FrightFest 2023: Cutthroat Politics Can Kill in Founders Day

Image Courtesy of FrightFest

Back in February, Erik Bloomquist’s She Came from the Woods arrived in theaters. The film, an ardent love letter to supernatural, sleepaway camp slasher films from the ’80s like Friday the 13th and The Burning. At the time the film was released, I remarked how much talent Bloomquist has while noting the film is very middle-of-the-road. I think this is important to note as Erik and his co-writer brother Carson venture back to FrightFest for the International Premiere of their latest film, Founders Day, a love letter to suburban horror features such as Scream, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, with an original and captivating twist about the divisive nature of politics.  

A person holding a gavel wearing a mask is presented on the poster for Founders Day
Image Courtesy of FrightFest

The film presents many characters, beginning with two Instagram post-spewing, sex-driven, anarchist teenagers, Britney (Kate Edmonds) and Tyler (Dylan Slade), who get their kicks by decimating mailboxes with a bat outside a car’s passenger window. The lawn signs and stickers of the sleepy neighborhood allow the transition into the home of political candidate Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok), arguing with his daughter Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen) for her outward appearance. Melissa leaves to meet her girlfriend Allison (Naomi Grace) and begs her not to leave town when Allison goes to college in the fall, leading her to romantically lock her to the town’s bridge in a heartfelt plea. The couple’s moment is cut short when a masked figure in a colonial wig appears, bludgeoning Melissa, grabbing her, and tossing her over the iron bars of the bridge. Ripping her clothes away from the lock, Allison manages to escape with her life. The incident causes an uproar, and the town is thrown into a frenzy, divided on whether to cancel the tri-centennial Founders Day celebration or go ahead as if there wasn’t a masked stalker on the loose. 

Mayoral incumbent Blair Gladwell (Amy Hargreaves) holds a meeting with concerned citizens, issuing a vote amongst a select few, resulting in the continuation of the Founders Day festivities, circumventing her mayoral opponent’s call for safety with the loss of his daughter. As tensions begin running high in the town, the body count starts to rise as well. It seems someone is targeting the children of the town’s figureheads who have put their political agendas ahead of the needs of its citizens.  

At the center of the film, Naomi Grace’s Allison is Founders Day’s Sidney Prescott. Allison is almost templated around the Scream character’s journey, being an escaped target of a crime, becoming traumatized in a school by mask-wearing creepazoids, and finding it hard to trust anyone in the once quiet New England town.  

The one possibly trustworthy person able to adjoin partisan lines may be Mr. Jackson (William Russ), who, while teaching a class on government, doesn’t enable the derisive sparring that occurs between the people in town. Seen as a trusted moderator, Jackson is able to remain neutral to the squabbles of the loudest voices in the room and commit to the logic and reason that comes from critical thinking instead of getting caught up in one-sided debates.  

Like the Bloomquist’s last outing, Founders Day is mired by slightly overcooked character profiles, but the exposition is better suited to this environment. Storylines about the killer, politics, and the next generation converge, providing enough material for the context. That isn’t to say that scenes couldn’t be interwoven better for pacing, they could, but Founders Day offers a more captivating experience, especially if you’re into the late ’90s to early ’00s style horror slasher features presented. Carson and Erik Bloomquist have polished their approach between slasher features, resulting in a more compelling story and overall film experience.  

A person wearing a red mask and a colonial wig holds a gavel and looks over their sholder threateningly in Founder's Day
Image Courtesy of FrightFest

Though the film has a political impetus, Founders Day never insists on any outright agenda or declaring any character’s affiliation, arguing for more moderate political voices. Ideally, the film searches for common ground and appeasing figures to calm the battles that have turned front lawns into the frontlines of neighborhood conflict. While I don’t wholeheartedly agree with its innocuous approach, the ending presents enough teeth to inquire why we’re fighting each other when the answer may be to ax the politicians. Regardless, I admire the sentiment of what Erik and Carson have written into their script. The result is an entertaining watch no matter what side of the political spectrum you find yourself on, contextually illuminating parallels of chaos with the illusion of tradition.  

One thing I’ve never had an issue with in watching any Bloomquist film is its direction. Founders Day is meticulously framed and looks great. Moreover, the Bloomquists continue to be favored with a charismatic cast of equally familiar faces and fresh new talent. The casting balance effortlessly provides that small-town feel and helps make the New England community feel like the melting pot the creators intend. The sound and score also add a lot, filling the atmosphere with tension and confusion as the hunt for a killer continues.  

Founders Day is a huge step in the right direction for the Bloomquists. The brothers are engaging in some fantastic projects that seek to scratch the itch of what horror lovers want more of. After She Came from the WoodsFounders Day feels like a much tighter story, specifically while juggling a lot of nuance and subtext. The whodunnit can be predicted if you’re paying attention but delivers an enjoyable guessing game element, it has my vote for one of the best slashers of the year. And, even if you should assume what’s going down in this small town, the brutal and gory kills more than make up for it.  

I can see both sides of the aisle having a good time with Founders Day but make no mistake that its message asserts whether politics are more important than the person literally standing beside you. I hope it becomes an election season mainstay in the years to come, being played every four years to remind people who they are despite the outcome.  

Founders Day held its International Premiere at Pigeon Shrine FrightFest on August 28. The film continues to tour the festival circuit.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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