Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sprawl (Roger Review)

 It's Monday so it's time for that boring weekend to end and your script reviews to begin.  This week should be fun.  I review a recent big spec sale.  And I mean REALLY big.  We have two Blood List scripts, one of which Roger reviews today.  We also have an old spec sale in the vein of Die Hard.  So action nuts will have a chance to get their swerve on.  Finally, we have a review for a script which will likely be an Oscar contender.  People get ready.  Here's Roger with his review of Blood List script "Sprawl."

Genre: Horror/Urban Thriller
Premise: Suburban teenage misfits out for a wild night in Hollywood throw a bottle at a car and provoke the wrath of a faceless psycho who hunts them down through the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.
About: Sprawl was in the Top 10 of the best horror scripts at #6, according to 2010's Blood List.
Writers: Jordan Goldberg & Alex Paraskevas
Details: 102 pages - October 27, 2009 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Previous to this Top 10 script, the only script I was privy to read on this year's Blood List was "Chronicle", which I absolutely love. I'm not sure why I chose to read Sprawl, other than the fact that I ran across it earlier in the year and was always intrigued by the one-and-a-half page teaser where a "meaty tendril" rips a married couple from their Volkswagon and kills the lone witness, a wheel-chair ridden bum who's holding a cardboard sign that says, "PORSCHE FUND!" I assumed the carne coil belonged to a monster roaming the streets of Los Angeles, but forty pages in I realized I was mired in a different horror subgenre that was more slasher-killer than C.H.U.D.

Who are the players?

There's Ashley Boyer, the sixteen-year old cheerleader and daughter of a cop, who is in the middle of seducing the high-school quarterback, Chase, in his Mustang. Before he can get his hands on the sexy flirt, three hooded figures attack his car with potato guns and M80s. Ashley runs off in terror, and Chase thinks he's looking at a trio of grim reapers when they throw a flaming bag of shit at him and escape into the neighborhood.

The three hooded figures are Nathan, Ray and Tony. Nathan is the asthmatic one-hundred pound runt of the triumvirate, and our story's protagonist. His lifelong friend Ray is the muscular and volatile leader, and Tony is the red-headed gay friend who is sporting a black eye. See, Chase punched Tony in the shower room, all because he's gay, so he got his prankster friends to get revenge on the straight high-school hunk.

Our merry pranksters are joined by Micah, the overweight and undersexed teenage Falstaff who is the comic relief of the bunch, and Dana, the goth-y vixen who serves as their school's drug dealer. All of these guys are troublemakers, the type of kids who are all about mischief and acting out. Ray has the most anger out of the bunch, and he gets our group into trouble when he decides to get revenge on their chemistry teacher for a prank turned embarrassing shouting match by turning his backyard pool into a fireball with a hefty block of sodium metal.

There's a bit of a love triangle between Ashley, Ray and Nathan. Ashley is attracted to Ray's sexy danger and rebel-without-cause attitude, and Nathan is in love with Ashley, but is constantly crippled by his self-confidence issues.

Nathan gets a chance to impress and win over Ashley when they all learn that their favorite band, Fester, is going to be playing a secret midnight show at LA's Viper Room. Nathan seems to be the only one with a license and car (his Mom's), so he offers to drive them to the show with the hopes of scoring with the gal of his dreams.

So, what happens?

Nathan's mom is reluctant to lend him her car, so he slips some Xanax in her glass of milk, waits for her to fall asleep, then steals her keys and sneaks off in the car. He picks up his friends and off they go to LA.

Things get a bit rowdy when Dana whips out two bottles of Boone's Farm and a joint and everyone but Nathan starts to loosen up. He's in panic mode, afraid that they're going to get pulled over or his friends are going to do something stupid. To his dismay, Ashley is smitten with Ray, and not only that, but she seems to be the wildest of the bunch.

Which is totally proven when they pull up to a stoplight, right next to a gunmetal Toyota Prius. Micah dares Ray to throw an empty bottle at the most benign car ever, and Nathan gets into an argument with all of his passengers when Ashley hurls the bottle at the Prius and Nathan is forced to run a red light to get away.

Everything appears to be five by five when they disperse into the Viper Room. Until Dana's drink is spiked with about twenty tabs of mind-altering psychedelics and she runs in fear from her hallucinations through the nightclub. From her perspective, it's a Fear-and-Loathing style trip, and she's running from a pursuer she thinks is some type of beast.

She falls down a flight of stairs and breaks her leg. A cloven hoof stomps on her, and the beast jams a tire-pressure gauge into her temple, killing her. When her body is discovered, it's total chaos, and our teens exit the club, unaware of what's happened to Dana. While they regroup, Nathan's mother's Suburban careens down the hill and crashes into some cars.

It's totaled, and Dana's drug stash is scattered all over the interior.

They flee to an In-N-Out Burger, in full panic mode, when an employee comes up to them with Dana's bloodstained glasses, "Someone found them in the lot. It looks like they fell in ketchup." Shaken, the kids start confronting customers to figure out who found them. They see the Prius in the parking lot, and they figure it's the bottle-guy getting revenge on them.

They're forced to flee to a parking garage after Ray causes an incident in the restaurant, and that's when the Prius returns into their lives and everything goes downhill for our merry pranksters. That meaty tendril from the teaser? Well, it belongs to whatever is inside of the vehicle, and whatever it belongs to is thirsty for blood.

So, what happens?

At the end of the day, this is a story about a gunmetal gray Toyota Prius chasing teenagers around Los Angeles and running them over. You've got a bit of Stephen King's "Christine" sans the supernatural baddie, a dash of Spielberg's "Duel" with the faceless aggressor in a vehicle, and a sprinkling of "Death Proof" minus the transcending of genre.

If Death by Prius sounds like your type of movie, then you'll be entertained with the second half of this script, which is a cat-and-mouse game between the most unassuming of yuppy vehicles and the phoneless teenagers just trying to survive. Although our band of teenage misfits share some witty dialogue and funny exchanges (one character is frisked by a gang leader to discover that he has nine dollars and ten condoms to his name), there's nothing that really separates them from the other forgettable teenagers that die equally horrible deaths in other similar movies.

The protagonist has self-esteem and confidence issues and his goal is to win the girl, but halfway through the goal shifts to one purely of survival. There's no overarching theme that links the goal in the plot to the internal conflict in Nathan's story, other than the fact that he has to rise to the occasion and not hesitate to make decisions. As a result, I wasn't totally involved with the characters, but I kept reading, because, let's be honest, when a Toyota Prius is given the same role as the shark from Jaws, you're kinda curious to see how things are gonna pan out.

Yes, there are some grisly deaths, and one is particularly well-done (I'm looking at you, Trannie Tony), I found that the scenario pushed the envelope of my suspension of disbelief. No matter where these kids run to, be it a mechanic's shop, a car dealership, a parking garage or just about any stretch of the Los Angeles sprawl, they get trapped by the Prius. When they want to hole up, doors are locked. When witnesses try to help, they get run over. They can't call for help, because they gave all their cell-phones to Dana so she could sneak LSD into the Viper Room ("Because they'll search my purse, but not the phones.") Part of the fun of life-and-death scenarios is watching characters problem solve and draw into deep wells of courage they've never accessed before, and sadly, there's not really a moment where a character makes a decision that seems ingenious or super-inspired. We've seen plenty of car chases, and we know people can hide from cars and their pursuers because we see it all the time in other movies. Not here. This Prius is locked onto the teens like flies on shit and there's no escape. I'm the last person to complain about believability in stories, but in this case, I think the logic of it all needs to be stronger.

On film, I think there will be tense moments of vehicular terror, especially in the second half, and, hey, if that's your thing, then you won't be disappointed. However, if you're looking for characters that you care about and hate to see get killed, you might be hard-pressed to find that here. This type of movie is all about the frisson of seeing characters get mangled to death, not the moments in-between.

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

What I learned: Movie Logic vs. Real World Logic. Regardless of genre, if you're writing a screenplay, you're working on top of several decades of stories, plot mechanics and conventions that have come before your latest opus. As such, sometimes you have creative license, grace and goodwill to write a scene based on the logic that an audience will just go with it because it's a movie. But, sometimes this creates discord in an audience member's suspension of disbelief because it goes against the grain of what they know to be true of humanity, which we'll call Real World Logic. You have to strike a balance between Movie Logic (let's not think too hard about it because it's a movie) and Real World Logic. That balance is called verisimilitude, which is the quality of realism in the artifice of story. In a script, if I'm questioning the decisions characters make and the logic of a particular scenario, then I know the level of verisimilitude isn't where it should probably be.