Sunday, April 18, 2010


If last week was weird, this week will be wacky. There ain't no unifying theme here I'm afraid. Today Roger hits you with a horror thriller. Tomorrow, I'm going to review a script from a writer who has a hot mysterious project out there somewhere (to, of course, drum up awareness that I'm looking for said hot mysterious project's script). Wednesday we'll either have a writer interview or another book-review post. Thursday will be a quiet character driven story review. Then Friday will be something I've never done before. If you're a fan of sci-fi, you'll want to tune in, cause I'm writing 3 mini-reviews of hot sci-fi projects around town. -- Now, if you haven't heard about the craziness happening in the month of May here at Scriptshadow, time to go back and read that post. And when you're done wrapping your head around all of that, come back and read Roger's review of "Pet!"

Genre: Thriller, Horror
Premise: A lonely animal shelter worker descends into a downward spiral of obsession when he stalks and abducts his crush, imprisoning her in a cage. But according to her diary, this young woman may be more deadly than she seems.

About: Jeremy Slater's "Pet" sold to MGM back in 2007, the same year that his spec "Score" landed on the Black List. Since then, he sold "My Spy" to CBS Films, which has been described as
Three O'Clock High meets Alias. Last week, Slater made the headlines again when it was announced that he was the writer on a Dreamworks airport thriller project pitched by none other than Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.
Writer: Jeremy Slater

Details: 1st Revision dated 5/19/07

Last week, we all heard about Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci pitching a thriller set in an airport to Dreamworks. Flog me if you will, but I think these guys are brilliant pop writers, so I wasn't surprised to read about them selling a pitch. What intrigued me was the name of the writer attached. A dude named Jeremy Slater. Why was this guy getting the Orci-Kurtzman seal of approval?
Wait. Isn't Jeremy Slater the blogger who wrote 'Rapebear, The Movie' on his blog, 'How To Write Screenplays, Badly'?
Indeed, he is. As a young Roger Balfour, I remember reading Rapebear and pissing all over myself. Luckily it I was on the toilet with my laptop. Unluckily, is that I pissed over the rim whilst shitting. You ever do that? It sucks. The experience taught me how to explain pee on the back of my jeans.
"Pet" isn't a screenplay written, badly.
It's a page turner.
Which is always a good sign for thrillers, or hell, any screenplay in general. Because the worst thing that can happen to a screenwriter is for a reader to completely lose interest in his or her script before they reach The End.
I got to The End of this script.
I'm not gonna lie. It's pretty fucked up. Like Angela Bettis pulling an Un Chien Andalou on her eyeball at the end of Lucky McKee's May-fucked up.
Isn't Dominic Monaghan attached to this?
I have no idea, but why not? I can totally see him playing the part of Seth, the lonely animal shelter worker who makes any of my pathetic attempts at a romantic connection seem both cute and insignificant in comparison.
We meet Seth as he's waking up one morning. Alone as usual. We follow him about his day. He works at the municipal animal shelter, where he refills food dishes, cleans the cages, genuinely loves on the dogs. He's attached to a one-eyed mutt he's named Barnaby.
At a greasy spoon, Seth eats his meal alone, smiling at anyone who walks past. He makes eye contact with a cute girl reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel. She doesn't want to talk to him.
On the bus home, Seth is off in his own world, staring out the window, when he hears scritching. Across the aisle, Holly Garling is writing in a blue diary. Seth instantly recognizes her.
Holly is Seth's crush from highschool he was too shy to ever talk to.
Well, this is finally his chance. And although she doesn't remember him, it goes well for Seth. They share a moment that's more witty banter than flirting, but no matter, Seth is smitten to a fault.
When it comes to her stop, Seth isn't ready to say goodbye. He notices her name tag. She works at a restaurant called Happigans.
What can you tell us about Holly, Rog?
Holly has a pixie-ish roommate named Claire. Holly is a writer. In her apartment, she listens to a message on her answering machine from the editor at a literary journal, "Listen, I know we talked about including your story in the fall issue, but I just found out our page count is being cut back and, well..."
You get the idea.
We learn more about her.
Well, Seth learns more about her, thanks to Google.
On her MySpace page, Seth is enthralled by her photo albums. He clicks through them, completely captivated. He finds her LiveJournal, her daily blog entries, the short stories she's written.
Seth starts taking notes.
At the shelter, whilst going about his duties, he quizzes himself on Holly, "Favorite music. Well? You don't know? You got nothing? Answer is, she likes the Postal Service, Modest Mouse..."
He asks another guy at the animal shelter, a security guard, about how to approach a girl you like. "Just be confident. Make her laugh. Find out what she's into. But her flowers, shit like that."
Lemme guess. Things don't go according to plan for Seth?
It's a one-two punch of unfortunate events, a combination Seth is unable to roll with that sets the plot into motion. The first one is so sad, but handled so delicately I never once felt like my emotions were being manipulated. Slater's got the goods, man.
Remember the one-eyed mongrel, Barnaby? Well, seems like no one has arrived to adopt him, even after Seth has begged his employers to keep him around for an extra week.
The vet tells Seth, "Don't know why you name 'em. Doesn't make it any easier, that's for sure. Put him up there."
Seth's building doesn't allow for dogs. He can't rescue him. He has no friends or family. No one can rescue Barnaby.
Seth feeds Barnaby a candy bar, holding him in his arms as the dog is injected with pentobarbital. "No, no, look at me! You're a brave boy, Barnaby! Yes, you are! And I wish I could save you, but you're such a brave boy and I'm so proud of you!"
Seth shows up to Hannigans.
Holly is his waiter. It's a moment he's rehearsed over and over again. He tries to continue the repartee from where they left off on the bus. Only thing is, Holly doesn't remember who this guy is.
Seth is crushed.
Despondent, he executes his ace-in-the-hole: "Hey, maybe this is weird, I dunno, but do you like Ben Folds?" Of course she does. He read on her MySpace that he's one of her favorite singers.
"You know, I've actually got tickets for his show next week, and the person I was gonna go with –- it wasn't a girlfriend or anything, just a friend –- "
Holly declines. It's awkward. It's even more awkward when she says she already has a boyfriend and Seth blurts out, "No, you don't!"
Seth vomits in the alleyway, but he's not giving up so easily.
So Seth starts to cross some boundaries as he becomes more and more obsessed?
You got it. He follows her to her apartment in a taxi. We see the situation from Holly's perspective. It's creepy when Claire notices someone outside, staring at the complex.
Holly gets agitated as she shows up to work to find a forest of Monte Negro Lilies for her, with the note, "BE MINE," attached.
And we start to learn about Eric, Holly's ex. She thinks he's the one who sent the flowers, trying to win her back.
We learn that Holly broke up with Eric because of another woman. But it's cryptic, a mystery. Who was this other woman and what happened?
The situation reaches Fatal Attraction-levels of discomfort for Holly when Seth shows up to Eric's bar, asking her if she liked the flowers. Holly freaks out and Eric goes after Seth, beating the shit out of him.
In the scuffle, Holly drops her blue diary, which Seth scoops up before he runs off.
What's revealed in Holly's diary, Rog?
It's not something I'm going to spoil. But it's surprising. It's good. It's diabolical. It's Seth's motivation for kidnapping Holly. And it's something we're not going to find out until after the mid-point, but it's a game changer.
By now, we're in the second act and, and for the first half of it, it's all about Seth's preparation for the abduction and then the actual execution of it.
Let's just say that Seth is successful and locks Holly in cage in the sewers underneath the animal shelter.
So the second half of the script is about Holly trying to escape the cage?
More or less. But we're in Boxing Helena and The Collector territory, where everything isn't as it seems.
Will Seth be able to escape suspicion from his co-workers at the animal shelter as he gets more sloppy with his work, his mind on the girl he's locked in a cage underneath the howling dogs? And what's his endgame, anyways?
Will Holly be able to escape? But, after we learn about her true nature, do we want her to escape?
It's a sick and twisted battle of wills between two fatally flawed characters, and as such, you may have difficulty in choosing which character to root for.
So what separates this from all the other psychological and contained thrillers out there?
The characters. They seem real. Seth represents every shy geek out there, lonely guys looking for that one girl they can connect with, share with.
It straddles a line between yearning and obsession. If you fall in love, can you control the fall?
Maybe, maybe not.
Certainly, if longing become obsession, you can stop yourself, right?
And like any psychological thriller worth its salt, it adheres to the perverse Hitchcockian principle that the audience should feel culpable in the abductions, in the murders, in the wrongness.
It's disturbing because I think a lot of people can relate to the temptation of learning about a person via social networking sites. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, MySpace, OKCupid, you can learn everything you might want to know about a person without even having a conversation with them. It's kind of scary, isn't it?
You female readers, how many of you have ever had stalkers?
And you male readers, how many of you have ever learned more about a girl by trolling her profile on social networking sites or reading her blog?
It's something that hits close to home for us all, and even if we haven't crossed the line, we can certainly understand how easily one might be able to cross the line. "Pet" explores this fear, and I commend it for this.
Although I prefer Misha Green's Sunflower (it's just more my style, the characters physically had a bigger stage, which I think opens up the story, and I thought it explored the psychological ground in a more stabby, penetrating way), "Pet" is a pretty groovy script. It's simple and smart. Big in its ideas, especially when it comes to two minds battling each other. I really enjoyed both the discovery and execution of the reversal contained within. An exercise in sustained tension with a nasty, grisly ending.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: They're called psychological thrillers for a reason. The best ones emphasize character over plot, really exploring the psyches and mental states of the characters. They always anchor the pathology of the characters in real psychological precedence you can go read about in psychology books. I've read a few amateur psychological thrillers, and one pattern I seem to notice is that the characters of the hunters/killers don't seem realistic. They always have some crazy motivation or backstory, which is fine and well, but if their modus operandi or character flaw can't be traced to some fucked up mental state I can go read about, then chances are something is off.
There's a Hitchcock quote, "I'm fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn't make a good suspense film." I think the same can be said for the protagonists inhabiting a suspense film. If you have a character that is more coward than hero (at least to start off with), then they're going to be more easily scared in their situations. This rubs off on the audience, as this character with cowardly attributes will become an avatar through which they experience the story, making them more vulnerable to fear. Which is the whole point, right?