Making its Toronto Premiere at the After Dark Film Festival was Scott Schirmer‘s independent horror-drama Found – an adaptation of the novel by Todd Rigney about a bullied fifth grader, Marty, who finds out his brother is secretly a serial killer. Produced on a shoestring budget, Schirmer’s film is a shining example of what can be achieved through strong writing and sharp direction, and has earned a great deal of praise for its complex themes and shocking finale.
The film operates much of the time as a family drama, with several weighty themes thrown around (racism, homophobia, bullying, domestic abuse) against the emerging backdrop of a far more sinister story. These elements hold varying degrees of importance to the overall plot as young Marty attempts to keep his life from spiraling out of control; yet each has a specific role in shaping his character, as well as that of his psychotic brother Steve.
As the story progresses, Marty struggles to see the world from his brother’s perspective in an attempt to find some sort of rational understanding of his murderous habits. Steve’s continual attempts to help or protect Marty from those who hurt and abuse him suggests a moral compass of sorts, but by the end of the film it becomes brutally clear that this side of him will always remain secondary to the biological needs that drives his urge to kill. As Marty states following a particularly touching conversation with his brother, “This is the Steve I miss. Why did there have to be two Steves?” By the time the credits roll, we are shown who this “other” Steve is, and he is far worse than Marty could have ever imagined.
Schirmer speaks to the larger implications of the horror genre itself through a few “film within a film” sequences, which come to contain the vast majority of Found‘s on-screen violence. The centrepiece film entitled Headless holds the most lasting impact, presented as a repulsive exercise in shock-horror which pushes the boundaries of what we are comfortable watching as viewers. It seems gratuitous for the sake of excess – a point which actor Shane Beasley (who portrays the fictional “skull mask” killer) clearly understands and embraces with his gloriously over-the-top performance.
The film is contextualized by continual cuts back to young Marty and his friend who are watching it on TV. While his friend relishes in the “unrated” blood and guts of it all, Marty struggles to keep his eyes on the screen, due to an emerging fear that his brother is, in reality, a reflection of the sick and twisted killer he is watching. His inability to separate the film from reality is a direct result of the horrors that permeate his everyday life, drawing parallels to the ways in which his world has transformed into that of a horror film, and inevitably making us consider our own position as viewers of such films. By crossing the line to such an extreme degree, Headless causes us to question where that “line” is in the first place, and why we as horror fans enjoy being dangled so dangerously close to it.
While Found handles all of its heavy thematic elements with honesty and relative grace, several brief moments of the film do inevitably fall flat or produce unintentional laughs when the small budget shows through (with inconsistent lighting and the terrible acting of Louie Lawless as Marty’s Dad being the primary culprits). There is no question that this is very much a homemade film, yet its ability to instil a lasting impact and make us question what we as viewers qualify as “horror” remains a testament to the strength and effectiveness of its storytelling.
R A T I N G : 4 / 5 S T A R S
Schirmer was present at the screening for a brief intro inspiring filmmakers to bring their stories to life, regardless of any hurdles or budgetary constraints that stand in their way. He also provided a highly informative follow-up Q&A alongside lead actor Gavin Brown and supporting actress Phyllis Munro.