Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Screenplay Review - Subject 6

Genre: Sci-fi
Premise: A strapped-for-cash woman agrees to be part of a lab study where participants are placed in a room for a month, but begins to suspect that she's been in the room for much longer than that.
About: Don't know much about this one other than that the movie is being made by Vital Pictures and will come out sometime next year.  You can see the writer's early attempts at a Kickstarter page here, which has a trailer and some cool concept art.
Writer: Seda
Details: 108 pages

Screen Grab from short film - Portal: No Escape

Liberace.  Madonna.  Beyonce.

And now...Seda.

Two names is so passé.  These days, it's preferable to cap it at one.

Okay, am I thrilled that a screenwriter has given himself one name?  No.  Does it scream pretentiousness?  Yes.  But I have to remember that this is the entertainment industry.  You gotta market yourself to stand out.  And maybe I have a teensy bit of sympathy since I'm not using my real name on this blog either.

One name or not, when I started reading Subject 6, a script heavily influenced by Cube and The Matrix, I started to exert all kinds of worriedness.  I've read these kinds of scripts before.  And when I say "these kinds of scripts," I mean scripts with a bunch of fucked up things happening for seemingly no reason.  The fear?  That the "seemingly no reason" is because there IS NO REASON.  The writer's constructed a setting that allows him to make a lot of cool trippy fucked up things happen without having to come up with that all-important explanation  Which is why I almost universally hate these screenplays.  If you want to know what I'm talking about, read the pointless 2:22.

Now it started off okay, with our heroine, known only as "SIX" (in reference to the number listed on her fatigues), waking up in a bare-bones icy room that carries only the necessitates - bed, toilet, floor, ceiling.  There's also a TV, which inexplicably allows our subject to watch hundreds of other people in their own experiment rooms.

From what we can gather, the experiment is some sort of psychological test.  Participants are paid 20 grand to come in and simply sit in a room for 30 days.  You can opt out of the experiment any time you want by pressing a big red button in your room, but if you do, you forfeit your payment.

Naturally, there isn't much to do other than sit around and talk to the other participants.  Yes, for some reason, you have a video phone in your room that allows you to talk to any of the other rooms.  Seems like an odd freedom for the experimenters to allow, but anyway, it introduces Six to 33, a strapping young slacker philosopher type.

The two hit it off and pretty soon they're planning a rendezvous inside the walls between their rooms (they happen to be placed right next to each other).  But the rendezvous goes bad when these things called "Technicians," huge men in nuclear-fallout-type suits, intervene and shock Six, who wakes up once again in her room at the beginning of the experiment, as if none of her previous experiences happened.

Six grows suspicious and escapes through a ceiling vent.  It's there where she's rescued by a group of people who tell her the truth.  There is no 30-Day experiment.  The people who are here are stuck here forever.  The technicians just keep resetting them over and over again.  Which is why this group has formed.  They're trying to find a way out - an escape.  But this facility - whatever it is - is ginormous.  So it ain't going to be easy.

Another issue is that Six keeps flashing back to some psyche ward doctor's office where a man is evaluating her.  He asks her about this experiment, about these "technicians," about her escape, and Six begins to doubt whether any of it is real.  Is she crazy?  Is she just a looney chick locked up in a padded room imagining all this shit?  Her fellow escapees tell her "no," that it's all a part of the experimenters' plan - to destroy the mind, to make you lose confidence in your reality.  But Six isn't so sure.  And neither are we.

Is Six nuts or does this place really exist?  And if it does, how did she get here?  Or, if the psych ward's real, what happened in her past that led to her insanity?  All those questions are...sort of answered in Subject 6.

Wheel me in and call me Sally cause I don't know what to make of Subject 6.  There are moments where this script absolutely shines and there are others that left me searching for a bottle of aspirin.  I'll say this about the script.  I rarely knew where it was going.  And anyone who reads this blog knows that goes a long way with me.  90% of the scripts I read are as predictable as the sun setting, so when one has me genuinely wondering what the next page holds, that's impressive.

BUT, the thing that kept bothering me was all the silly random stuff, like the repeated religious references that seemed to be there for no other reason than their inherent creepiness.  For example, when we see a dead character in a hallway with the word "Foresaken" scrawled on the wall behind him in his blood?  Commence the eye-rolling.  What the heck does that have to do with the story?  As far as I could tell, nothing other than it looked cool.

There was also one obvious derivative component that bothered me - the Matrix team.  I mean, the group that takes Six in does so in a way that's so eerily reminiscent of The Matrix that I thought I was watching an aborted take from the film.  And then you have this really HUGE Jabba The Hut like leader man named "One" who weighs 800 pounds.  All I kept thinking was...wait a minute here - this group has to go on super risky scavenger missions for food and one of them is 800 pounds?  How exactly is this possible?  Is he eating the other members when nobody's looking?

Having said all that, I *did* want to turn the pages.  I mean, the script genuinely had me wondering where the hell it was all going and, more importantly, I wanted to find out.  But the big reason I'd recommend this to others is that the third act really comes together.  Which was surprising.  Because the third act is usually where these scripts fall apart, since the writer can't answer all the questions he's been asking.

But as Six keeps flashing back between the Insane Asylum and the Experiment, not only was I wondering which one was real and which one wasn't, but I genuinely found myself empathizing with Six.  I wondered what it would be like to go "crazy" in this manner.  What if this really was your life?  Is this what people with mental diseases really go through?  Do they live this kind of life every day?  How fucking terrifying.

Once the script crossed that fourth wall, it'd done its job with me.  I didn't agree with all the choices.  I thought things got a little goofy in the second act when the team was introduced. But the recovery in the third is what saved it.  For that reason, I say check this one out.

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

What I Learned: The introduction of One (the huge Jabba The Hut leader of the underground) is a perfect example of a writer wanting something so badly (the image of this huge overweight barely moveable leader) that he puts it in there without considering how illogical it is.  I mean, from what we've been told, this group has to risk their lives going out to find scraps of leftover food to stay alive.  Yet somehow we have an 800 pound man chilling out?  Does that make any sense?  These are the moments when readers lose faith in writers because they're not doing their due diligence.  We all want to include cool things in our scripts, but if you're going to do so, they have to MAKE SENSE.  If they don't, ditch them or come up with an explanation.