Monday, January 24, 2011

Dibbuk Box - (Remixed!)

Genre: Horror
Premise: Dibbuk Box is apparently based on the real-life events of people tracking and buying some box on ebay that was haunted. Every recipient of the box would have strange and/or terrible things happen to them. To show you just how spooky and haunted this box is, since I posted this review, the real live Dibbuk box has actually started commenting in the comments section. Scroll down to see what it said.
About: Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures started developing this project with Mandate a long time ago, going through a slew of writers. When Lionsgate ate up Mandate, they put some major money behind the project and brought in writers Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, who wrote the draft that finally lit up the green light. Snowden and White are hot horror writers, who got final credit on the Nicholas Cage film “Knowing,” and have also written a draft of the Poltergeist remake. White used to be a production coordinator, working on such films as Pearl Harbor and The Sixth Sense. Jeffrey Dean Morgan will star in Dibbuk Box, which will be hitting theaters this Halloween. Originally, this review was of one of the older drafts (which is why the beginning of the comments refer to a different storyline) but upon receiving the latest draft, I remixed the review to cover it instead.
Writer: Juliet Snowden and Stiles White
Details: 108 pages – Sept 30, 2010, 2nd 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).

All right, for those who didn’t tune in yesterday, I reviewed an earlier draft of Dibbuk Box. In short, I didn’t like it. The story was way too simplistic and there wasn’t enough tension or suspense. Though to the writer’s credit, I got the feeling that it may not have been entirely his fault. The safeness of the work smelled like overdevelopment, or at the very least a difference in opinion on where the story should go.

So when someone sent me this new draft from writing team Juliet Snowden and Stiles White (great writing name btw!), I thought I’d take a crack at it. It’s always interesting to see a completely different take on the same material. Unlike reading a singular screenplay, you get to compare and contrast the different choices that were made and pinpoint why some worked and others didn't. Overall I wouldn’t say this new premise was any better than the previous draft, but I thought the relationships between the characters and the direction of the story were more complex and interesting.

In the new version, Division III basketball coach Clyde Brenek has just moved in to his new home. It’s been bachelor central in Apartmentsville since his wife left him a year ago and in order to make things more comfortable for his daughters, 15 year old cheerleader Hannah and 10 year old adult-like Em, he’s purchased himself a house.

After settling in, Clyde realizes he’s forgotten to buy dishes. So they head over to a nearby yard sale where Em falls in love with a weird European-style box. She asks her dad if he can buy it for her and Clyde can’t break out his wallet fast enough. Hey, when you’re a father fighting for custody, keeping your daughter happy is priority number 1.

Well, it should’ve been priority number nuh-uh. Cause what Clyde doesn’t realize is that he’s just purchased…The Dibbuk Box!

Right on schedule, Em becomes inappropriately attached to the box, whispering and humming to it, becoming all “creepy horror film kid-like” whenever it’s nearby.

Clyde doesn’t think much of it, as he’s more focused on a head coaching job at Division 1 North Carolina. This is that once in a lifetime dream opportunity he’s been waiting for, except he knows that if he takes it, he’ll rarely see his daughters.

Things start getting downright creepy at the house. There’s scratching noises everywhere. A huge roach problem develops. And some rooms are trashed without rhyme or reason.

When Clyde suspects that the box is the problem, he buries it out in the forest. But the Dibbuk Box calls to Em, who runs away from home and digs the box back up herself!

Afterwards, she takes it to school so her father can’t hide it from her anymore. When her teacher finds out, she puts the Dibbuk Box in a closet. Em doesn’t like that, and locks her teacher inside, where the Dibbuk Box gets all dibbucky on her, making weird noises and whispering unpleasant phrases.

Eventually, like the previous draft, Clyde must go find someone to exorcise the demons from the box in order to save his daughter from the Dibbuk curse. The question is, will he be able to do it before it’s too late?

A lot of the problems I had with the previous draft were fixed here. In fact, there’s a lot of good stuff in this latest draft of The Dibbuk Box.

First, they’ve set up key unresolved relationships in the movie. You want conflict in your story and one of the easiest places to find it is in unresolved relationships. Here, Clyde is dealing with the separation from his wife, and more recently her finding a new boyfriend. Not only does this give us something to resolve over the course of the story, but it adds depth to our main character. We see what Clyde is going through. We can tell it hurts him. This adds dimension, which in turn makes him more “real” (three-dimensional) to us.

Also, we have characters with lives here. I always say to writers, if you took away your movie from your characters, would they still have something to do? Or is the story the only way they can exist? Cause if the story’s the only way your characters can exist, then you don’t have real characters.

Here, Clyde has a job as a basketball coach, and more specifically a job offer out of state that he’s considering. Even if there was no movie here, Clyde would have something to do (a job, goals, events to look forward to). Hannah, the older sister, has her cheerleading at school. So she, also, has something to do (albeit less developed). You want as many characters in your script going through the motions of life as possible. Ask yourself “What would they be doing if there was no movie for them to be in?” It’s a quick way to add depth to your characters.

We also have a pseudo-ticking time bomb here, which was smart. Sometimes a story doesn’t work well with a blatant ticking time bomb (i.e. Joe has 72 hours to save his sister or a mobster will kill her). But you still want time to feel contained in some capacity, as that gives the illusion of time moving faster for the reader (and the audience). Here, we’re told right off the bat that this is the true story of what happened to a family over 29 days. Every 15 pages or so, we’re then told what number day we’re on. So even though we’re not screaming towards the finish line, we feel like we’re progressing towards a conclusion. It’s a small thing but it helps if your story takes place over weeks or months.

I also thought there were some smart story choices here. When Em runs away to find the Dibbuk Box, Clyde is deemed an unfit father, and the girls are ordered by a judge back to their mother’s place. Of course, this is right when the Dibbuk Box becomes the most dangerous, and Em is in the most danger. So the moment Em needs Clyde the most is the moment he can’t be with her. There were a few story choices like this that I thought worked really well.

If I had a complaint, it’s that, in the end, we’re going with the well-tread “creepy horror film child” device. We’ve seen this used a lot, in movies like The Ring, like Sixth Sense, like Case 39, like The Omen. So despite some of the sound storytelling here, we’re basically rehashing previously-hashed territory.

This new draft of Dibbuk Box is nothing to write home about, but in a sea of bad horror scripts, it’s not too shabby. If you’re a horror fan, you’ll probably want to check it out.

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

What I learned: Every horror film should have at least one big memorable scene – something that an audience can’t stop talking about afterwards. Masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. The rape scene in Rosemary’s Baby. The feet bashing scene in Misery. If your horror film doesn’t have that memorable scene, you might as well not even write it. Dibbuk Box might have that moment. I’m not going to spoil it, I’ll just say: The MRI scene.