The Founder Effect Poster

The Founder Effect (2023) Review

The Founder Effect is defined as “the reduced genetic diversity which results when a population is descended from a small number of colonizing ancestors.” What connection that had to a film about mysterious lights and disappearing kids wasn’t exactly clear, something that could be said for much of the film, actually.

Missing persons expert Declan Bakker (Greg Sestero, Infrared, The Room) talks to an audience about people going missing only to reappear years later with no memory of where they’ve been. His talk touches on strange lights and an alleged high rate of disappearances in Nation Parks, something that was the basis for another recent film, Lovely, Dark, and Deep.

As he’s doing that, local cop Jack Rooney (Rick Edwards, Miracle Valley, Hearts and Armour) is getting ready to go camping with his family, daughter-in-law Lillith (Lillith Foxx, The Generations, Isolation) and grandkids Emily (Jacqueline Worley) and Kristian (James Jarvis). The kids’ father Simon (Stefan Reindl) killed himself some years before, a fact that still weighs heavily on Jack.

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That trip goes from nauseatingly cute scenes of everyone having a wonderful time to Declan looking at Kristian’s picture on a missing person poster and then sitting in a hotel room looking into the case on his laptop. Then we cut back to the campgrounds, where apparently it’s still the day the boy went missing and Jack and Lillith are looking for him. It’s confusing and the first of The Founder Effect’s many pointless scenes.

As it turns out, the boy’s been abducted and not by aliens. It’s no surprise who did it either, as we knew he had to be trouble because when Jack ran into him earlier, he wouldn’t tell Jack his name. I mean, how dare he not tell some random guy who he is? The police find the camper used in the abduction and amazingly enough come get Jack from the campsite, give him a shotgun and let him take over the scene, violating standard procedure in just about every police department in the civilized world. Of course, it turns out to be empty.

Writer/director Justin MacGregor has expanded his 2015 short of the same name to feature length, and The Founder Effect feels like fifteen minutes of story padded out to an hour and fifty minutes. There are all manner of shots of people walking around, constant shots of missing posters, Jack day drinking at a bar and beating up some guy for wanting the TV channel changed, Declan wandering around looking at the Northern Lights, etc. Much of this could easily have been trimmed if not cut out entirely to give the film more focus and a better pace.

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As for Sestero’s character, there’s no reason for him to be in the film at all, his talk about mysterious disappearances at the beginning is a red herring, there is nothing mysterious about Kristin’s disappearance. And his talk at the end is word salad that drones on, killing time and saying nothing. Even worse, he never actually interacts with the film’s other characters. It’s almost as if they had footage of him from another project and edited it in to get some use from it. Whether or not that is the case, it’s stunt casting of the most blatant kind.

Maybe if The Founder Effect had decided if it wanted to be a drama, or an action thriller, the science fiction tag on IMDB is straight up bullshit, it might have had a chance. But the film is such a jumble of styles and ideas it frequently borders on incomprehensible. One minute, we see a recreation of an alleged alien abduction, at another Jack goes off on a monologue about what a shitty father he was.

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Then the last half hour The Founder Effect wants to be Taken or The Sound of Freedom. But even Jack’s rescue of his grandson is intercut with shots of someone riding around on his motorcycle for no apparent reason and, killing any suspense those scenes might have built up.

The Founder Effect looks beautiful, it was shot in British Columbia, including two locations used in First Blood. MacGregor, who was also the cinematographer, gets a lot of milage out of the stunning wilderness locations. If it had combined that with a focused plot and script, it could have been an OK thriller, it even has a star that even looks a bit like Clint Eastwood. But as it stands, it’s a mess that seems unlikely to make anyone’s day.

The Founder Effect is currently playing festivals. You can check its website for more information.

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