“Founders Day” (2023) [Pigeon Shrine FrightFest]

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Founders Day from Erik and Carson Bloomquist, Blue Finch Film Releasing, and is courtesy of FrightFest.

A small town is shaken by a series of ominous killings in the days leading up to a heated mayoral election. As accusations fly and the threat of a masked killer darkens every street corner, the residents must race to uncover the truth before fear consumes the town.

The Good
Joseph: After giving the world such features as She Came from the Woods and Night at the Eagle Inn, filmmaking brothers Erik and Carson Bloomquist set their sights on combining political commentary with slasher movie elements in Founders Day. The proceedings fall on the histrionic side, and the acting keeps up with that tone without falling into scenery chewing. Naomi Grace as Allison Chambers — girlfriend of first murder victim Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen), daughter of one of the two mayoral candidates — Andrew Stewart-Jones as her father Thomas Chambers, and William Russ as high school history teacher Mr. Jackson give three of the more subdued performances and shine in their roles, while such cast members as Catherine Curtin as sarcastic Police Commissioner Peterson, Amy Hargreaves as excitable Mayor Blair Gladwell, and Jayce Bartok as her highly tense challenger Harold Faulkner give their all in spirited turns. Director Erik Bloomquist, who also cowrote the screenplay with Carson and who portrays Majority Leader Oliver Hull, helms the film with verve. The Bloomquists know their way around a horror story, including how to build suspense and how to give slasher-film fans what they want.   

Mike: I really enjoyed the Bloomquist’s She Came From the Woods, which we reviewed elsewhere here on GBV, and was eagerly awaiting this as soon as I saw FrightFest was screening it.  Did it live up to my own self-generated hype?  Yes. Yes, it did.
Founders Day doesn’t waste any time getting into things by taking what seems to be a major player off the board shortly after starting, and then slows down just enough in a few places to let us get to know the players and see what motives some of the folks might have for being the killer.  That’s to say the pacing is quite good.
The acting is very good; Catherine Curtin is great with her deadpan sarcastic police commissioner persona, and William Hull plays a very believable history teacher who clearly loves his students and community.  In fact, pretty much everyone plays their role exceptionally well with everyone coming across as a very real person you might know, or even be.
One of the best aspects is the political toe-to-toe that is at the heart of the story which is a small-scale version of what we see play out on the news every night. However, if Erik and Carson have a side to lean to, they don’t show it with both of the candidates having platforms that could apply to either side of the spectrum.  It’s refreshing to see something take on the ridiculousness of politics in a way that sits comfortably in the center.
I also enjoyed the explanation of things played out at the end.  Kind of like in a heist movie that rewinds and shows you how the thieves did it, this clears up some events that could have had people saying “But, how did…?!?” which was a nice, almost proactive touch.

The Bad
Joseph: A major reveal is made with well over half an hour to go — a sure sign that twists are coming. And come they do, along with a good deal of explanation that borders on being an exposition dump. Matters get complicated. I like a nice twist and having the rug pulled out from me in a film when it’s a well-crafted move, but the third act has so many twists — and not all are exactly unpredictable — that it started to feel convoluted and having surprises for surprise’s sake. Also, we are given very few characters to actually root for — certainly not the warring mayoral candidates, nor the obnoxious school delinquents, for example — so when denouements happen, they do so without much character investment on the part of the viewer.

Mike:  As with most movies, the ending can make or break the overall experience, and while I was satisfied with the way Founders Day ended, I can’t say I was as ecstatic about it as I was with the rest of the film.  There were a few big swerves, one of which I suspected about halfway through the film when we get a banger of a twist, and once I was shown to be correct I pretty much knew the next one to follow.  I’m not going to lie and say I knew all the “WHYS” and heck, the reasons behind the events were pretty satisfying, playing into the desire for, and corruption from, power.  We’ll equate this ending with taking an extra bounce and step when landing after a gymnastics event - still good for a high score, but not the perfect ten.
A possible hurdle for some people may be the “heist explanation” I mentioned above as they may find this a bit heavy in the expository department
I was also a bit perplexed by the treatment of Allison’s father, Thomas.  There seemed to be a lot of hints that he had a checkered past or at least a somewhat polarizing event happen to him, but that’s all there were - hints.  I would have liked to have seen something done that shed a little more light on his backstory.

The Verdict
Joseph: Founders Day attempts to be a clever political take on the masked slasher genre, and although it succeeds in some parts — for example, it takes no sides in its skewering of American politics and political parties, but rather takes aim at the system itself, and its satire doesn’t attempt to overdo things in its commentary — it also falters somewhat in its overall execution, such as the aforementioned twist after twist. Still, there’s enough chutzpah here for stalk ‘n’ slash fans to get a kick out of, and the powdered wig and bladed gavel get-up for the masked killer here is a fun take on the subgenre.  

Mike:  If it’s not clear by now, I dig slasher films.  I’ve got a pretty sizable Blu-ray collection of 70’s and 80’s stuff and I am pretty confident that I know my way around these things pretty well - all of which is prelude to say that I really enjoyed Founders Day as it felt like a nice throwback to those days.  Yes, there’s a stumble or two (but what movie doesn’t have those?), and there are some aspects that may split viewers into different camps just like the townspeople during the Mayoral election in the film, but at the end of the day this checks every box that should be checked when delivering a successful slasher film.

Founders Day, from Blue Finch Film Releasing, had its international premiere at Pigeon Shrine FrightFest on 28 August, 2023. For more information, visit https://frightfest.co.uk/.

Founders Day
Directed By: Erik Bloomquist
Written By: Erik Bloomquist, Carson Bloomquist
Starring: Naomi GraceDevin DruidWilliam Russ
Run Time: 1h 46m
Rating:  NR
Release Date: August 28, 2023

Sadly, there is no trailer available at the time of this review