Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Frozen Ground

Genre: Thriller
Premise: Based on a true story, a local detective reluctantly accepts the case of the most notorious serial killer in Alaska’s history.
About: Scott Walker is from New Zealand. He made a big splash a few weeks back when he signed with WME as a writer/director/producer. Agencies seemed hot on him but I'm not sure what generated all that heat. Is he a commercial director? Did he direct a hot short? I'm not sure. But this is the project he wants to break in with. It will star John Cusack, Nicholas Cage, and Vanessa Hudgens.
Writer: Scott Walker
Details: 120 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).

This is a great week here at Scriptshadow. We have three awesome scripts. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. I really wanted to like this. When I read the synopsis on Deadline it sounded great: “[Frozen Ground is about] the hunt for Alaska’s most notorious serial predator, Robert Hansen. John Cusack is playing Hansen, regarded in the community as a respected family man but who, in the span of 12 years, abducted more than 24 women, flew them into the Alaskan wilderness and hunted and murdered them.”

Exciting right? Um, well, yeah…IF that was what the script was about. But that is definitely not the script I read. If you forced me to come up with a real synopsis, it would look more like this: “An apathetic cop occasionally wanders around Anchorage, bumping into a troubled annoying girl who doesn't want anything to do with him.” That's a way more accurate breakdown of this screenplay. Read on at your own peril.

It's 1983 in Anchorage Alaska. A local teenage hooker, Cindy Paulson, runs into a hotel screaming that she’s been assaulted. But since she’s a hooker, the cops don’t pay her much mind, letting her go and forgetting the whole thing.

Soonafter, police dig up the body of a young woman in the wilderness. The people of Anchorage aren’t happy. This apparently isn't the first female body that's been found. Somebody is out there abducting women, and they want the police to do something about it. But the police shrug it off, pointing out that most of the missing women are hookers or runaways and probably ran off on their own. The town is getting frustrated. They want the police to admit something’s wrong.

However when another girl is killed, the police have no choice but to act, and bring in Glenn Flothe, a hotshot detective. Unfortunately, Flothe isn't interested in the case. He's hanging up his spurs (or transferring, or something – it’s not clear) and the last thing he needs is a serial killer case because those things take, like, a long time n’ stuff.

But the chief strong-arms him into it and he reluctantly starts digging. Eventually he figures out that Cindy (the teenage hooker) was assaulted by this killer – which makes her the only victim that got away. So he starts following her around, getting to know the hooker lifestyle, since that’s the pool the killer’s drawing his victims from. Why a supposedly accomplished detective doesn't know how the hooker trade works is beyond me. I'd think you'd run into a lot of hookers if you investigated murders for a living.

When we’re not with Flothe and Cindy, we’re with Hansen, our killer, who it turns out is living a double life. He’s got a picture perfect family in the suburbs and he’s got a secret cabin in the wilderness where he keeps these girls before setting them free in the forest and hunting them. Although I don't remember much hunting to be honest. I remember one girl got away accidentally and he shot her before she got to the fourth tree. But I don't remember any specific hunting. Of course by the time I’d made it to page 60, my head was about to explode due to all of the confusing long descriptive paragraphs, so I may have missed it.

So how is Frozen Ground?

My guess is that Scott spends a lot more time in the directing world than the screenwriting world because if you were to put this side-by-side with an amateur script, I’m not sure you’d be able to tell the difference. The character count is way too high. The paragraphs are long and complicated to get through. And there were just an endless amount of clichés. There isn't a single choice in this movie we haven’t seen in the serial killer genre before.

We have a serial killer who kills young women. He’s currently keeping a young woman captive. We have a detective who’s about to quit/move/retire (it wasn’t clear which). I'm okay with using SOME clichés in a movie because it’s impossible to avoid all of them. But when every single choice is unoriginal, it's hard to muster up any interest in the story.

Then you have the main character, Flothe. There is absolutely nothing interesting or memorable about this character. He might as well be invisible. He has no distinctive traits, no memorable qualities, no meaningful relationships, nothing to give us a sense of who he is. It's been a long time since I've read a character this plain. The only purpose he seems to serve is to move the plot forward. There isn't an ounce of depth or exploration in him at all. It's fascinating in a way. I'm not sure someone could come up with a character this unremarkable if they tried.

There is no urgency to the story. For a while, Hansen has a girl at his place. So there's a momentary shred of urgency in her storyline. But it’s never played up. It's never pushed upon. Then, (spoiler) midway through the script, Hansen kills her, which leaves no reason for Flothe to hurry up and find this guy. That’s one of the reasons Silence Of The Lambs worked so well. They needed to get to Buffalo Bill before he killed this woman. If there’s no one to save, where’s the drive? What’s pushing the story forward? The story fell off a cliff after that happened.

I wish I could say something good about this script. I suppose the goal is clear. That they have to find the killer. But even that seems neutered for some reason. We just don’t care about Flothe. There’s nothing about him you can latch onto, you can root for. In Lambs, one of the reasons we were so attached to Clarice Starling’s plight was that she was the underdog. Nobody believed in her. Women don't usually make it in a job like this. Every minute of that movie, she had to prove herself, and we felt that struggle as she chased Buffalo Bill. Here, Flothe goes after the killer, just because. Ho-hum. It’s his job so why not? He doesn’t even WANT to go after the killer. He’s forced into it. This is why I always say, make sure your hero DESPERATELY WANTS to achieve his goal. If he doesn’t, why do we care if he succeeds or not?

Look, this might be a really early draft. But pretty much everything needs to be changed in this script. We need a main character with more depth. We need a main character who cares. We need urgency. We need more clarity in the storyline. We can’t have so much needless wandering around by the characters. The bad guy needs to do something more interesting than simply holding a girl captive, which we’ve seen 8 billion times in these movies. I couldn’t get onboard with anything here. This script wasn’t for me.

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

What I learned: One of the reasons this is such a pedestrian treatment of the serial killer genre is because our main character has so little at stake. What does Flothe personally gain if he solves this case? Nothing. He didn’t want the case in the first place. What does he lose if he doesn’t solve it? Nothing. He gets to get the hell out of here like he wanted to all along. There’s no immediate threat from the killer either. He probably won’t strike for another 6 months. You can also ensure your safety as a woman by not being a hooker. Just don’t go sell yourself for money and you’re safe. So there’s no threat to the general public. There wasn’t nearly enough at stake here for any of the parties involved for me to care.