The Bloomquist Brothers are back with another cool, creative slasher that’s wicked fun and full of surprises.
Following up their entertaining and surprising summer camp horror She Came From the Woods, the Bloomquist Brothers (director Erik and co-writer Carson) are back with their sophomore film Founders Day. And they’re once again proving their genre chops and uncanny ability to subvert expectations.
A film 12 years in the making, the concept dates back to 2011, conceived in a college dormitory. The original script was considered for inclusion in Project Greenlight, and a concept trailer was produced in 2013. But though it sat on a shelf for over a decade, it’s a political slasher that feels more fresh and relevant than ever.
We open on a Fall evening in the sleepy little town of Fairwood. A father, Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok), is at home having a heated argument with his teen daughter.
He’s a mayoral candidate gearing up for a huge election that elicits the kind of fervor, anger, and division typically reserved only for high-stakes presidential elections. It seems, in this town, the outcome of this race matters a great deal to a great many people.
His gay daughter, Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen), thinks he cares more about the election than his family, more about perceptions than feelings.
She storms out of the house and gets into the car of her girlfriend, Allison (Naomi Grace). They drive through the town where passionate protestors shout in the streets at each other to support their chosen candidate.
Melissa and Allison head to the local theater where Allison used to work, so she can retrieve her locker padlock as a gift for her girlfriend — a symbolic memento symbolizing that, though she is moving to Raleigh, a part of her remains connected to Fairwood and Melissa.
Afterward, Melissa asks Allison to walk with her along the bridge.
The two share a tender turned contentious moment as Melissa begs Allison to stay and confesses her love for her, a gesture Allison fails to return.
Amid this emotional scene, a car approaches and flips its high beams onto the girls.
As Allison angrily yells at the driver and approaches the car, assuming it’s someone messing with the girls out of homophobia, she’s attacked and beaten while Allison — padlocked to the bridge as part of Melissa’s playful attempt to keep her from leaving — screams in helpless terror.
Melissa’s body is thrown over the bridge; Allison breaks the padlock and escapes into the crowd just as it seems she’ll be the next victim.
Panicked and out of her mind with grief and fear, she runs into the street screaming bloody murder as she’s quickly encircled by a group of protesters that feel more like vultures than angels of mercy.
The camera spins around, and we cut to an 80s-inspired opening credits sequence over stunning shots of the town’s scenic natural beauty and breathtaking fall foliage.
It’s a riveting opening that takes a page from Scream, a film that seems to have heavily inspired Founders Day.
We establish the threat early and ferociously before shifting into a whodunnit mystery and a race to find the killer as more young bodies start piling up.
Despite the tragedy, the town is far more focused on the upcoming election and a celebration of Founders Day, which marks the town’s 300-year anniversary.
The current mayor, Blair Gladwell (the excellent Amy Hargreaves), is holding a city council meeting where she’s encouraging them to move forward with the Founders Day celebration, much to the outrage of her opponent, Harold.
A deeply unsympathetic Blair worries Harold will try to leverage the loss of his daughter to sway the voters, bemoaning in the most despicable way, “Nothing garners sympathy like a dead kid.”
That’s not to say Harold is any more sympathetic.
Though his daughter is missing and presumed dead, he never shows anything resembling a grieving father’s emotions.
Instead, he continues campaigning aggressively, turning crime scene meetings with investigators into media opportunities.
And given his belligerent relationship with his kids, he certainly doesn’t seem like he’ll be winning any Father of the Year awards.
Considering how small of a town Fairwood is, everyone seems connected in some way.
Blair’s daughter, Lilly (Emilia McCarthy), is the ex-girlfriend of Harold’s estranged son, Adam (Devin Druid), the brother of Melissa.
The sensitive Adam thinks Lilly cheated on him with her new bad boy boyfriend, Rob (Tyler James White), who also happens to be Melissa’s troubled ex.
Lilly, Adam, and Rob all work at the local theater where Allison used to work. Adam and Allision also happen to be best friends.
Unlike Adam’s relationship with his self-absorbed father, Allison is quite close with her loving and supportive single father, Thomas (Andrew Stewart-Jones), who also happens to have a rocky history with Harold.
Also in the fray are two over-the-top high-school bullies and troublemakers, Britt (Kate Edmonds) and Tyler (Dylan Slade), who try to stir the pot whenever possible, including dressing up and pretending to be the killer for shits and giggles.
Among the adults, all as tensely intertwined as the teens, we have the earnest Deputy Miller (Adam Weppler), council member and right-hand man to the Mayor, Oliver Hull (played by writer-director Erik Bloomquist), the offbeat and wryly funny Commissioner Peterson (a delightful Catherine Curtin), and beloved high-school teacher and senior council member Mr. Jackson (William Russ).
It isn’t long before more teens start dying, brutally slaughtered by someone wearing a robe, a creepy mask, and a powdered wig.
The killer’s unusual weapon of choice is a gavel hiding a vicious blade.
Slasher fans rejoice; the kills are as nasty, gruesome, and mean-spirited as you crave — made all the more unnerving by how young the victims are.
With a bevy of tense interpersonal relationships, plenty of potential motives and suspects abound.
About an hour end, we get a shocking reveal, which makes us think we know who is behind the grisly murders. But, with a heft 45 minutes left to go in the film, it’s clear things aren’t exactly what they seem.
Either we are misguided in what we think we saw, or Founders Day is continuing its heavy homage to Scream, preparing to reveal another slasher surprise.
What follows is a great musical montage (the soundtrack to Founders Day is outstanding) as a tormented town tries to come to grips with the unspeakable terror that’s taken hold of their peaceful town.
Everyone is haunted. Everyone is a suspect.
A trainwreck of a city council meeting gives us two drunk and unhinged mayoral candidates hamming it up, chewing the scenery, and proving why people hate politicians.
Heading into the final act, the chaos is cranked up to an 11, and it’s one crazy twist after another.
As suspected, the killings aren’t done yet. And this killer fully delights in making his mark known in the most savage and sadistic way possible.
Meanwhile, the race is on to figure out who’s behind the mask, and an ample supply of red herrings keeps the tension high and the hounds of justice at bay while the big bad remains elusive.
You’ll have a blast trying to figure out what’s happening and why, and I doubt you’ll crack the code before the big reveal.
Even when you think you’ve got it, you don’t… not quite.
Your mileage will vary on how satisfying you find the final twist. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun getting there.
Though it smartly uses a politically-charged backdrop and some unscrupulous politicians to say something about divisiveness, a fundamentally flawed system, and power-hungry pariahs, Founders Day is, first and foremost, a loving embrace of the slasher subgenre. There’s nothing heavy-handed or preachy here.
It’s thrills and kills first, subtext second.
Founders Day also has a sharp sense of humor, though it’s not what you’d call a horror comedy.
The tone is far more dramatic than silly. The laughs are more subtle and sly. But there’s enough to keep things interesting, lighten the mood between tense and dramatic sequences, and make you care about some more charming characters.
Most of that is thanks to the great Catherine Curtin (Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black), whose Commissioner Peterson is a standout and a joy every second she’s given to light up the screen.
As previously mentioned, there’s a lot of Scream DNA pumping through this film’s veins. That’s not to say it’s a blatant rip-off. But the inspiration is clear, even though Founders Day isn’t interested in meta-horror comedy.
This is an ardent love letter to slashers, not a parody.
The film ends on a high note with a wry wrap-up and a stylish animated sequence over the end credits.
Inventive and fun with cool kills, Founders Day is another Bloomquist Brothers’ delight for old-school horror fans — with an intriguing killer, a cool aesthetic, a decent amount of blood, solid practical effects, a talented cast, and great cinematography.