Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Quiet Ones

Genre: Horror
Premise: A young woman takes two friends back to the house her mother murdered her family in to recover her things before the house is torn down.  Once inside, however, the house refuses to let them leave.
About: The Quiet Ones is the first picture of a new financing partnership between Shine America and Emjag Productions.  The partnership is looking for projects that can be released on "multiple platforms" which I'm guessing means the big screen and the internet?  Writer Vikram Weet has another project he sold to a Russian production company called The Dyatlov Pass that's being directed by 80s action director icon Rene Harlin!
Writer: Vikram Weet
Details: 86 pages (undated)

Image was included in the screenplay.

You say I don't review enough horror?  Well today is why!  Okay okay, that's not very nice.  The Quiet Ones is an adequately written screenplay.  But it makes no attempt to be unique in any manner after the setup, and falls into some of the biggest cliche horror pitfalls out there, the biggest of which is having things happen for no reason other than the writer wants them to happen.  Take the opening page, for example.  We're told the script is going to take place in one continuous shot.

I guess that sounds kinda cool.  Until you realize that there's no point to it.  It's just a gimmick.  Absolutely nothing would change if the story was cut normally.  And if something's not necessary, then why include it?  Unless the characters are being videotaped by a physical camera in one continuous shot for some reason.  Which MAY be the case, but the ending is so confusing that it's impossible to tell.

The Quite Ones, unfortunately, disappoints in many areas, the biggest of which are the cliche scares.  This is one I simply can't let pass.  Even if you've never taken a screenplay class in your life, one just knows - don't repeat cheap scares that have been in every horror movie and video game known to man.  Here we have the dolls and stuffed animals...WITH THEIR EYES CUT OUT!  Someone is dead, but when our hero steps over them, their hand LAUNCHES UP, GRABBING THEM. They're still alive!  We also have the creepy pale dead kid who keeps popping up under stairways and in mirrors.

Which is strange, because the setup itself is actually kind of original.  I've never seen a horror story start with three kids breaking into a house where the protagonist's family was murdered.  I liked the immediate goals that were set up, which seemed logical.  They wanted to get everything valuable they could before the house was torn down tomorrow (ticking time bomb! also good!).  So when this thing started, I was quite optimistic.  But then the familiarity started creeping in, and once it got its clutches on the script, it never let go.

The Quiet Ones introudces us to Madison, a stunning brunette in her mid-twenties who shows up at a house in the middle of nowhere with her boyfriend, slightly older Jake, and her cousin, attitude-laced Isaac.  Turns out Madison didn't think through her accomplices very thoroughly because Jake and Isaac hate each other.  We're not talking frenemies here.  The two genuinely hate each other.  But Isaac has some breaking and entering experience that's needed to get into the house, so Jake rolls with it.

Soon we find out this is the house where Madison grew up.  There aren't many good memories here though.  Turns out Madison's mom went nutso and killed everyone.  The term "everyone" isn't ever completely defined here, since we keep learning about more family members as the story evolves, but at last count I think it meant her father, her brother, and her sister.  Madison was the only one who made it out alive.

And since the house is getting plowed over after 20 years of abandonment, Madison offered to give Jake and Isaac anything they found in the house before Bulldozer Time.  Which would be a cool plan if strange things didn't start happening.  Like pale little four year old boys playing hide and seek in the shadows.  And sinister looking dogs blocking our temporary criminals from making it back to their car.  And stuffed animals with their eyes cut out.

At some point, it's hypothesized that the house wants them to stay here for some reason - probably to kill each other.  Apparently, this is exactly what happened to the mom, who was told by the house to kill the rest of the family.  Now it's finishing the job, by having Madison kill her boyfriend and cousin.  Our trio is freaked out of course and wonders how they're going to escape.  But can't they just wait for the wrecking crew to show up in the morning?  The ones who are going to tear the house down?

Avert your eyes for this ending spoiler since it's the final twist.  But since it makes no sense, I don't think I'm spoiling anything.  At the end, when Madison looks in the mirror, she sees her mother, who apparently has been the "POV" of the camera the entire time.  Ummm, what?  There was a camera?  Or is she a ghost?  I'm not even clear on if she's still alive in a mental institution somewhere or dead.  But apparently, she's been taping these guys the whole time?  Or watching them?  But then if she's the POV, why does she become Madison's POV when she looks in the mirror?  Are Madison and the mom the same person?  Did these two come here with Madison's mom and not realize it??  What the hell is going on right now????

Lazy twist endings are one of my biggest pet peeves.  Throwing a twist onto the end of a story just to have a twist, regardless of whether it makes sense or not, is one of the laziest and schlockiest things you can do.  If you are going to go with a twist ending, at least make sure that it has some semblance of a connection to the rest of the material, that it's paying off some sort of setup.  I don't even know what the POV of the camera was supposed to be here.  A person?  A video camera?  A ghost?  And I'm not sure it would've made it any better if I did know.

Anyway, that totally killed Quiet Ones for me.  And look, okay, I'm not disillusioned.  I understand that horror movies are made for the 12-18 crowd.  I know those people don't sit there and analyze the intricacies of screenplay structure when they watch a film. I know they just want to squirm in their seats and have an excuse to put a hand on a member of the opposite sex for a couple of hours.  But I don't believe that's a license to be lazy.  I still think you owe it to yourself to write the best story possible, because the better the writing, the further you expand your demographic.  There's an entire group of people out there who, like me, are dying for smart horror!

And until I start reading more horror scripts like Hidden, a script I reviewed a couple months ago, where there was some actual thought put into the story and where some original choices were made, I'm going to keep answering the "Why don't you review more horror?" question the same way.  "Write me a good horror screenplay and I will review it."

I'm not going to say that The Quiet Ones was awful.  The writing itself was fine.  There were even a handful of freaky moments, such as the dogs.  The movie will also be easy to market and probably make some money.  But the combination of the cliche scares and nonsensical ending destroyed any enjoyment I gathered from the read.  Which is why I can't recommend The Quite Ones.

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

What I learned: Writing yourself into corners can be fun.  It forces you to come up with clever ways out.  I know the Coens do this a lot.  But be careful about writing your entire story into a corner.  If you're making all this funky crazy stuff happen and you don't have a specific idea of how you're going to explain it all, you might find yourself stuck in that corner for good.  I would suggest knowing your twist or surprise ending ahead of time, and then back-engineering the story so that the twist comes together naturally.