Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kingdom Come

Hip hip hooray! It's the new year. I'm not much for resolutions but I have set myself a few big goals for 2010. The first is to post my plans for Scriptshadow - some changes I want to make, some additions, goals to get more of you working as professional writers. But it's such a huge post that writing it feels like I'm tackling War and Peace. I'll try to have it up some time in the next couple of weeks. If I don't, feel free to give me a nudge. While I deal with that, let's turn it over to Roger, who's reviewing today's very cool sounding script, "Kingdom Come." Why they haven't adapted Lord Of The Flies in 20 years is beyond me. Whoever has the rights, make it happen. Do it right and it would be huge.

Genre: Horror
Premise: When the entire staff of an isolated reform school disappears in the middle of the night, the rebellious students not only must survive each other – they come face-to-face with a much darker force lurking in the icy wilderness. Supernatural
Lord of the Flies with echoes of The Shining.
About: Alex McAulay wrote the novels
Bad Girls (MTV Books), Shelter Me, Oblivion Road, and Lost Summer. Chris Sivertson is the writer-director who adapted the Jack Ketchum novel, The Lost. He also directed I Know Who Killed Me (for which he won a Razzie Award - although I'm guessing that had more to do with Lindsay Lohan being in the movie) and Wicked Lake. The script made the rounds a couple of months ago but ultimately did not sell.
Writer: Alex McAulay & Chris Sivertson
Details: Draft dated 9/9/09

Do we get a reimagining of this classic tale?

The first time I heard of this script the person referring to it used the phrase, "Harry Potter on Acid". I love wizards like Tiger Woods loves extramarital sex. Now imagine my demeanor, think of the lust in my geek loins when my eyeballs locked on that phrase. Harry Potter on Acid, holy fuck dude! I've never done acid before, but I understand it has Fuck Shit Up Properties. Of course I want to read about the world where boy wizards trip balls and where everything seems so psychedelically scary, that it's like the writer's pen is wielded with that specific Hallucinogenic Edge that men like Hunter S. Thompson and Alejandro Jodorowsky know so well.

I read this script dressed in a cloak. A hand-me down from that tween tea party I went to at Barnes & Noble where I learned two things about myself: (1) I must really love J.K. Rowling and (2) The older I get, the more delicious teen girls in pointy wizard hats look.
I'm here to report one thing:
My wizard boner died in its attempt to copulate with this script. Why? There were no fucking wizards, man.
Which is to say, "Kingdom Come" is nothing like Harry Potter on acid. But it wasn't trying to be. However, it is an actual line of dialogue in the script.
So, what's it like?
Imagine a movie that has the story DNA of both Stephen King's The Shining and Firestarter. Now cross-pollinate that double-helix with the nuclei of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and the chimera might turn out to be something like "Kingdom Come".
Something about the first few pages of "Kingdom Come" really evoked the music video for Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love". I'm still trying to figure out why.
When we meet Ryan Cooper, he's smoking blunts and stretching cunts. Okay, maybe he's not a stoner, but he does attempt to get into the sweet panties of Emily Anderson. They're both at that tender age of seventeen where the concept of true love has yet to be tarnished. Seventeen is a good magazine to spank it to (it also has good quizzes, if you're so inclined), but it's also the age where girls still willingly open their legs for Edward Cullen. After seventeen, girls stop believing in fairytales and instead of fucking Edward, they mace him or go all Buffy on him.
But I digress. Seventeen year-old girls have fathers. And ninety-nine percent of the time, these daddies are grizzled and protective and jealous cockblockers. And such is the case for Ryan, because when he's caught by Mr. Anderson with his pants around his knees on top of his (presumably) only daughter, there's fisticuffs. Mr. Anderson has an interesting cockblocking technique. Instead of horse-whipping Ryan, he slaps his own daughter in the face. When he slaps her, Ryan attacks.
In such matters, where teenage boys beat on the fathers of their girlfriends, there's usually a form of justice required. In "Kingdom Come", the narrative requires an interesting punishment for Ryan.
Ryan is sent to Briarcliff Reform School. Note that this all boy's dungeon is located in the middle of the Colorado mountains during the strangest of winters, kinda like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
Incidentally, Ryan is also being sent to the same school that Emily's bizarre little brother, Simon, has been sent to.
What's wrong with this Simon kid?
We first learn of Simon when one the creepy oil paintings in Emily's room catches Ryan's attention. It's of a man tearing his head open to reveal another man underneath. Francis Bacon, eat your heart out. The acrylic Matryoshka doll man watches Ryan try to fuck Emily.
Simon not only paints, but we're told he's the weirdest kid at Briarcliff. Why? Simon's a sleepwalker, and it's hinted that his dreams during these spells aren't really dreams. You see, Simon knows shit about people he has no business knowing. How does he acquire this knowledge? I guess, like little Danny, he shines.
When Ryan gets to Briarcliff, he's concerned with checking up on Simon. He his Emily's kid brother, after all.
What's the deal with Briarcliff?
Briarcliff is run by Father Cleary, who reminded me a little of the warden from The Shawshank Redemption and Sunlight Gardener from The Talisman. A creepy authority figure who might be a little corrupt.
Father Cleary's muscle is Brother Grimes, and welcomes Ryan to Briarcliff much like Byron Hadley welcomes the fresh fish into Shawshank. He shoves him around, pretty much uses every tactic except ass-rape to make it clear that Ryan is in hell, and while in hell, he's just gonna have to straighten out.
There are three nuns that work in the cafeteria. The most important is Sister Fiona, a figure so intriguing I was hoping this would turn into a nunsploitation flick, but no dice there. Fiona sympathizes with the boys. She's the only authority figure that seems to know that there's something wrong with Briarcliff.
Ryan quickly becomes friends with the nerdiest and most picked on kid at the school, Helen. Helen isn't his real name, but the other boys have named him after Helen Keller because he wears a pink hearing aid.
The school bully is Jay. He's not physically imposing, but like any bully worth his salt, he has a few cronies who laugh at his jokes and do his bidding.
And that's pretty much the set-up for our microcosm. You've got the authority figures, who are mostly assholes, except for Fiona. And you've got the good kids and the bad kids. The good kids are led by Ryan and Helen. The bad kids are led by Jay.
Is Briarcliff haunted?
Not persay. But there's something lurking out in the wilderness nearby that's casting its strange shadow on the school.
At night, there's a creepy howling whistle that keeps a sleepwalking Simon glued to the window. And that's one of the most effective images for me, "There's something disturbing about the image of this small boy framed by the vast wilderness."
Helen has a theory about this whistling, "They say it's the sound of dead souls trapped in the mountain."
So what's the hook?
When the boys wake up one morning at the beginning of the 2nd act, all the adults have disappeared.
The situation at the school quickly unravels. Reform school boys run amok. Jay attempts to assume leadership of the school body, but he's gonna have to butt heads with Ryan.
Soon after, Simon disappears and Ryan must venture into the mountains to search for the boy.
Yes, he discovers the source of the whistling, and shit gets really complicated when Simon returns back to the school.
And perhaps not in a good way.
Did you like it, Rog?
I wanted it to be as awesome as Dario Argento's "Suspiria". For this type of tale, that's kind of the high-watermark for me. I mean, isn't setting a supernatural tale in an all-boy's school sort of the other side of the coin? It's the testosterone-and-semen version of "Suspiria". I'm surprised Victor Salva didn't already think of this idea. Or maybe he already did with "Jeepers Creepers 2". I don't know. You be the judge.
I guess my main issue with the script is that we're teased with a Lord of the Flies-esque potboiler. We're presented with the fixings of a microcosm that will be used to explore the psychological nature of people. And unfortunately, this wonderful set-up is moved to the side and the story shifts gears to concentrate on Simon and his mysterious nature.
For example, the authority figures could have been more of a threat. When Grimes, Cleary and Fiona become really interesting, they're taken out of the story and it becomes solely about the kids. Call me picky, but I think the situation could have been mined for more drama.
And the conflict between the good and bad children didn't go the distance for me. It didn't feel immediate and urgent. If Jay started hoarding supplies or something, really taking control of the school and putting the other kids in danger, then I would have been more involved with their plight. Instead, it never feels like real danger.
I would have liked to see more of a balance between the human drama and the supernatural elements. The best thrills and true horror come from people (their relationships with one another and their decisions) not just situations.
Final verdict: A creepy tale that owes fealty to The Shining. Some readers, especially horror hounds, might be turned on by the demonic images and the script's various attempts to disturb them. But horror snobs might find that, in the end, although the script's pieces are comparable to its influences, it ultimately lacks the emotional and psychological depth of its paternal precursors. The whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking of the wonders contained within Michael Grant's "Gone" saga (another supernatural story about kids in a world where the adults disappear) and the intricate character conflicts explored in Stephen King's latest, "Under the Dome". Both are works that not only provide cool set-ups, but the microcosms they present don't feel like flat worlds. Interesting characters inhabit these worlds, and we are allowed to know them. Sure, those are novels, but you can do the same thing in a screenplay. You just have to write the right screenplay.

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

What I learned: Don't get so sidetracked with your supernatural and fantastical elements that you forget about your real story. Fantasy works best when it's about people that feel like real human beings. And for this reason, I feel like "Kingdom Come" tells a situation, not a story. Stories are about people, not scenarios (or MacGuffins, or monsters, or portals to other dimensions, or explosions). Think of the potential for conflict when two people, who clash about everything, are put in the same room together. Now lock the doors. Your story is about what happens between these two people when they start to interact. It's not about the walls of the room they're in (even if the walls are closing in on them, about to smash them). In the same way, if you create a microcosm, focus on the human drama that arises between the characters. Not on that demon that lurks in the shadows, waiting to fuck shit up. Okay, maybe you can give him some of the limelight, just don't let him take over the show. Unless it's the Crypt Keeper.
He's okay.