Making it past the post by the smallest sliver of a hair, “Founders Day” is worth watching if only because it brings a jolt of femme queer weirdness to a genre historically dominated by men. Sure, it still includes a half-naked, quarter-witted, straight blonde chick getting attacked by a serial killer, promptly grabbing her boobs with both hands, and running down a school hallway scream-whining, “I learned my lesson!” But that’s just the (super creepy) price you’ll have to pay to enjoy star Naomi Grace as a likable lesbian final girl in an otherwise wildly misguided horror comedy from the Blooomquist Brothers.
The star-spangled political slasher starts off strong enough, introducing the authentically charming high school sweethearts Allison (Grace) and Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen). The seniors stand on the precipice of college, locking their initials to a local bridge in their hometown of Fairwood on a chilly, romantic night in November. The girls know they won’t be together forever, particularly with Melissa’s dad, Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok), facing off against the incumbent Mayor Blair Gladwell (Amy Hargreaves) in a local government race any day now. If he wins, the office will surely tie his family and vaguely gothic lezzie daughter to Fairwood forever, just as Melissa leaves for college.
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But when a masked killer — resembling something like a George Washington sculpture made out of those wax Babybel Cheese wrappers — attacks the star-crossed sapphics, Allison is swiftly picked off. Melissa gets away, but as the sort of election-themed killings continue and bodies mount, the already divided town (it’s #Change versus #TheSameShit, obviously) erupts into a mob rule frenzy akin to a less violent “Thanksgiving” or even more pedestrian “Assassination Nation.” The horror-comedy takes a mediocre stab at the meta jokes typical to post-“Scream” whodunnits, as well as blisters through more vague quips about American moderates than the old “Colbert Report.” They don’t land.
Our reluctant heroine teams up with her dad (Andrew Stewart-Jones), Allison’s brother Adam (Devin Druid), debate teacher Mr. Jackson (William Russ, “Boys Meets World” legend), and a handful of others as seemingly everyone hunts for the killer and/or heads to the ballot box. The mayor’s daughter Lilly (Emilia McCarthy) and local bad boy Rob (Tyler James White) add some “Riverdale”-esque teen drama into the mix, matching the CW juggernaut pound for pound on woefully poor story construction. And representing local law enforcement is Catherine Curtin as Commissioner Peterson: a Marge Gunderson-type role that sees the former “Orange Is the New Black” corrections officer hamming it up to surprisingly delightful effect. Grace may be the first reason to see this movie, but Curtin is a close second — and a decent pick for a future season of “Fargo” at FX.
Oozing with twists yet somehow still mind numbingly straightforward, “Founders Day” gets quickly lost in its scrum of characters. Standard slasher fare is by flanked one or two (or 10) too many plot pivots in a decidedly strange script co-written by Carson and Erik Bloomquist; the latter also directs. Although the filmmakers are committed to executing their increasingly off-the-wall dramatic and comedic concepts, keeping you guessing at least, the kills never crescendo. What’s worse, their barely-there take on democratic governance feels like a borderline insult to the intelligence of anyone watching the news, or bothering to go in-person to a movie theater, during this real-world presidential election year.
That said, there’s enough fun to be had with “Founders Day” that it might be worth checking out once it hits streaming services. Grace is bright and punchy, making even one of the more annoying stinger scenes in recent memory almost work. And there’s a decently gnarly face stabbing that, atrocious visual effects aside, feels like the sort of moment one might want to hit pause on. It isn’t a winner, but it runs a clean race — and we always need more queer women in politics.
A Mainframe production, “Founders Day” is in theaters now.
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