The Founder Effect Image

The Founder Effect

By Josiah Teal | April 11, 2024

Based on the short film of the same name, The Founder Effect, written and directed by Justin MacGregor, blends light sci-fi with mystery in the hunt for a missing child. Declan Bakker (Greg Sestero) is a missing persons and unsolved cases expert promoting his book on the commonalities among the missing. He describes a frequency and “otherwordly light” that many of his 100 cases discuss in their experiences. Specifically, Declan talks about a young boy who went missing only to reappear years later without knowing of his absence. His opening lecture serves as a preamble for the narrative to follow as Officer Jack Rooney (Rick Edward) finds himself searching for his grandson, Kristian (James Jarvis).

Jack is a local police officer in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. Things are quiet in his neck of the woods, and people usually mind their business. But all the quiet fades away when Kristian goes missing in the shadows of the vast mountains. Rescue crews searched for days but only found the child’s bike. Stricken with grief, Jack witnesses unique light patterns on the Christmas lights around the house. Could this be the light Declan described? Could this phenomenon lead to his grandson? With no leads and no trail, Jack must pull together all his courage and forfeit all disbelief if there is any hope of saving Kristian.

“…Kristian goes missing in the shadows of the vast mountains. Rescue crews searched for days…”

Edward brings subtly and emotional depth to Jack, walking a tight balance between being a hard-nosed cop and a loving grandfather. He’s the most relatable character, but most of that stems more from empathy toward the situation than character growth. Sestero is essentially a narrator of subtext and concepts throughout The Founder Effect. Much of his performance comes from the stage, as seen in the opening. He brings confidence to the character and connects some of the more significant concepts in a clear way.

While boasting some light sci-fi references, The Founder Effect is a character-driven drama with a touch of mystery. Yet, the mystery contains most of the hangups. There’s not enough science fiction for this to stand as a genre exercise. While it does a nice mystery element, there are not enough pieces for the audience to play along. The character-centric moments are a good change of pace and move the story forward, but some of the drama feels like it is for its own sake. By the third act, the story takes a Taken turn. Though this shift to revenge/rescue thriller offers the most satisfying scenes, the tonal change from introspective character piece to Liam Neeson or more Clint Eastwood-esque gun-down needs more build-up to feel organic.

The Found Effect is a somber and slow-burning movie. The mountainous set pieces are gorgeous, and MacGregor uses them to build the overall mood nicely. Those mountains seem so vast; how could anyone find their missing loved one? The question seems crushing, and you feel it in Edward’s performance. Sestero is always a welcome presence, whether it’s as a missing persons expert in this, a cameo in The Disaster Artist, or his first collaboration with MacGregor in Best F(r)iends. The premise and performances take this far enough, but the picture has difficulty deciphering what it should be. The genre elements come across as unnecessary, while several dramatic moments are hit-and-miss. The climax delivers some of the strongest sequences, but the early message and philosophical musings are undercut by the need to run-‘n-gun.

The Founder Effect (2023)

Directed and Written: Justin MacGregor

Starring: Rick Edwards, Greg Sestero, Evan Riley Brown, Lilith Foxx, Teddy Hilary, James Jarvis, Jacqueline Worley, etc.

Movie score: 5/10

The Founder Effect Image

"…Sestero is always a welcome presence..."

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