FOUND (2012)

Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on August 19, 2014, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

Anyone who follows the independent horror scene knows that the title of Found does not refer to the footage; rather, this is an impressively composed and assured example of what can be done with minuscule funds but sizable ambition.

Found was made on a four-figure budget by director Scott Schirmer, who also scripted with Todd Rigney based on the latter’s novel. The book is fertile source material, with a great setup: What happens when an adolescent boy discovers that his older brother is a serial killer? As the movie opens, that has already occurred: Marty (Gavin Brown) has discovered that his sibling Steve (Ethan Philbeck) has a habit of keeping severed heads in a bowling bag in his closet. He’s not as distressed about this as the average 12-year-old might be, in part because he has a fascination with horrific stuff, drawing gruesome comics with a friend and subsisting on a steady diet of fright flicks on video. (The time period isn’t specified, but we’re evidently in the ’80s or early ’90s, as those movies are enjoyed on VHS.)

One of the nice things about Found is that it doesn’t preach to either potential choir about the connection between screen violence and the real-life kind. In this scenario, watching horror doesn’t automatically turn someone violent; it’s rather a symptom of a life that already has dark clouds hovering over it. Marty is ignored by his father (Louie Lawless), misunderstood by his mother (Phyllis Munro) and an outcast at school, where he’s targeted by bullies. The early scenes of Found do a fine job of establishing the relationships between Marty, Steve and their parents, and between Marty and his peers, laying the groundwork for even more troubling developments to come. Schirmer also demonstrates a deft hand at visually establishing his themes, too: Watch the scene where Marty finds his dad’s stash of porno mags, in which their contents are shot to obscure the faces of the models, one naked body bisected by the gutter at the center of the spread.

Any twisted coming-of-age story like this wouldn’t work at all without the right kid at its center, and Schirmer has discovered a remarkable talent in Brown. The young actor is completely naturalistic and instantly empathetic, and beyond that, it’s clear he truly understands his character, enacting a boy who’s not intrinsically bad, but trying to resist and deal with negative influences that threaten to push him in that direction—and, in the case of Steve, perhaps threaten his own life as well. Making his story even more compelling is the way in which Schirmer occasionally suggests that Marty may not be a completely reliable narrator, and some of Found’s tension derives not from the violent acts or potential for same, but from waiting to learn the whole truth about what’s going on.

That approach involves not seeing the gory details of Steve’s activities, though we do get good looks at a few of his severed trophies. Any movie containing the line “I’ve seen lots of horror movies, and the heads in those things don’t come close to looking like the real thing” is really setting itself up, and the makeup FX by Arthur Cullipher and Shane Beasley are good enough in the real-world moments to get away with it. (They’re more intentionally exaggerated in Headless, a sadistic slasher-film-within-the-film that Marty watches, and is now set to be turned into a real movie itself.) In general, Found boasts a strong sense of craft even given its limited funds, particularly the cinematography by Leya Taylor, also one of the producers; a scene that begins with Marty hiding under a train is particularly evocative in its lighting.

As Found’s horror loses its ambiguity and becomes more literal in the home stretch, though, it loses a bit of its grip and psychological resonance, as Marty’s destination is more on-the-nose and beholden to genre standards than his journey. (A bit of unintended irony is that Brown’s characterization is so good and sustained throughout, it points up a few unsteady or unrefined performances among the supporting cast.) In addition, there’s an odd racial undertone—Steve and Dad both spout anti-black invective, and Marty’s chief tormentor is African-American—that feels half-formed.

Still, if Found falls down here and there, it does so while aspiring to—and largely achieving—heights many microbudget genre films don’t even attempt, and it points toward a bright future for Schirmer on the horror-filmmaking scene. He’s the real thing, and so is Brown.

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