Before I even introduce the concept of Found, please understand that director Scott Schirmer has re-defined the meaning of a “shoe-string” budget. Working with literally no budget, Schirmer and his team were able to put together a feature-length horror film with an estimated $8,000, coming in under Paranormal Activity‘s already astounding $15,000 (estimated). Oren Peli was smart, used his budget to his advantage, and went with the “found footage” method that didn’t require big, expensive cameras, also keeping the story rather grounded in the effects department.
Tackling a straight narrative film like Found is a much more daunting task on such a tight budget, not being able to splurge on visual gore, A-List actors, top-notch CGI, and sprawling settings like a big-budget film. Scott Schirmer evokes the heart of independent filmmaking with his harrowing horror film, but will you be able to ignore the shortcomings of such a small budget? That’s the true question.
Based on Todd Rigney’s novel of the same name, Found tells the story of a fifth-grade horror fan named Marty (Gavin Brown) who finds out that his brother is actually a serial killer. Wrestling with the secret all on his own, our young protagonist fears for the safety of his entire family, while trying to connect with his brother Steve (Ethan Philbeck). To make matters worse, Marty discovers his brother may be acting out the grotesque kills found in a real horror movie, putting disturbing imagery into the young child’s mind. Can Marty ever look at a horror movie the same way? Those are the last of this child’s problems, knowing full well that his very own brother is a devious, murderous psychopath – even if Steve swears he’d never harm his only brother.
Read that synopsis and tell me you aren’t intrigued, right? There are so many valid and brilliant themes at play, between a brotherly bond that’s tested by true evil, to youths becoming desensitized by overly-violent influences, which all collide in this disastrous, revealing combination. Marty is a child barely even capable of processing the fact that his older brother, his role model of sorts, is the same ferocious bastard depicted in all the horror movies he used to love so much. When you see someone kill on screen, it’s one thing, but Marty proves there’s a clear distinction between Leatherface chainsawing someone in half and finding a severed human head in your brother’s closet. This is horror. This is an internal struggle. This is true, pure, unfathomable evil – through the eyes of the most innocent vessel.
Due to the constraining budget, there are of course some lackluster moments of development, and this will be the true test for viewers. When I learned Found was made for $8,000, in no way was I shocked or surprised. Schirmer’s film feels and looks extremely independent, and certainly begs for a bit more glitz and glamor.
Our story plays into the hand of bad effects by using the most gore while Marty is watching a cheesy 80s type horror movie, as we cut to the on-screen slasher killer in action. It’s supposed to simply be a movie, so when the death sequences are a little lacking, fake blood and prop body parts feel perfectly in the moment. The more distracting bumps come in the form of stale acting, poor transitions, and noticeable (necessary) shortcuts to provide visual trickery where shots just couldn’t be pulled off. Amateur isn’t the word I’d use, but there’s a definite lack of atmosphere due to the incredibly independent scenario.
Found is a story begging to be told, and writer/director Scott Schirmer does a perfectly capable job of telling that story. He may not do so with a multi-million dollar budget, but Todd Rigney’s story speaks for itself. It’s not exaggerated gore or ghastly ghouls that will haunt you, but the brutally daring journey of one small child. Marty is nothing but a fifth-grader, yet he’s supposed to deal with a brother who kills and a family being torn apart. If you can’t get past low-budget independent filmmaking, I’d be hard pressed to recommend such a burdened film, but if you can properly focus on the gut-wrenching story on hand, you’re in for some of the most vile storytelling of the year – in a good way. Trust me, once those credits roll, your jaw will be on the floor – especially after such a bombshell ending.
Found is some of the most disturbing horror material of the year not because of gore and ghosts, but because of one child's comprehension of brotherhood, death, and real consequences.