Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review: Found (2014)

Found (2014)

Not rated

Score: 4 out of 5

(Note: while this film was made in 2012, it was only released in 2014.)

Well, this was a cool little way to kick off October. Found (based on a story by Todd Rigney, who also co-wrote the script with director Scott Schirmer) starts off with a tiny budget and a unique, interesting premise, and proceeds to go absolutely wild with it. For most of its runtime, it's closer to a really dark, subverted coming-of-age tale than it is a conventional horror movie, but it's a slow burn that builds up to a chilling conclusion with some great gore, and even before it gets there, it makes for a great look at growing up that's bound to kindle some nostalgic memories in many horror fans, as well as a surprisingly scathing, no-holds-barred attack on racial and sexual hatred and the horrors that a dysfunctional family can produce. It's rough around the edges, and it's got more than a couple of scenes that meander and drag on for a bit too long, but even so, this is a little gem that I'm glad I found in the rough that is the world of direct-to-video indie horror.

Our protagonist, Marty, is a twelve-year-old boy in suburban Indiana who's obsessed with horror movies, writing and drawing a crude graphic novel (with emphasis on the "graphic") with his older brother Steve. He has also stumbled upon a terrible secret: Steve is a serial killer, going out at night in a gas mask, decapitating and gouging out the eyes of his victims (most of them black women), and then bringing their severed heads back home in a bowling bag, just like the killers in the movies they both enjoy. Initially, Marty thinks nothing of it -- it doesn't affect him, and while Steve can be odd at times, he'd never try to hurt him. Over time, however, the secret starts to burn up inside him, especially as the bullying Marty endures gets out of control and comes to Steve's attention.

To say anything more would be spoilers. Suffice it to say, this is a very old-school horror movie in both its pacing and its aesthetics. While set in the modern day if the cars are anything to go by, this is a film that, much like It Follows, tries to give off a timeless air and, for the most part, pulls it off. Specifically, it feels like the '90s, with Marty and Steve renting VHS tapes from a video store and watching them on a cathode-ray tube TV, drawing a comic book whose "heroes" feel like pastiches of every violent, macho protagonist of bad '90s comics, and living in a world where the internet and cell phones don't seem to exist. I recognized the setting instantly: it's the world of my childhood, made for and by a generation that mainly knows of films like Gremlins and The Goonies strictly from their older siblings' and cousins' memories of them. The cheesy slashers that they and their friends watch on home video are clearly from another time, but aren't yet old enough to be considered nostalgic like they are today; a movie like The Final Girls was still decades away. The slow development of the central characters, especially Marty, absolutely nailed the feeling of what it was like to grow up watching a ton of horror movies that you probably weren't ready for at that age. This old-fashioned feel extends to the pacing, where it takes mainly until the third act before the film really gets to the "good stuff". Before then, it builds suspense as Marty slowly realizes the implications of what his brother is actually up to. We get a great scene where Marty sneaks into Steve's room at night only for him to arrive home after one of his trips outside, the stakes rising once it becomes clear that Steve knows Marty was snooping around. A scene where Steve asks Marty who was bullying him at school, his gas mask in hand, needed no "money shot" to let us know what was going to happen next. There is plentiful gore before the ending as well (to say nothing of all the messed-up crap that happens during the grand finale, some of which had even me squirming in my seat), and it is shockingly well-done, but most of it is in the form of the fictional films-within-the-film that Marty watches with his friend David, uncensored pastiches of a decade's worth of ultra-violent, sorta-misogynistic splatter films of the sort that Carol J. Clover wrote about in Men, Women, & Chainsaws. The scene where Marty, watching one of these films, pictures Steve as the killer upon realizing the eerie similarities between the fictional killer's behavior and Steve's M.O. makes you wonder just how badly both of these kids were messed up by the films they watched, and why Marty turned out different from Steve -- or if he's just on the same awful track as his older brother, just a few years delayed.

Then again, looking at their parents, there is plenty of blame to go around, which is where the film starts entering heavier territory -- and where I have to enter minor spoiler territory, so if you must steer clear of such, skip the following paragraph.

Okay. The cloud of bigotry and hatred lingers over many characters and their interactions. We see it when Marty's father delivers a racist rant upon hearing that the kid who was bullying his son is black, and when that bully and his (white) buddies insult Marty by hurling gay slurs at him. It extends to Steve, who clearly took after his father's views on race -- for the most part, he's specifically targeting black people because he views them as subhumans who are taking over society. Absolutely no bones are made that such vile attitudes are foreshadowing the violence that occurs throughout the film, be it when Marty is physically assaulted by his tormentors, when he strikes back at one of them, when Steve murders another black woman, or when the film roars to its conclusion. The ending especially makes it horrifyingly clear that Steve's racism is merely the excuse he uses to murder people, and that, despite Marty constantly wishing for the "real Steve" again, the real Steve had a streak of violent sadism running to his core. Throughout the film, the message is clear without being heavy-handed: racism, homophobia, sexism, and all the other -isms and -phobias, as well as more "innocuous" hatreds like a desire to "get back" at bullies, enable the most deplorable people in our society to justify their actions. You may not care when Steve is coming for the "niggers", as he so delightfully calls them, but what happens when he comes for you next? Where does it stop? Likewise, when Marty's father lashes out at him for fighting back against his bullies without a hint of remorse, it reeks of hypocrisy given the example that he'd set for both of his sons.

This isn't a perfect film by any stretch. It's a long one at 103 minutes, and it doesn't breeze by, instead hanging like a muggy August day in Florida. There are many scenes where some quicker editing could've helped it move by more quickly without sacrificing the suspense that the film is taking its time to build. They exist mostly to pad the runtime, and looking back, I was wondering what their purpose really was. Furthermore, while Scott Schirmer did a good job writing this film, in terms of direction he apes the slashers of old perhaps a little too well. Visually, this is a pretty flat movie, with only one shot that really shined, and while the direction did its job and didn't look outright cheap like so many indie projects, it wasn't anything to write home about. Neither were the actors, who never really excelled even if the worst I could say about any of them is that their performances were just adequate. While the drabness of the suburban setting did come through, serving as a nice contrast to the shocking crimes that were going on there, this otherwise isn't the sort of film you throw in for something visually unique. The special effects, however, are amazing. While the film uses the gore sparingly, it is unflinching in what it shows -- to say nothing of a jaw-dropping visual gag (pun very much intended) at the end. Apparently, this film was banned in Australia (for "prolonged and detailed depictions of sexualised violence") and the UK until roughly two minutes were cut, and I can probably tell you the exact scenes that they had to remove -- but in the interest of keeping this review from getting lurid, I will hold my tongue. Rest assured, if you're looking for a good old-fashioned "video nasty", you will get your money's worth and then some.

The Bottom Line:

This movie is an absolutely twisted treat for those who can stomach it. It's smarter than many of the films it's homaging, and it backs it up with buckets of blood, even if it may take a bit too much time getting to the finish. It's weird, and not exactly a movie that's "enjoyed", but if you can take what it has to both show and say, you'll find some value here.

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