Based on a novella by Todd Rigney, “Found” hits an atypically earnest note for horror by presenting a young serial killer from the p.o.v. of the little sibling who discovers his big bro’s secret hobby. Although not entirely successful, this intriguing, above-average genre effort still reps an ambitious and resourceful debut for helmer/co-writer Scott Schirmer (adapting with Rigney), especially given a budget of below five figures. After touring horror fests, it launches on iTunes, VOD and in limited theatrical release Aug. 15. Prospects are modest in all formats, but the principal creatives will get a likely career leg up from this accomplished indie effort.

“My brother keeps a human head in his closet. Every few days it’s a new head,” 12-year-old Marty (Gavin Brown) announces straight off via voiceover narration. At the story’s start he’s already sussed that out, having snuck into the bedroom of his sullen, withdrawn older sibling, Steve (Ethan Philbeck) —“a big no-no” — to borrow a bowling ball. What he found in the closet bowling bag, however, was another round, heavy object, evidence of the latest of several (mostly) black people Steve has decapitated.

Shaggy-haired, emo-looking Steve works at a local factory and has a combative relationship with their overtly prejudiced father (Louie Lawless), with well-intentioned mom (Phyllis Munro) straining in her role as mediator. Steve isn’t the only one with a secret life: Marty has already dug up Dad’s porn stash as well as Mom’s pined-over old love letters (not from Dad).

The family dynamics grow more deeply problematic as the story goes on, not always convincingly. But there’s a poignancy to Marty’s feeling bullied from all sides — including not just the requisite mean boy at school, but his own alleged best/only friend — as Steve proves his only real ally, albeit a paranoid and murderous one.

The film’s last act crosses into truly perverse territory, which it executes with a visual discretion that’s nonetheless quite suggestively brutal. While there’s no question Steve is a nutter with delusional racist obsessions, his simultaneously threatening and protective attitude toward Marty commands a certain degree of sympathy. Even complete nutjobs have their loyalties, sometimes.

“Found” boasts a considerable number of genre references, from the young protags’ penchant for VHS slashers to sequences from “Headless,” a fictive vintage gore pic that Marty finds secreted in Steve’s off-limits room. Nonetheless, it’s no winky homage, but a serious attempt at psychological realism under grotesque narrative circumstances. While the characters aren’t developed as fully as one might like given that approach, solid performances, production values and general polish keep “Found” compelling, on occasion arresting.

A bonus is a title sequence by Lowell Issac that animates the bloody graphic novel being illustrated by Marty, who’s already a morbid-minded tween even before he realizes his big bro is a monster.

Film Review: ‘Found’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Aug. 14, 2014. Running time: <strong>103 MIN.</strong>

  • Production: <div id=":46d" class="a3s">An XLRator release of an October People presentation of a Forbidden Films production. Produced by Leya Taylor, Damien Wesner.</div>
  • Crew: <div class="a3s">Directed, edited by Scott Schirmer. Screenplay, Schirmer, Todd Rigney. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Leya Taylor; music, Aaron Marshall, Bing Satellites, Magician Johnson, Greg Wright, Lito Velasco; music supervisors, Matt Zink, Carmelita Jehoh; special makeup effects, the Clockwerk Creature Co.; sound, Beasley, Kirk Chastain Foley, Lena Lae Burkett, Laya Taylor; casting, Sheila Butler.</div>
  • With: <div class="a3s">Gavin Brown, Ethan Philbeck, Phyllis Munro, Louie Lawless, Alex Kogin, Andy Alphonse, Kitsie Duncan, Kate Braun, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Cox-Thurmond, Brigid Macaulay, Angela Denton, Shane Beasley.</div>
  • Music By: