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Advertising “Founder Days” as a “bold political slasher” gives too much credit to the movie itself, which follows a post-“Scream” killing spree that precedes a small town’s mayoral election. The movie’s sense of politics boils down to a trite post-Wes-Craven moral relativity, where the incumbent mayor and her obnoxious opponent both sloganeer and campaign in ways that make them seem inauthentic and performative. The rest of the movie thankfully focuses on hormonal teen protagonists, whose dialogue could admittedly be more polished and whose deaths could definitely be grislier. A couple of pedal-to-the-floor melodramatic twists suggest that “Founders Days” might’ve been a bolder or just meaner genre movie, but its toothless satire, like its timid horror drama, sadly doesn’t cut it.
Political antagonism never comes to a full head in the sleepy American everytown of Fairwood, where Mayor Gladwell (Amy Hargreaves) prepares to fight for her public office against Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok), her mid-simmer hothead competitor. Fairwood’s the sort of place where young lovers commit themselves to each other with a gym lock on the local foot bridge. Somehow, a small and neatly bifurcated demonstration has broken out just in front of the Fairwood jewel box movie theater. Both Harold and the Mayor’s supporters are picketing each other, though it’s hard to say why beyond their pandering lawn signs.
This contest of wills ends in a deadlock, since maintaining the status quo for selfish reasons is apparently the greatest sin. Before then, a series of bloody murders up-end the lives of Fairwood’s angsty teenagers. Insecure Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen) dies first, right after she and her cypher of a partner Allison (Naomi Grace) clip a lock to the town bridge. Her attacker wears a Carnival mask, dresses like a judge, and kills with a gavel. Targeting Melissa certainly seems political since she’s Harold’s daughter, and also the sister of low-boil hothead Adam (Devin Druid).
Adam and Allison’s post-murder bond only says so much, particularly about Adam and his creators’ intentions. He ostensibly defies expectations, being the son of a wheedling politician. Adam’s also supposedly a jealous “Ivory League” type, according to sore winner Rob (Tyler James White), who’s now dating Lilly (Emilia McCarthy), Adam’s ex and the Mayor’s daughter. Adam briefly locks horns with Lilly during a mock policy debate, hosted by genial teacher Mr. Jackson (William Russ). But sparks don’t really fly between the former couple beyond that scene. Besides, a surprising accidental death involving Adam makes it somewhat hard to tell how we’re supposed to feel about him.
That accident is the most upsetting thing about “Founders Day,” and it’s not for want of trying. The movie’s worst kill scenes try to rub viewers’ faces in the sort of de rigeur nastiness that’s come to define the recent post-Craven “Scream” sequels. I say “try” though because the filmmakers behind “Founders Day” don’t seem invested in vicarious sadism, not even when one victim is dragged across a movie theater aisle full of glass. Death has no sting here, making it hard to care about who’s right and who’s relatable in this wan body count flick.
The above-mentioned accident stands out because it’s exceptionally disturbing. It’s also disappointing in hindsight given how little the filmmakers make of it. By forcibly casting aside a prime suspect, director Erik Bloomquist and his co-writer/co-editor Carson Bloomquist ostensibly deepen Fairwood’s across-the-aisle grief. Kids are dying, no matter who their parents are voting for—that’s a promising development! (for a horror movie) Unfortunately, the Bloomquists (“She Came From the Woods”) don’t dig deep enough into the town’s open wounds. Adam’s as blinkered as Allison, who’s as upset as Adam’s dad, and also as angry as Lilly’s mom. A false unity of grief subsumes Fairwood’s barely distinguished stock personalities, which only makes sense given the movie’s strained anticlimax finale. Nobody wins or makes it out happy, not even the people who seem to get what they want. What a bummer.
More often than not, “Founders Day” seems like a missed opportunity for something darker or more provocative. So much time is wasted on setting up false expectations that it sometimes seems like the filmmakers’ greatest ambition was to point out that there’s corruption and opportunism on both sides. The Gladwells and the Faulkners are only believably alike in the sense that neither household is above politics, which are dirty because they reduce individual personalities to their prescribed roles. That takeaway might have been the stuff of rich irony in a slasher movie, especially now that the genre seems more kitschy than brutal. Nothing really matters by the end of “Founders Day,” not even the nihilistic sanctity of cheap thrills.
Naomi Grace as Allison Chambers
Devin Druid as Adam Faulkner
William Russ as Mr. Jackson
Amy Hargreaves as Blair Gladwell
Catherine Curtin as Commissioner Peterson
Emilia McCarthy as Lilly Gladwell
Olivia Nikkanen as Melissa Faulkner
Jayce Bartok as Harold Faulkner
Andrew Stewart-Jones as Thomas Chambers
Tyler James White as Rob Donahue
Erik Bloomquist as Oliver Hull