After losing an important swimming race along with a college scholarship, devastated teenager Andy Walton (Justin Kelly) spirals into self-destruction and petty crime. When Andy is caught shoplifting, his parents entrust him along with kid brother Mark (Benjamin Stockham) into the care of their hitherto unknown Uncle Trent (Jason Patric). The boys spend the summer on Walton Island which once belonged to the family but is now being purchased, piece by piece, by snarky business tycoon John Broman (Cary Elwes). He also happens to be the father of Andy's dream girl: the beautiful Claire (Celeste Desjardins). Who as luck would have it is also on holiday on the island. Together the kids discover a clue to a treasure hidden by Andy's grandfather for which both the Waltons and others have spent years searching in vain. But in their search for treasure the kids unearth long-buried family secrets and tangle with dangerous men that will do anything to find the gold.
Part funded through Kickstarter, Lost & Found is a solidly-crafted, pleasingly old-fashioned family film that, perhaps inevitably, fell through the cracks in an era swamped by mega-budget franchise fare. Nonetheless it is worth catching up with for viewers young and old that appreciate family films that take time and care weaving stories with complex emotions and relatively substantial themes. While the film feels somewhat tele-visual in parts, first-time director Joseph Itaya, a seasoned craftsman of virtual-reality shorts, exhibits a solid grasp of cinematic storytelling. He showcases some stunning Canadian scenery and stages moments of gripping, at times even unsettling, suspense. Mere moments after arriving on the spooky island, poor Andy is menaced by gun-toting strangers and at one point kidnapped, bound and gagged, albeit then mercifully dumped outside Trent's rickety house.
Co-written by Itaya and Erik Cardona, the plot ventures into darker territory than one would expect from a young adventure yarn including several revelations that greatly deepen the drama prior to a heady finale. Drawing upon the legacy of code-breakers active during the Second World War, Lost & Found pieces together a compelling mystery in pleasingly intricate detail yet grounds its dramatic core in reality. It is really a family drama bound within a treasure-hunting adventure. Without talking down to its target audience, the well-written screenplay crafts complex, engaging young characters. Chief among them a flawed, embittered yet thoroughly sympathetic young hero Andy, impressively portrayed by Justin Kelly. Andy has every reason to be angry at the world but the film addresses how part of growing up is learning to deal with failure and that life does not always work out as we want. In a nice touch deceptively frail kid brother Mark turns out to be more emotionally mature and worldly-wise than Andy. The bond that slowly develops between both siblings ranks among the plot's foremost assets. Similarly, far from a token love interest, Claire emerges with a distinctive personality winningly conveyed by the beguiling Celeste Desjardins. Like Kelly she exhibits star potential. Ironically whereas a sullen Andy is warmly welcomed, the islanders are far more hostile to nice girl Claire because her dad's business interests threaten their livelihood. Claire's character arc is as sympathetic as Andy's and in some ways far more tragic in light of its ambiguous conclusion.
Of the more seasoned cast members Jason Patric gives a nicely low key turn as crusty Uncle Trent who is as embittered as Andy, dealing with his own family tragedy. Elsewhere Cary Elwes once again essays the same snarky villain type he has for the past two decades but does so very well without recourse to pantomime. Dealing with characters haunted by past mistakes destined to be repeated, fathers feeling let down by sons and vice-versa, what Lost & Found lacks in big scale thrills it makes up for with intimate, affecting drama.