BY BECCA JOHNSON JANUARY 18, 2024
Erik Bloomquist, director of indie horror's including She Came From The Woods (2022), Ten Minutes to Midnight (2020) and Night at the Eagle Inn (2021), has been consistently bringing horror movies to audiences since 2018. With his most stacked cast to date including Devin Druid (13 Reasons Why), Catherine Curtin (Orange is the New Black) and Amy Hargreaves (Blue Ruin), and a familiar yet fun slasher premise, Founders Day is shaping up to be his most viewed feature yet. With gory kills, a well designed villain and a decent reveal, Founders Day has the makings of a notable slasher. However, it's inconsistent tone means it's often too all over the place to be fully enjoyable, and it borrows too heavily from existing slashers to feel unique.
A series of ominous murders rocks a small town just days before a heated mayoral election. As accusations fly and the threat of a masked killer darkens every corner, residents must race against time to uncover the truth.
The whodunnit slasher is a favourite within the horror genre; with the likes of the Scream franchise and 2023's Thanksgiving, it's definitely still going strong and receiving a good viewership. Founders Day cleverly taps into the genre, and director Bloomquist does his best. The kills are slow to start but once things get going, some fantastic gore is unleashed. Whilst not the most imaginative or unique, there is plenty of blood to be spilled, and the kills are entertaining enough to scratch that slasher itch. It certainly has a couple of twists and turns along the way, and although the reveal isn't the most shocking or surprising we've seen and the motive is questionable, the killer/s chosen certainly delivers. The best aspect of it's horror elements is the design of the villain; not only is it extremely memorable and slightly reminiscent of one of our favourites with it's sweeping black cloak, but is suitably creepy and unnerving. Fans of this sub-genre will undoubtedly have some fun, and the horror does work.
On the flip-side of this, it often feels like it borrows too heavily from existing members of the genre. From it's kills and reveals to it's character dynamics and location, it feels extremely similar to Scream, Thanksgiving, It's a Wonderful Knife, Happy Death Day and many, many more. Whilst some movies listed take the best elements from the movies they're inspired by and put their own spin on things, Founders Day falls short of this. It lacks flair and it's own unique edge, which may stop it from becoming memorable. The characters don't have enough development, some of the twists feel forced and the kills don't get as creative as they should. The elements needed are all there, but it feels like a carbon copy rather than a piece inspired by existing IP.
The film-makers have to be commended for the cast they managed to pull together. Lead Naomi Grace gives a believable performance as Allison, a character who sees the first victim – her girlfriend – be taken by the killer. Her fear of what may be waiting round the corner when things go bump in the night is well portrayed, and she's a likeable enough lead. 13 Reason Why's Devin Druid also delivers a good performance as Adam, the brother of the first victim. Druid is able to do more and more with his character as the script progresses, and he shows talent. Hargreaves, Curtin, William Russ (American History X) and Emilia McCarthy (Maps to the Stars) also deliver. The issue isn't in the performances, but in the characters themselves. Aside from the lead, it's really hard to get behind anyone. The majority of the characters are particularly annoying and unlikeable, and when you don't have anyone to root for in a slasher, it's hard to care about what happens.
The biggest flaw of Founders Day is how inconsistent it is in tone. In one scene, it'll be light and fun with corny dialogue, campy kills and dumb jokes. However, in the next, it will be taking itself far too seriously, appearing to forget what it was going for. There are some really weird choices in the soundtrack that are both too loud and strangely placed, not in keeping with the scene they're placed in. As the title suggests, Founders Day attempts to add in some political discourse, but it's all too underdeveloped and poorly written to feel like it has something to say. This film is at it's best when it's having fun and not playing it too straight, but it's constant changes between humour/satire and drama/mystery/thriller are simply too jarring. It plays with too many ideas, and it's ambition may have gotten the better of it.
Founders Day is a true mixed bag. It provides plenty of gory kills, a memorable villain and a premise that feels familiar yet fun and enjoyable. The cast may be able to keep you invested, as they try their best and are mostly believable. However, it borrows too heavily from existing material, lacks it's own flair and has an identity crisis as it struggles to decide whether it's a comedy or not. It throws far too much at the wall, and not much sticks. It may not be a complete waste of an evening, but may serve better as a background watch.