Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Screenplay Review - Dead In The Water

Genre: Horror/Zombie
Premise: A married couple goes on a cruise to heal their wounds after losing their son, but when the ship rescues a strange sick man, they soon find that their own lives are in danger.
About: Hey, how often do we get to read a script by TWINS?  Touchstone bought this spec back in 2010.  Alexi Hawley scripted the 2004 Exorcist prequel, Exorcist: The Beginning, and more recently was story editor on the Nathan Fillion show, Castle.  Brother Noah was a writer on the TV show, Bones.  
Writers: Alexi and Noah Hawley
Details: 110 pages

In all honesty, had I known this was a zombie script, I wouldn't have read it.  Dead In The Water was a random script I had in my screenplay pile which I knew nothing about, which is exactly why I wanted to read it.  I was hoping for another Ends Of The Earth or Dead Of Winter.  But didn't get it.  I got a zombie flick.

I'll tell you what, though.  Before I knew this was a zombie script - in other words throughout the first act - it was pretty damn good.  And once it became a zombie flick, the darn thing kept going.  It took some chances along the way - did things a little differently - and therefore, gasp, kept me fairly entertained.  I'm still not sure what to make of it on the whole.  There's a character called Suparman who feels like he's been beamed in from a different movie...on a different planet.  But all in all, I think there's more good here than bad.

The script starts out with a great opening scene.  A group of doctors are out for a spin on their sailboat when they spot a couple of men on a trawler dumping bags into the ocean.  The trawler speeds away and the doctors decide to investigate, only to find that the bags aren't just bags.  They're body bags.  And as they move up to get a closer look, one of the bags...STARTS MOVING.

They open the bag up to save the individual but it turns out it's not him who needs saving.  Blood splatters.  There are screams.  And we CUT to a cruise ship.  This is where we meet Brian and Carrie Lake, a couple grieving over their dead son.  Both are devastated but Carrie's ready to move on. Brian, a cop, can't let go however, and would rather sleep in their room all day than go out and "have fun."

So Carrie heads out on her own, and while up on deck, spots something in the water that stops her cold.  It's a man!  Drifting along on a piece of debris!  She calls out to the ship's crew and the next thing you know they're lifting the man up on deck.  Well waddaya know?  It's one of the doctors!  And he's not looking good.  In fact, he starts vomiting blood all over the place!  Mmmmmm...blood vomit.

Carrie relays the experience to Brian, who continues his bed brigade, so Carrie goes to take a nap on deck.  When she wakes, however, something is off.  There's...nobody around.  It's like everyone from the cruise just disappeared.  Oh, until she sees a man with a blood-stained mouth coming after her.  And then another one.  And then another one.

Carrie runs off, where she's able to find a few more people, and the group quickly realizes that a virus has spread throughout the ship, bringing the dead back to life, dead who are hungry for human flesh.  Let this be a lesson about picking up strangers.

Carrie now has a single-minded goal - finding her husband, and this is where the script does something different.  It starts out with a segment called "Carrie," which follows Carrie's journey as she tries to find Brian.  Then, when that's over, we cut to the "Brian" segment, where we show Brian trying to find Carrie.  If that were it, the script still may have been too predictable for me.  But then, for some odd reason, we also have a final segment titled, you guessed it, "Suparman."  Suparman is a 22 year old Indonesian man who is some sort of circus acrobatics expert, able to wield duo-machetes which allows him to slice and dice zombies like they're tomatoes.  I honestly have NO IDEA what Suparman was doing in the script, and yet, I was glad he was.  It gave the story this slight level of absurdity that differentiated it JUST ENOUGH from typical zombie faire to give it an edge.

The first thing I want to point out is what an advantage CONTAINING a horror scenario is.  For those who read or saw Contagion - if you were like me, you saw a movie trying to cover so many countries and so many scenarios that it eventually lost itself.  It's hard to sell mass death when there are so many places to hide, so many islands and areas safe from contamination.  On something like a cruise ship, however, there's nowhere to run.  You're trapped.  And that makes the situation a thousand times scarier.

I thought the cutting to different people was a smart move too.  It broke up the conventional zombie structure of a group trying to move from point A to point B (while avoiding zombies).  That's where I think a lot of these scripts die.  Because once the mystery is over, once the group knows they're zombies and have to get to [some location] to survive, the scripts become very technical.  They're just moving on rails while avoiding zombies.  All the creativity is gone.  Now I'm not saying Dead In The Water completely eliminated this, but the structure break-up was just enough to keep us on our toes.

As far as the characters here....hmmmm... I guess they were okay.  The whole "dead child" thing is a little stock.  I've seen it before.  In fact, it was the main storyline for another "dangerous person comes aboard a boat" flick, Dead Calm.  I don't know what it is about this backstory but I've never been a fan of it.  First, there's something just too sad about a dead child.  It doesn't translate well to screen.  And second, it's almost impossible to avoid melodrama with it.  The couple has to be sad, they have to discuss how sad they are, and it always comes off as too much.  I'd avoid this backstory unless you have a fresh take on it.

Anyway, the ultimate point is this - if I were a producer, I would buy this script.  It's a money-maker for sure.  Zombies on a cruise ship?  Never been done before (at least to my knowledge).  You got the contained setup, nowhere to run.  Zombies on a cruise has potential for a lot of fun scenarios, as proven here with the unforgettable shark climax.  And then of course, you get to top it all off with Suparman - the machete-wielding alien from another planet.  What's not to like?

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

What I learned: The isolated character name is a good way to imply the screenplay equivalent of a close-up during a key moment.  -- Remember guys, you don't want to write "CLOSE-UP" in your script.  It's too technical.  So the isolated character name is a great way to imply that the camera is on the character.  Here's an example from page 40...

They turn and run as the infected flood the stairs behind them.


reaches a doorway.  Ducks through it and onto...