Documentaries don’t make their way onto Diabolique very often, but Finders Keepers (2015) is an exception. Its premise is so outlandish, so ghoulishly compelling, that there was no way I could let it pass unnoticed.  Reading the film’s synopsis gave me that special feeling that every horror aficionado knows: the perfect mix of titillation, revulsion, and an almost unbearable anticipation—I HAD to watch this film, I HAD to know what happened.  Having now seen it, I can safely say that Finders Keepers provides a rare instance of truth actually being stranger than fiction.

FINDERS KEEPERS Shannon Whisnant Photo by Adam Hobbs

Shannon Whisnant in Finders Keepers (2015) [click to enlarge] Photo by Adam Hobbs

Here’s the story: a couple years ago, a small-town wheeler-dealer in North Carolina bought a smoker at a storage unit auction.  His name was Shannon, and he didn’t check the smoker out too carefully before taking it home.  Had he done so, he would have noticed that hidden inside was a mummified human leg, severed just below the knee: skin, nails, the whole nine.  When Shannon discovered the offending limb, he called the police, but that’s where the sensible reactions in this story end.

The limb’s owner, one John Wood, lost it in a plane crash that also claimed the life of his father.  He was homeless at the time (hence the auction of all his worldly possessions) and after hearing the media brouhaha about his one-time leg, he contacted Shannon to reclaim it for ‘religious purposes’.  But here’s the rub: now charging admission to see it, selling T shirts and calling himself ‘the foot man,’ Shannon doesn’t want to give it back.  And he’s prepared to go to court to keep it.

FINDERS KEEPERS John Wood Photo by Adam Hobbs 2

John Wood in Finders Keepers (2015) [click to enlarge] Photo by Adam Hobbs

From such a crazy setup you’d think the film would have nowhere to go but down.  But it’s a testament to the experience and instincts of the crew (whose credits include Print The Legend [2014] and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters [2007]) that Finders Keepers not only maintains its initial momentum, but successfully plumbs new topics as the story evolves.

As we learn more about Shannon and John, they turn out to be perfect foils for each other.  While Shannon grew up poor with a chip on his shoulder, John was the son of the local scion, heir to an estate equipped with tennis courts and a swimming pool.  Shannon tells us that, as kids, “if you didn’t have your birthday party at John Wood’s house, you were a nobody. I guess I’m a nobody.”

FINDERS KEEPERS Shannon Whisnant Photo by Adam Hobbs 2

Shannon Whisnant in Finders Keepers (2015) [click to enlarge]

Shannon’s class resentment is palpable, and when the mysterious leg gives him a shot at notoriety he grabs it (proverbially) with both hands.  However, what begins as just another one of his schemes mushrooms into an unquenchable thirst for fame, and by the end of the film he is nearly unrecognizable.  Instead of the amiable, canny huckster we first meet, Shannon has become sullen and withdrawn, lurking in the back of the frame, his face hidden in shadow.  All he wants is to be on TV.

John, on the other hand, grew up feeling like he already was somebody—or had to be somebody—just because of his family.  But filling his father’s shoes dogged him, and he turned to drugs and alcohol to escape the pressure of familial expectations.  The fact that John lost his leg in the same accident that killed his father makes the missing limb a totem of sorts, imbued with almost more significance than it can bear.

FINDERS KEEPERS John Wood Photo by Adam Hobbs

John Wood in Finders Keepers (2015) [click to enlarge] Photo by Adam Hobbs

Perhaps the best recommendation I can give on behalf of Finders Keepers is the fact that the severed leg is its least interesting subject.  Incorporating everything from legal wranglings to Jerry Springer to long-awaited family rapprochements, this is no one-note hot take, no superficial character study.  Instead it’s a profound rumination on relationships, aspirations, and the concept of worth, which just happens to have the year’s weirdest log line as its jumping-off point.  Seek it out!