Few subjects are as ripe for the horror genre as adolescence. In those formative years when dreams can turn into nightmares in the blink of an eye, our innocence and inexperience leave us unable to discern our juvenile fears from genuine danger. Without the wisdom and perspective that comes with age, even a pimple can take on an apocalyptic urgency if it appears at an inopportune time. In Scott Schirmer's feature directorial debut Found, a troubled fifth-grader named Marty makes a terrifying discovery about his emotionally distant older brother Steve, which quickly sends Marty's fate spiraling into an unfathomable darkness. Working alongside author Todd Rigney (who wrote the novel this film is adapted from), director/co-writer Schirmer makes that journey a genuinely unforgettable one.
"My brother keeps a human head in his closet." This is the first line of dialogue we hear spoken in Found, and it sets the tone for the terrifying tale to come. Marty (Gavin Brown) is a bright and creative kid whose introverted personality has made him a target for fearless class bully Marcus. When Marty opens up to his temperamental brother Steve (Ethan Philbeck) about his problems, his sibling encourages him to fight back.
Meanwhile, Marty's classmate David (Alex Kogin) is the only one who will talk to him. In their spare time, Marty and David watch horror movies and work on a graphic novel about a pair of superheroes who maim and mutilate bad guys. But being friends with a pariah like Marty is beginning to affect David's popularity, and when a confused Marty attempts to impress his friend by showing him the secret stashed away in Steve's closet, he unwittingly sets in motion a tragic sequence of events that will change his life forever.
The world can seem like a scary place when you're young, and for the more fortunate among us, the feeling of being at home provides us with a sense of safety from the dangers that lurk just outside our front door. But how are we to respond when the real threat slumbers in the bedroom a few feet away from our own, confusing our sense of right and wrong and leaving us fearful of a loved one's twisted motivations? These are just a few of the questions Rigney and Schirmer explore in their screenplay for Found. By dragging these hidden horrors out into the light, the two writers create a compelling dynamic between the emotionally fragile Marty and the deeply damaged Steve. During those crucial years when their personalities are beginning to emerge, young men often hold their older siblings up to near mythical status. By turning the myth into a monster here, the writers explore how our family dynamics influence our view of the world, and how the act of confronting our fears can bring out aspects of our personality that we might never have known existed. What makes Found such an effective exercise in terror is that Rigney and Schirmer are working with universal themes and ideas rather than trite narrative drives or plot devices. It's also the thing that prevents the film from falling victim to its own technical shortcomings.
The fact that virtually anyone can now make a movie in his or her garage is both a blessing and a curse. It's difficult to imagine a case in which those two contrasting factors have fought so viciously against one another as they do here. Given its inexperienced cast and middling production values, Found shouldn't be nearly as effective as it actually is. Despite displaying all of the hallmarks of a forgettable, low-budget horror film, the astute screenplay and chemistry between Brown and Philbeck elevate the material so that it transcends its budgetary limitations. True, Found has the look of a feature shot on weekends by friends who were paid in pizza, but that doesn't lessen the impact of the uncompromising story once Rigney and Schirmer show us how far they're actually willing to go with their concept.
Found is shockingly graphic at times, yet Schirmer's incredibly effective use of a simple darkened doorway during the disturbing climax reveals him to be a filmmaker who knows when it pays to hold back; subtle stylistic choices such as showing us the world from Marty's point of view when he's left home also establish him as a director with an eye for detail. Likewise, the movie's disarmingly melodic score evokes a sense of fear that exists somewhere in that uncharted area between innocence and utter annihilation. It may not be a place everyone is willing to visit, but those who dare to do so may get a ghastly glimpse into the future of contemporary horror cinema.