Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Genre: Horror
Premise: A group of college kids head off for a snowboarding trip, only to get trapped in their car and stalked by….something evil.
About: From what I understand, this script went out, had interested parties ready to buy, but the producers working with Borrelli wanted more than money. They wanted a commitment to make the film. I haven’t heard anything since so I’m not sure where the project lies, but it’s probably going to end up somewhere.
Writer: Christopher Borrelli (story by Chris Morgan)
Details: 88 pages (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).

Who says Scriptshadow doesn’t do genre films? I’m bustin out the genre’ness right now. Wuchu got ta say about that!? Okay, okay, so I was a little wary of going into ultra-contained thriller territory again. I knew we’d get at least a dozen commenters dissing Stranded with comments like, “STOP WRITING CONTAINED THRILLERS! DEATH TO ALL CONTAINED THRILLERS!” But Borelli’s got some heat on him after landing a director for his other spec, the stuck on an island with bad guys and our only hope is a heartless sociopath killer, Wake. And since I thought that script was pretty darned good, I felt like he’d bring the heat to Stranded too. Plus, I’ve had a lot of people e-mailing me telling me it’s good. So it should probably be good, right?

The script starts off at one of the 10,000 colleges in the Massachusetts area. 26 year old Derek Galloway, an aspiring doctor, is about to celebrate his big birthday. He doesn’t know this yet. That’s because his girlfriend, 20 year old hottie and all around good girl, Jill, is surprising him with a one-day ski trip.

Also part of the surprise are her friends. Who might be Derek’s friends too but you get the impression that they’re a lot more Jill’s friends than Derek’s friends. One person who we KNOW isn’t a friend to Derek is 20 year old Phillip. Before Derek and Jill got together, Jill and Phillip had a little kissy-kissy thing going on, so Derek has no idea why the hell Jill would invite him of all people on HIS surprise birthday trip. Needless to say, the tension-o-meter is on red.

Since this is a horror flick, our characters have to find the most deserted portion of Massachusetts in all of Massachusetts. So they jump into their giant badly-in-need-of-a-tune-up Suburban and head to a lonely mountain in the middle of nowhere to get their skiing and snowboarding on. The day is, for the most part, a success, but on the way home, Derek gets lost, and it turns out they’re just driving in circles. Darkness comes. Gas runs low.

And that’s when the real fun begins.

While trying to sleep it out and wait til morning, Jill wakes up to see some kind of old woman face pressed against the window. What the fuck is that? She wakes the others but of course by that time Old Woman Face is gone. During this time, Derek – for reasons only a horror movie would know - decides that instead of waiting for morning, he’s going to trek out in sub-freezing temperatures and try to find help himself.

(spoilers follow) So it shouldn’t be a surprise that when our other coeds turn on the headlights a few hours later, they find Derek’s body dismembered and, like, eaten or something. Well that isn’t good. You know what’s worse though? Old Woman Face is back. And this time we get a better look at her. She’s hunched over and twisted and runs around on all fours and is definitely not dateable. Derek was just the appetizer. They’re the main course.

Naturally, people start doing really dumb things like getting out of the car, and when that happens, Old Woman Face picks them off one by one. Those who stay in the car survive the longest, but it’s looking like they’re going to be lunch meat soon enough. Whatever the case, this is so not the skiing trip they envisioned.

Overall? Despite some of its cliché-ness? I have to admit, I liked Stranded. And I’ll tell you why. Because in all these contained thrillers I’ve been reading, they’re all real world scenarios. The fact that this one brought in a horror element made it unpredictable. And the choice of “monster” was also unique. I’ve seen witches. I’ve seen trolls. I’ve seen aliens and creatures. But I’ve never quite seen a freaky-ass hunchbacked witch that runs around on all fours. It was different, and that difference brought an unpredictability to the story.

And here’s where Stranded sets itself apart from others like it. Or maybe not. Depends on if you saw this the way I did. (spoilers) Did anybody get the feeling that this was not a witch-creature? That it was actually a bear? The script starts off with the characters making a big deal out of this being bear country. And I was wondering if the story was about people letting their fears get the best of them. In many ways, the witch creature acts like a bear. It tears its prey apart with the strength of a bear. It walks on all fours. (spoiler) In the end, when we see 3 more witch-creatures, I thought that was an indication that they were definitely bears. Thoughts?

The point is, it made me think. And that’s more than I can say for a script like The Greys.

Now, where I think the script can be improved is in the characters. I thought Borrelli did a neat Psycho-inspired job of killing off our main character, Derek, first. But the more I thought about it, the more I asked, “Was that really our main character?” I barely knew anything about the guy. He was an aspiring doctor, Jill’s boyfriend, it was his birthday, and he didn’t like Phillip. That’s all I knew about him. What were his fears? His flaws? His defining characteristic? His dreams? His plans. For example, was he planning to ask Jill to marry him? I just didn’t feel like I knew the guy on any sort of a deep level, so I felt nothing when he died.

And why make him 26 when everybody else was 20? It’s different, I guess, but it didn’t have a single effect on the rest of the screenplay other than to make you scratch your head and ask, “What’s the point of making this guy older than everybody else?” In the end, it just made it weird. Had we known more about why he was coming to college late (or was he in Graduate School? Not clear), that could’ve solved both of these issues.

Probably the biggest problem though is that the lead male title is then handed over to Phillip, who we were prepped to hate (he’s an asshole to Derek AND has a history with his girlfriend). Maybe it was Borrelli’s intention to challenge the audience and make you change your mind about Phillip over the course of the movie, but he’s introduced as a snarky asshole. So no matter what he said or did, I always saw him as a snarky asshole.

And that brings me to something I’ve never really understood about this genre. When you get a bunch of teenagers together to be slaughtered by some otherworldly force, it seems like the idea’s to make them deserve it in some way. Wasn’t the entire Friday the 13th franchise built on that conceit? Make us want these people to die so we can revel and giggle when they get their just desserts? Except if we don’t like them, then why the hell do we care what happens to them? So I’m not sure how that whole balance works. I’m much more comfortable working inside a realm where you make the audience like your characters and therefore root for them to live. Like in Aliens. You know?

Anyway, this was way better than I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be another standard trapped in a small space script. But it’s got a little more bite going on. Definitely worth the read.

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

What I learned: Not long ago I watched this really bad Emily Blunt movie called “Windchill” about two college kids on a shared ride back from college. Just like this movie, they get stranded in the snow, and bad things start happening to them. Except in that film, the antagonists were ghosts. And I realized after reading Stranded, when writing this type of scenario (trapped somewhere) it’s much better if the antagonist is imminently dangerous. Neither film is in my wheelhouse, but Stranded was so much more exciting because this monster was fucking killing people. And any one of them could’ve been picked off next. Windchill just had a bunch of spooky “ghosts” walking by the windows. Oooooooh. Spoooooooky. If by spooky you mean LAME! If we’re not feeling urgency and fear of death in these situations, you better have some really cool mystery up your sleeve.