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Genre: Psychological Thriller
Premise: (from writer) After a radical exorcism leaves a possessed teen in a coma, a psychologist reluctantly helps the clergymen, who performed the rite, wake the child, but soon suspects foul play and finds himself trapped in a secluded monastery with only one person to turn to for help: his newly awakened patient.
About: Inhuman won the Amateur Offerings Weekend two weeks ago. Submit your own script for Amateur Offerings via the instructions above.
Writer: Steffan Ralph DelPiano
Details: 96 pages – 4/21/2013 draft
Last year I met with this company that holds preview screenings for studio films to find out what’s wrong with them. They have ten years of data on hundreds of films, and they can basically tell you exactly what an audience will or won’t like at any particular moment in a film. For example, they explained to me something about how an audience has never liked when the best friend character turns on the hero (I’m not exactly sure that was the example – but it was something like that).
Their research is also so extensive that they can predict exactly how much money a movie is going to make. They know which genres do the best. They know which type of heroes garner the best response from an audience. You’ve probably heard of these people before. And I think there was even an article in the New York Times about them last week (I’m guessing it’s the same people I met with – but I still haven’t read the article – we met because they wanted to expand their business into screenplays).
Out of curiosity, I asked them which specific kind of movie, in their research, generated the best return on investment. The president thought about if for a moment, as he mentally cycled through their research, and I had to admit I was kind of surprised. If I were a studio head, this would be the first question I’d ask this company. Yet he appeared to have never been asked the question before. But the light finally came on, and he defiantly said, “Exorcism movies.”
I thought about that for a moment and it made complete sense. Exorcism movies are incredibly cheap to make, and also incredibly easy to market. People will always go see exorcism movies. Since that meeting, I’ve always kept my eyes open for a good exorcism script. One of these days, I’m going to produce a movie, and I’d prefer it be a movie that actually makes money. So when I started reading Inhuman and I realized I hadn’t checked the page number for 30 minutes (note: I usually check the page number within the first 10 pages), I knew I was onto something good.
Inhuman centers around 39 year-old Simon, a psychiatrist specializing in defense mechanisms. Simon is kind of arrogant, sort of into himself, and doesn’t have time for tomfoolery. Which is why he’s agitated when a priest comes along asking him to help him save a young man. A young man who happens to be possessed.
Naturally, Simon doesn’t believe in any of that nonsense, so he ignores him. But the Father and his Church Team are persistent, hounding him with letters and videos that show this young man, Peter, doing and saying terrible things that couldn’t possibly be from a human being. Simon continues to refuse, but after a surprise attack by one of his patients, he has a change of heart.
In order to make sure the creepiness-factor is raised to level 12, Peter is being held at an abandoned asylum with our priest, Father Bryant, and his right hand woman, Sister Collette. Simon’s immediately able to make a connection with Peter, whom he believes is a paranoid schizophrenic, but Peter keeps saying and doing things that just don’t make sense. He knows what Simon is thinking, what he’s feeling, what he’s doing when he’s not with Peter. Simon eventually starts to question his diagnosis.
(Spoiler) Eventually, Simon learns the truth. He IS Peter. Or, more specifically, Peter’s last level of defense that the possessing demon must defeat. Simon is essentially keeping the demon from fully possessing Peter’s soul. Obviously, this is a lot to take in. I’m sure it isn’t easy learning you’re not real. But Simon eventually jumps onboard with the plan and attempts to rid the demon from Peter’s body.
Yesterday I talked about breaking the rules. And I’m happy to report that Steffan does break the rules here. Or, if not break the rules, he takes one hell of a chance. This isn’t your traditional exorcism story. It becomes more of a psychological, and even METAPHYSICAL, story. And to that end, I give Steffan credit. He did not go down the obvious path, and for that reason he has quite the original screenplay.
Unfortunately, just because you do something different doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. As I stated yesterday, the bigger the chance you take, the bigger the chance at failure. For 60 pages here, I was riveted. I was thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to call Steffan after this, we’re going to raise money, and we’re going to make this movie!” I NEVER say that when reading a script. That’s how into it I was.
But as soon as Simon becomes Peter’s defense mechanism – as soon as he’s no longer real – the story starts to get murky. I wasn’t always sure what Simon was going after, and I began asking questions like, “Well then, where was Simon during the first half of the movie? His office? All those people he dealt with? None of them were real??” It didn’t make sense. And of course, “If you find out you’re not real, what’s the point?” I mean, why try to save anyone? If I found out I wasn’t real, I’d go sit on my couch and be super freaking bummed out. I don’t care if the person I’m inside of is possessed by either the devil, or an In and Out addiction.
It reminded me a lot of that movie, “Identity” with John Cusack that came out a decade ago. It started off with all these great questions, but the more we found out, the less interesting it became. At one point, Father Bryant kills Collette and I don’t know WHAT’S going on anymore. Why is this priest killing the one woman he knows and trusts the most?
If I were a producer giving notes on this script, I’d say to Steffan, sadly, that we’d need to get rid of the stuff that makes this unique. Drop the metaphysical third act and see if we can come up with something more “real,” more “solid.” If I’m not sure what the consequences are for anybody because certain people aren’t real, I’m not sure we care about what happens to them.
The stuff that resonated with me was this showdown between ultra-smart Simon and possessed Peter. It looked like we were going to watch a prolonged dragged-out war between these two. And that’s what I wanted to see. But we only get a couple of scenes with them duking it out before the world turns upside-down with the super twist of Simon not being real.
Sometimes we can get carried away with our twists. We want to go so big, so shocking, that we write a twist in that we can’t write ourselves out of. I think that may have been what happened here. Despite that, I think Steffan’s a really good writer and that this is the kind of script that could get him some meetings around town (if he hasn’t had those meetings already). It does lose itself in the third act, but those first two acts are damn good. And two-thirds of good has to equal a “worth the read” right?
Script link: Inhuman
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Have a third person come into a scene to be a ticking time bomb, pulling at our main character while he’s dealing with something/someone else. On page 8 here, there’s a scene where the Church Team is asking Simon to help them. At that moment, Alexis, Simon’s assistant, pops in to inform Simon that Group is starting. As the team tries to explain Peter’s possession to Simon, Alexis keeps saying, “So should I start without you or…?” It adds an element of immediacy and conflict to what would otherwise be a very straightforward scene: A group asking our main character to help them. So look for those opportunities to introduce a distracting element (or ticking time bomb) into a scene to spice that scene up.