It’s Tuesday which means it’s time for another horror review. Another horror review that I won’t be giving. But I’ve left you in good hands. Jonny Atlas knows his shit. As he points out in his review, he’s a Rules Nazi, and I’ve been the recipient of some of his analysis before. It’s not pretty. But while he can be harsh, he always has good advice. Here is his review of Parasite.
Premise: When the crew of an underwater research station discovers a new parasite that turns its host homicidal they have to defend themselves against the surrounding sea life and their infected crew mates in order to stay alive.
About: This horror script was making the rounds not long ago and got some pretty good heat. Ultimately, it failed to sell. It’s good to read these “almost” sales every once in awhile so you can study what separates a sale from a non-sale. Kristy sold. This did not. Why?
Writer: Ehud Lavski
When Carson asked me to review this script, I asked him what it was about. He responded, "I don't know but Tarson says it's good. I think you should read it." A fine endorsement if ever I've heard one. I found the logline on trackingb, and I have to say the premise really intrigued me. It's a fresh take on the late 80s/early 90s underwater thriller formula.
The script opens on plankton, which get eaten by a striped bass in a fisherman's trap. Halfway through the first page we meet our antagonistic force: THE PARASITE! Our gluttonous bass chomps down on the parasite and spits it back out. Too bad the parasite has other plans. It uses it's tentacles to force-feed itself to the bass. We then see the other fish in the trap huddled in the far corner, "crazed with fear".
I like scripts that open with a bang. This certainly opened with a pop, but I don't know that I really felt a bang. The sequence was creepy and the parasite was pretty damn cool, but it ends too soon. We don't get to see what the parasite does, other than force fish to eat it. In my opinion, this is a huge wasted opportunity on Lavski's part. He says it's "the parasite", but I was hoping to see this thing as bad news straight out of the box. I wanted Lavski to give me something I should be afraid of. He let me down.
From there, the script turns to shit for a good 24 pages.
Let me rephrase that. It turns into a shitty horror script for the next 24 pages. The stuff that happens on pages 2 through 25 isn't drek. In fact, it's pretty well written. Unfortunately it doesn't belong in a horror script. Lavski gives us 24 pages of pure character development. I shit you not. There is only one mention of the impending parasite threat on page 6, where a herring beats another fish to death by repeatedly swimming into it. After that, nothing until page 26.
We meet Jane and Doc. Jane's cramped in a small exploration sub, and Doc is her connection to the underwater station. They do their job, with a chunks of exposition thrown in for good measure. Their first interaction is a great example:
Doc wears a pair of HEADPHONES. She stares at a beat-up family photo. Doc hugging her husband and kids.
(Coming from headphones)
Staring at the picture again?
Doc laughs, busted.
How could you tell?
I can hear you ovulating from down here.
You holding up OK?
Ask me when I’m out of the coffin.
Claustrophobia’s acting up?
What do you think?
From one to ten?
Reading this, I felt like I was getting beat over the head with the information hammer. It's written with skill ("I can hear you ovulating from down here"), but it is one massive exposition dump. Doc has a family, wants more kids, been away for a long time. Doc and Jane are good friends. Jane has claustrophobia. Bla bla bla.
I'm sure some would argue that it's a good use of a few lines of dialog and action to dump info on the reader. If it were really that good Lavski could spare us the next two pages. You see, Jane has Doc sing her a lullaby as she collects samples in her tiny sub for two fucking pages.
Is Jane's proficiency with the mechanical arm on the sub important to the plot? Yes. Do we need two pages to establish it? Fuck no.
Right here, I already had a few huge problems.
Problem 1: Why the fuck would a claustrophobic person (whose claustrophobia is a pretty big plot point) sign up to work in an UNDERWATER RESEARCH FACILITY? More importantly, why the fuck would they agree to get in a miniature submarine with "barely enough space to move"? Sorry, I don't buy it.
Problem 2: Why have some random "infected" fish attack another random fish on page 6, when you could have the striped bass from page 1 attack the other fish at the bottom of page 1? Seriously, it's a waste of an opportunity. More importantly, there's a huge disconnect because we never see random fish #2 get infected. We have to draw the conclusion on our own. Why risk the chance of losing your audience?
Anyway, after the shit with the fish, this guy Curtis persuades Doc to let him talk to Jane "alone". We get the vibe he and Jane had a thing before he screwed it up somehow. Doc agrees and leaves the room, which leaves psycho-ass Curtis free to try and kill Jane. Why? Because he and Jane were dating until Jane started fucking the Captain.
You read that right. Jane's best friend on the ship just left the guy Jane fucked over (who is apparently known for having an anger problem) alone in the room with her sub's remote controls. That's two problems in one. A) Doc is either a moron (doubtful since she's a mom and a fucking DOCTOR) or she doesn't give a shit about her friend, and B) our claustrophobic protagonist is cramped in a tiny sub when the fucking thing has a remote control station! Seriously, what the fuck?
I'm gonna stop harping on details now because if I don't I'll be here all fucking night. Seriously, the minor plot holes and glaring errors regarding science and plausibility made me want to bash my head against a wall. Moving on.
So Curtis tries to kill Jane for eleven pages and the mighty Captain Matt comes to the rescue. Once again, it was well written. There was definitely some suspense here. Really though, eleven pages? So not necessary. Then there's six pages of aftermath from the attempted murder, which puts the sequence at seventeen pages.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all about deep characters. However, it is the job of the screenwriter to weave character development into the unraveling of your premise's plot. Throughout this script (and especially in the first act), Lavski does one or the other. Consequently, the real story doesn't start until page 26.
On page 26, Doc pulls in the fisherman's trap from page 1 (like the audience is going to remember that shit after 25 pages of character drama), bringing the parasite onto the ship.
Yeah. The inciting incident doesn't happen until page 26. But hey, that means we're gonna get to the good stuff now, right?
More character drama. In fact, there's eight more pages of characters blabbering until Curtis eats the parasite on page 34. Then they talk for another five pages before more shit starts to happen. I wouldn't mind the five pages if I hadn't already read a whopping thirty-two pages of plotless character exposition.
On page 40, crazy shit starts happening. On page 41 we finally make it to the second act when the crew discovers the parasite in a fish. Mind you, it's in a fish. Curtis is still MIA.
On page 50, they realize Doc has a parasite in her brain. Page 53, someone has their first run-in with parasite-controlled Curtis. It's not until this point that there's any palpable suspense from the antagonistic force (the parasite).
You're probably wondering why I'm harping on page count so much. It's not because I'm a rule nazi, I promise. Take a look at the script's logline: "When the crew of an underwater research station discovers a new parasite that turns its host homicidal they have to defend themselves against the surrounding sea life and their infected crew mates in order to stay alive."
None of that shit starts to happen until page 41. Hell, they don't even face an infected crewmember until page 53! That's practically the fucking midpoint.
Basically, you wind up with a script that promises to be like DeepStar Six but starts out like The Abyss (don't get me wrong - The Abyss is by far a superior film; DeepStar Six is just a more action-packed horror flick). Actually, This script starts out like a tortoise in a marathon. Too bad slow and steady doesn't win the fucking race. It just puts me to sleep.
Speaking of DeepStar Six, Parasite's story actually follows its formula pretty fucking rigidly. All the beats are there, down to the slightly crazy crewmember whose personal beef with crewmember X motivates him to kill, which leads to a fistfight between him and crewmember Y. If only this script followed DS6's lead and put the characters in danger at the beginning of the script instead of the middle...
For the rest of the script, it's pretty nonstop. There's a lot of crazy shit - giant crabs, parasite-controlled sharks, kamikaze dolphins... some really cool (and sometimes silly) stuff. There are still a ton of errors in the story (as mentioned earlier), but the second half of the script is a fun ride nonetheless. I really wish the whole script was like the last 61 pages. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: As important as character development is in a script, you must integrate it with your plot. Otherwise you wind up with a schism between character and plot that no amount of flowery prose can mend. Find creative ways to reveal your characters through the action of your forward-moving storyline. If you don't, your story will get lost in the incessant blabbering of your characters and your first act will be over forty pages.
I also found Parasite to be further evidence that writing eloquently and knowing how to tell a great story do not always come pre-packaged together. If you don't have both abilities naturally, it takes time and effort to develop the skills necessary to execute a great script. Don't shortchange yourself by hoping the good will outweigh the bad.
If you want to read more from Jonny, check out his blog here: Jonny Atlas Writes
A final word here. Jonny brings up a great point in his “What I learned” section. Character development is extremely important to your script. But you have to do it on the move. You have to hide it inside actions and sneak it into dialogue. You can’t set apart large chunks of your screenplay just to develop characters or you’re going to put the reader to sleep. Keep the story moving. I saw that this was 114 pages. Most horror scripts are closer to 100 pages because the writer knows they gotta keep the story moving. It sounds like that could’ve helped here.