IN A GLASS CAGE remains one of the most potent films in an admittedly small subgenre pond: that of the psychological horror centering around child molestation and murder. Its status as an anomaly has only strengthened its reputation and effect over the years – like SALO, it lingers long after being viewed. Despite the potential tastelessness inherent in tackling such a taboo subject, writer-director Augusti Villaronga never steers the material into easy resolutions or tension-relieving humor (indeed, there’s no place for it). The tale of a symbiotic relationship between an iron-lung-confined Nazi and his male nurse, it seethes with queasy sexual tension and psychological darkness. CAGE shows less than it tells (and implies), and therein lies the difference between it and something like FOUND.
I will give director Scott Schirmer credit – his treatment of Todd Rigney’s source novel is something we haven’t really seen since CAGE. That being said, while FOUND gets points for its concept, it also falls victim to the technical, aesthetic, and thematic pitfalls that Villaronga’s film so carefully avoided.
In the eyes of the status quo, Marty (Gavin Brown) is your atypical fifth-grader: a social recluse obsessed with horror movies and comic books, with a normal-on-the-surface home life. Mom (Phyllis Munro) and Dad (Louie Lawless) are supportive, if distant. Perhaps this has something to do with Marty’s older brother, Steve (Ethan Philbeck), who wears a permanent scowl and disappears during the night. In the opening scene, Marty discovers a severed head in a bowling bag in Steve’s room, and rightly suspects his brother is a serial killer. The increasing body count and Steve’s unhinged, anti-social behavior begins to manifest in Marty, leading to a conclusion that represents its own sort of symbiosis and torch-passing.
As far as horror goes, this is an excellent premise, ripe with sociological and psychological potential. Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN cast light on Michael Myers’s childhood, showing his transformation from a troubled kid into a killer, but that only constituted a portion of the tale. Similarly, TV’s “Dexter” visited the main character in flashback, chronicling his need to satiate “the dark passenger.” While FOUND doesn’t venture into the pedophilic terrain of IN A GLASS CAGE, its depiction of the relationship between the brothers still possesses the same type of dueling psychological heft.
Like I said, there’s much potential for greatness. But FOUND is a painful example of a concept unmatched by its execution.
Per the IMDb, the movie was made on a shoestring budget of eight grand. While I don’t debate a film’s merits or shortcomings based on budget alone, here it casts an impossible-to-ignore glare over nearly every aspect of the production. The actors are unfamiliar, and the performances range from compelling (Philbeck almost single-handedly redeems the film…almost), decent (Brown), to caricatured (Munro, Lawless, and nearly every other adult). One of the challenges of incorporating children into an adult-content storyline is the potential that the underlying themes will go unarticulated, and such is the case with FOUND – the interactions between the child actors fluctuate between apathetic and exaggerated (almost every four-letter word is delivered with a self-consciousness that is, frankly, understandable).
Insofar as the film’s violence is concerned, there are effective moments that recall the “less is more” approach of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (particularly the opening), but the scenes of on-camera brutality are a mix of poor fight choreography, unnatural reactions, and inconsistent make-up FX. As FOUND lurches into its final act, it gets lost in its gory extremes, reducing the impact of the character piece that’s gone on before. (That being said, it would make an interesting addendum to Crash Palace’s “Home Is Where the Horror Is” study.) Furthermore, a sequence midway through – intended to show the blurring lines between Marty’s fantasy and reality – overstays its welcome, transforming into a gratuitous excuse to see some sicko fuck a severed head.
On the technical side, FOUND shows its low-budget faults in the sound recording: I found myself frequently adjusting the volume on my TV to make out what characters were saying, and noticed a fair amount of background noise on the soundtrack. At best, this disengages the viewer from the action; at worst, it diminishes the profundity of the subject. Additionally, Schirmer’s scene setups are unimaginative, attempting stylistic flourishes that run counter to the realistic tone the film is trying to capture (the “under-the-bed” scene is a prime example).
But there are affecting moments to be found: when a pastor (Andy Alphonse, who turns in the film’s best performance) questions Marty on his bad behavior, the words and delivery match the greater ambitions of the script, bringing notions of spirituality and redemption into the morally murky waters. Better still is a well-performed scene between Marty and Steve that culminates in a confession followed by an unexpected display of brotherly love. Amid the weaker aspects of FOUND, these are two examples of the greater movie trying to break through.
Unfortunately, this intersection of performance and aesthetic doesn’t occur often enough. It’s hard to deny the ambition of FOUND, but it lacks the proficiency in front of and behind the camera to sustain itself on ambition alone.
2 out of 5 stars
Jonny Numb is a proud prole in service to that Orwellian nightmare known as State Government. He writes movie reviews at: numbviews.livejournal.com. Also find him on Twitter at @JonnyNumb and Letterboxd – username Jonny Numb. And, of course, he is the co-host of THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes.
(Photo from Hell Horror.)