Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Into The Dark

Genre: Horror
Premise: A Hansel and Gretel for the texting generation, Into The Dark is about a homeless brother and sister who accept the help of an older upper class woman, only to get trapped in her penthouse of horrors.
About: I don’t know a lot about this script, however from what I understand, it went out wide but did not sell. Richard Tanne and Travis Baker are the writers of a web show called “Cinema Cool” where they look at, mainly, great horror writers and directors, occasionally diving in to pop culture films. Baker was a researcher on the original Hostel, which I guess means he researched interesting ways to torture people? Tanne most recently wrote and starred in an indie movie called “Worst Friends,” about a couple of childhood best friends who move back in with each other as adults.
Writers: Richard Tanne and Travis Baker
Details: 95 pages - undated (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).

Talk about a roller-coaster ride of a script. I started off thinking this was one of the worst scripts ever. Everything was so loud and on the nose. People said exactly what they were thinking and there was nary a line of dialogue where one character wasn’t yelling at another. I was like, “Do these writers know the meaning of subtlety?” But then, as the script went on, I began to realize that I’d completely misinterpreted the tone. This script was SUPPOSED to be over the top. And as soon as I realized that, everything got better. Before I knew it, I was actually enjoying the generically titled “Into The Dark.” The question is, did I enjoy it enough to recommend it?

16 year old Virginia is mourning her immediate future. That’s because her new bitchy stepmother, Issy, is moving in. Issy is not good people. She’ll smile and coddle you when daddy’s around. But as soon as he’s in the other room, she morphs into the Wicked Witch Of The West.

Virginia’s only lifeline is her brother Ellis, who she loves more than anything. As long as he’s there to protect her, she can muscle through it. Well, it turns out Ellis has other plans. He decides to quit school, move to the big city, and pursue a career in music. Moving to New York with no money to become a musician is definitely a sensible thing to do so Ellis clearly has things figured out.

Virginia is so horrified at the prospect of being alone with Step Mommy Dearest that she joins her Bieber wannabe bro at the last second and they head for the Hotel Califor-no-money-ah. They try to get jobs but those don’t last long and soon they’re living on the streets eating out of dumpsters. That reminds me of an old friend of mine. Dumpster Danny. That guy could make a sandwich out of cardboard and raw eggs if he needed to. Good guy. I miss ya DD.

Well one night while wandering through a park, a mugger goes after our dumpster duo but the most awesomest old lady ever leaps out of nowhere and slams a bottle of wine upside the mugger’s head. High five for Granny! Granny, concerned for their safety, asks them if they’d like to come up to her place and call the police. Sure, they say. Where the hell else do they have to go?

It turns out Granny ain’t doing so bad for herself. She lives in some swanky uptown building and owns the entire like 20th floor or something. The grandmotherload. After some small talk, Granny tells them they just have to try her homemade Gingerbread. While Ellis gulps it down, Virginia is a little more cautious. Something isn’t quite right here. She wisely pouches the food and keeps an eye on her suspicious host.

Next thing you know, Granny is offering them a room for the night and Ellis is all over that because he’s suddenly feeling quite tired. Virginia doesn’t have much of a choice since her brother is staying but the warning signs are starting to beep bop boop like crazy. Once in her room, she realizes the door is LOCKED. And now her suspicions are confirmed. Virginia tries to wake her brother up as the conversation outside seems to be turning to “What’s for dinner?” if you know what I mean (I mean “they’re for dinner”). Virginia finds a secret passage that she drags her brother through just before the bad guys come in and now the chase is on!

But our succulent siblings are in for a big surprise. As they try running down the fire escape, they realize that Granny doesn’t just own the condo. She owns the ENTIRE DAMN BUILDING! Every single tenant is part of the game. And they’re all starving!

The entire first act of Into The Dark is a major problem. I would even wager that the reason this script didn’t garner more interest is because a lot of people never made it past page 25. I mean we have the nonsensically evil Issy, who’s maybe the most over-the-top character in screenplay history. When she enters Virginia’s house, it’s clear this is the first time she’s ever been there. Assuming that Issy and the dad were dating before they got married, wouldn’t she have been inside their house, oh I don't know, at least once??

Then the next sequence has bro and sis racing off to New York to try and become famous or something. At that point I’m going, “What the hell is this movie about??” But I really began to check out when they became homeless. I mean what the hell is this story about??? Then finally – FINALLY – the old woman brings them back to her place and I understood what the story was. But man, that’s a lot of nonsense to go through to get to the actual story.

I think this is why some readers had trouble with Karl’s script the other day as well. We’re trying to figure out what the movie is about, and if no clear objective emerges from our characters – if they’re not going after anything important and/or clear, we start to lose interest. And even if a clear story does emerge in that second act somewhere, we’ve already started skimming by that point, so we’re no longer emotionally invested. You don’t want the reader to put you in the skim-cycle. That’s why EVERY part of your script needs to be interesting. Not just certain parts.

Luckily, Into The Dark’s situation was compelling enough to be one of the few screenplays that pulled me back in. Once we got inside that building, I was genuinely scared for Virginia and Ellis. I think because the goal seemed so insurmountable. I just didn’t see any way that they were going to get out of this alive. So I really wanted to see if they could.

Where I think these guys really shined though was in the old lady’s family. They did a great job creating this creepy unit that had perfected ways to lure kids into their building and bake them for supper. There’s a great nod to The Wicker Man in the script too where you think our characters are safe but then they get tricked at the last second. Again, I wasn’t completely certain that they were going to get out of this alive. It’s always good to include that possibility in your horror script. The more uncertain we are, the more eager we’ll be to find out what happens.

Only other thing I’d say is please change the title of this script. Every time I needed to refer to the title in the review, I had to go back and double-check it. That’s not a good sign. This script does not have enough fire to cook your entire Thanksgiving meal, but if you’re in the mood for some silly horror fun, it might be enough to take care of the stuffing.

[ ] What the hell did I just eat?
[ ] wasn’t for my stomach
[x] worth the later digestive problems
[ ] delicious
[ ] perfect meal

What I learned: I’m going to highlight something that commenter JakeBarnes said Friday because I think it’s the most succinct summary of a story: “A story happens when a protagonist has a clearly defined goal which he/she must achieve otherwise there will be terrible consequences (ie high stakes) and that protagonist faces clear and overwhelming obstacles stopping him or her from achieving that goal. The greatest obstacle, however, is the protagonist's own flaw which stands in his/her way, and he/she must overcome that flaw to achieve the goal. Often the flaw is worked out in the relationship storyline.” Now here’s the thing. We usually don’t get to that goal until THE END OF THE FIRST ACT. BUT, your first act should still indicate a clear direction LEADING UP TOWARDS THAT GOAL. The beginning of this story gives no indication whatsoever what this movie is going to be about. I mean do Issy and the dad really matter to the story? No. Why not just start with Virginia and Ellis on the streets of New York? Maybe right after they lose their job? Or a day away from getting kicked out of their apartment? They discuss if they should move back home, agree they can’t live with their stepmother, and reluctantly decide to tough it out on the streets until they can get another job. Maybe we see a few “Missing” flyers with their faces on them that they rip down. Things get tougher for them. And that’s when the park incident happens. The first act would just be so much cleaner than the wandering wippy-dippy confusing all over the place set of circumstances that occur now. You know?