We’re only midway through January but I’d bet most of you are already sick of talking about the upcoming election this year. Elections always tend to bring out the worst in everyone. I’d expect nothing less in 2024. That’s why director Erik Bloomquist’s new political slasher, Founders Day, arrives at the perfect time, dropping your average cut ‘em up into the middle of a small town split over two candidates running for mayor. Yet despite a ballot’s worth of intriguing ideas, the filmmaker’s latest ends up playing out like a campaign ad; a whole lot of talk spewing empty promises.
The mayoral election looms over the sleepy small town of Fairwood, with citizens split between re-electing the incumbent, Blair Gladwell (Amy Hargreaves), or the challenger, Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok). Meanwhile, Allison (Naomi Grace) plans on leaving town, but is heartbroken over the fact that she’ll have to say goodbye to her girlfriend/Faulkner’s daughter, Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen). But after Melissa is slain by a killer dressed like a colonial founder, white wig and all, Allison finds herself and others in the middle of a psychopath’s plot, bodies piling up as Founders Day approaches.
Much like a typical election, Founders Day compiles an ensemble of characters and sub-plots that crowd the stage of this story, all of them talking over each other until it’s near impossible to follow anything being said. There’s Allison and Melissa’s relationship. The ongoing battle between Harold and Blair. The backlash of a messy breakup between Melissa’s brother, Adam (Devin Druid) and Blair’s daughter, Lilly (Emilia McCarthy). And that’s just the half of it. There’s so much going on, in fact, that even though you may suspect Allison is the lead, that isn’t necessarily clear throughout the first act. Never mind that the film goes long instances of seeming to forget she even exists. A lengthy list of characters means an ample supply of suspects and/or bodies for the body count—key to any slasher—but it comes at the cost of getting to know the important players enough to have an impact once the horror arrives.
Adding to how Founders Day keeps the audience at a distance is a mess of ideas that are good in theory, yet as undercooked as a plate of sashimi. At just under two hours, Erik and Carson Bloomquist’s script feels as if it’s attempting to pack in a novel’s worth of story without properly exploring the sub-plots introduced…not generally the best route for a slasher film. That’s frustrating, because there’s plenty within the plot worth digging into further. Yet too often, the filmmakers ask the audience to just go with it, whether it’s having no idea what either candidate stands for and why the town is so torn between them, or other twists and turns lacking character motivation that leave you scratching your head. One character choice towards the end is so dumbfounding that it threatens to ruin the entire experience simply because so little time is spent laying the foundation for it. For a political horror movie, Founders Day disappoints with nothing more to say than politicians, bad.
Sloppy script aside, the Bloomquist’s have a clear passion and understanding of the genre that’s on display throughout Founders Day. Part political thriller, part 90s slasher homage, the filmmakers load up on references to favorites such as Halloween and Scream with a tongue in cheek humor that should delight any horror fan. For all of its warts, I can’t say that Founders Day doesn’t at least have fun with the premise. Catherine Curtin’s portrayal of indifferent Commissioner Peterson never fails to crack a smile, while Hargreaves and Bartok take their characters to levels of extreme psychopathy that may be on the nose, but are nevertheless hilarious. The kills play up the laughs as well, balancing their brutality with a silly array of weapons. We love a good gavel knife. Some CG blood may lose a few votes of confidence, but thankfully the filmmakers incorporate practical effects in most cases. The Bloomquist’s horror knowledge also allows them to subvert expectations of more seasoned viewers, tossing in surprises that may not make much logical sense, but manage to twist a knife in familiar slasher tropes regardless.
Politics is horror, and horror is political. Always has been, always will be. Yet Founders Day is the rare horror film that centers around politics but refuses to take much of a stance on anything. Instead, it does the bare minimum at a time when audiences are far beyond recognizing that politicians cannot and should not be trusted. That might be okay, if it didn’t also trip over its robe and fall flat on its face in terms of telling a competent story. Some good laughs and a few entertaining kills are great, but with an overcrowded plot and hand-wavy motivations, this is one slasher that likely won’t get past the genre primaries.
Founders Day arrives in theaters January 19th from Dark Sky Films.
By Matt Konopka