia, and asserting authority.
The “Headless” scenes in particular helped “Found” earn a ratings ban in Australia, necessitating the snipping of some seven minutes of runtime in order to finally win certification. Without advocating censorship, this might be an instance of a film improving by removing footage of questionable value. The shortened version no doubt plays differently, and I might speculate that it reads as stronger without the needless shock value.
The team behind “Found” has secured Kickstarter funding to turn “Headless” into a full film of its own, with a budget double that which was reported for “Found.” Bringing “Headless” to fruition gives the impression that the creators would rather wallow in splatter when they’ve demonstrated a just-born capability of delivering horror with more meaningful purpose. “Found” is a better movie than how the misguided inclusion of “Headless” and unmotivated gore represents it. I would prefer to be wrong, but I don’t believe going further down that road is the smartest direction for the filmmakers to evolve.
Co-writer/director Scott Schirmer and company come close with “Found,” though I would have been interested to see a version made when everyone behind the camera was several years deeper into their careers. Hard knock experience would curb overzealous desires to bathe in blood that does not serve a story-related goal. And without footing-finding technical shortcomings serving as distractions, “Found” has a core with the potential for a wickedly sharp bite.
Review Score: 65