This weekend Indiana University is playing host to the 2013 Independent Filmmakers Convention (or Indie Film Con), so I used the opportunity to see a locally made horror film that's been on my radar ever since I heard about it at last fall's HorrorHound in Indianapolis. As it turns out, this is actually the second time Found has played in Bloomington since it premiered here last July, but it's picked up a lot of momentum since it's gone out on the festival circuit, playing in such far-flung places as Belgium and Australia and winning numerous awards all across the country. That's not bad for a scrappy independent that cost all of $8,000 to make.
Based on a 2004 novel by Todd Rigney, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Scott Schirmer, an IU alum making a whopper of a first feature (not counting 2010's House of Hope, which only runs an hour), Found is about many things, but it's primarily focused on pre-teen Marty (Gavin Brown) and how he reacts when he discovers his older brother is a serial killer. A horror nut of the first order whose room is bedecked with posters for the likes of Without Warning, The Deadly Spawn and Street Trash, Marty's life changes irrevocably when he discovers a severed head in a bowling bag in his brother's closet and chooses to keep this knowledge to himself. Brother Steve (Ethan Philbeck) is aloof and prone to getting into shouting matches with their bigoted father (Louie Lawless), but he's fiercely protective of young Marty, even if his repeated promises that he would never hurt the boy ring hollow at times. Take the tense scene where Steve catches Marty trying on his gas mask for size, which ends with him telling Marty to fight back against the bullies at school. Even when he's playing the part of the concerned older brother (who has a good reason for wanting his snooping sibling to stay out of his room), Steve winds up doing more harm than good.
Coddled by his clueless mother (Phyllis Munro), Marty is perpetually on the outs at school, picked on by a rebellious African-American boy (Edward Jackson) and increasingly shunned by his only friend David (Alex Kogin), who until recently has been happy to work on a violent graphic novel with him. The turning point in their friendship comes when Marty rents a couple of movies at the local funky video store (where he naturally makes a beeline for the horror section, which is stocked exclusively with battered old VHS tapes) for a sleepover with David, who taunts him for looking away from the gross parts of Deep Dwellers (a Humanoids from the Deep-type flick with a terrific creature designed and performed by special effects director Arthur Cullipher, a talented filmmaker in his own right) and Headless (a proto-slasher purporting to hail from 1978 whose masked killer is indelibly embodied by Cullipher's assistant, Shane Beasley). David thinks he's scared, but Marty knows better. He knows Headless is the movie his brother has patterned his own killing spree after, and he has no idea how or if he wants to stop him.
A few anachronisms aside, Schirmer is able to do an amazing job of evoking a bygone era on a budget. (The time period is never specified, but it's clear that it takes place in the late '80s/early '90s.) He also has the guts to follow Rigney's story to the letter, going down some disturbing rabbit-holes dealing with issues of racism, homophobia, and the intersection of sex and violence, both domestic and otherwise. If Found is the sort of thing that he can pull off with a small but dedicated crew (it's the kind of film where his producer, Leya Taylor, is also the director of photography, foley artist, sound effects editor and camera operator), I can't wait to see what he's capable of when he has more resources behind him.