Eye For Film >> Movies >> Founders Day (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
In the small town where Erik Bloomquist’s latest slasher movie is set, everybody knows everybody, and most of them hate each other. They may try to hide it, but with a mayoral election looming, bitterness is rising to the surface. It even seeps into the home of opposition candidate Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok), who is at odds with his teenage daughter Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen). He’s not homophobic, he insists – he just wishes she’d consider the importance of them maintaining a wholesome family image at this time. Unimpressed, Melissa storms out. She wants to spend time with her girlfriend Allison (Naomi Grace). They’re coming to the end of their time at high school and, with college beckoning, separation is on the horizon. In fact, with somebody else planning to visit the bridge where they’re meeting that night, it will happen a lot sooner than that.
‘Iron bars will bend and break my fair lady’ is the mysterious legend on a banner left on the bridge when the police begin their investigation. It’s one of several such messages which might leave you wondering if you’re in a secret Batman film and the Riddler done it, but the caped crusader here is of a rather different kind. Wearing a demon mask with judicial robes and wig, he moves through the town at a remarkable pace, mostly taking out young people, which seems odd in light of the fact that they wouldn’t seem to have had the time to offend anyone nearly as much as their older relatives. Despite losing their children, the older people don’t seem especially perturbed, evincing a degree of grief but not letting it get in the way of political ambitions.
Allison seems to be the only one who fully recognises that there is something wrong with all this – at a cultural level, not just that of a lone psychopath. It may be related to her longstanding desire to get out of the town and make something of herself. In the meantime, she and her classmates try to figure out how to stay safe whilst also getting on with their lives. The incumbent mayor (Amy Hargreaves), who adapts her campaign to assert that continuity is all the more important in a situation like this, gives her daughter mace for her birthday, but that won’t help the poor girl to deal with being bullied and slut shamed by an abusive boyfriend. Few of the adults seem to pay any real attention to the teenagers. Kindly teacher Mr Jackson (William Russ) tries to place everything in its proper historical context, and offers Allison some moral support. She is also luckier than the others in that she has a really good relationship with her dad (Andrew Stewart-Jones), but when white kids are dying like flies, it’s not too easy being the only Black man in town, and police interest in his actions risks leaving Allison all alone.
Although it falls apart a bit at the end, this is a superior effort from Bloomquist, who has really tightened up his story structure since last year’s She Came From The Woods. He has the advantage of a capable young lead, and the strong chemistry between Grace and Stewart-Jones gives the film a beating heart which keeps it from turning into just another by-the-numbers slasherfest. These people feel real and we care about them, so there are some real scares even though, elsewhere, Bloomquist’s sense of humour leads to a good deal of silliness. The political satire is not subtle but is hammed up in an entertaining way and, as such, doesn’t risk putting off younger viewers who don’t yet have the experience to appreciate more specific satire.
Whilst the ending may not convince, it’s interesting if one reflects on the way that power structures sometimes maintain themselves through an illusion of social mobility, by bringing in new groups in lieu of real change. A key decision by one character makes more sense if considered in light of community rather than individual progress. Bloomquist’s portrait of a community is an effective one, and we can see how the shared experience of loss draws people together, presenting a different sort of threat to Allison’s future. Naturally, there is a fair bit of comment here on American society more generally, but what makes the film a success is that you don’t need to care about that for it to work. It’s a solid piece of entertainment which hit the spot with the Frightfest crowd and is likely to delight horror fans more widely.Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2023