Genre: Supernatural Action
Premise: When the love of his life is murdered by a group of demons, a legendary monster assassin sets out to exact revenge.
Why You Should Read: Because it’s a 90 pages micro script in the vein of “John Wick” with a supernatural twist. I poured into it my passion for the Gothic and macabre, my love of wildly imaginative action and my heart’s yearning for a magical world hidden within our own. Plus, you can play a game of spotting all the references to Edgar Allan Poe’s tales and poems…:)
Writer: Tal Gantz
Details: 90 pages
It’s a week away from the juggernaut that is Star Wars. I’m doing my best not to unleash my predictions on the film, and boy is it hard. Luckily, I have a couple of news items to distract me. One is that Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Ragnarok) is probably going to direct a Star Wars film. I think I speak for everyone – and by everyone I mean me – when I say, “YIPPPPPEEEEEEE!” and “MESSA SO HAPPY DOSEE-DAY!” and “[noise Salacious Crumb makes when he laughs].”
And then there’s this bizarre the-upside-down news that Quentin Tarantino is going to direct an R-Rated Star Trek film. I mean, what the heck is happening??? Star Trek has built its reputation on being squeaky clean. Now they’re going to turn everyone into Jules Winfield? This is most likely an indictment on how desperate poor Paramount is. Although I guess if you’re going to make desperate decisions, you could do worse than Tarantino directing an R-rated Star Trek. I’ve always wondered what Tarantino would do with sci-fi. Wish granted.
While today’s script isn’t sci-fi, it’s firmly based in the fantasy world. How bout that for a segue? Let’s check out the script that won, what infamous commenter 7 Against 7 dubbed, the “Wow Are They Bad” Offerings.
38 year-old James Milton may look like you or me. But don’t be fooled. He’s a monster. He has to be in order to do his job. You see, Milton is a monster assassin.
After we see Milton take out a monster known as The Bloody Mummer, who can manifest weapons out of thin air just by imagining them (he mimes shooting an arrow and, voila, an arrow appears, heading straight for your heart), he heads home to the love of his life, Aisling, who surprises him with news that she’s pregnant.
The very next day, Cain, a demon, shows up, and kills Aisling AND the baby growing in her womb, right in front of Milton. Milton does a turbo-grieve before heading to the monster underworld to find out who ordered the hit on Aisling. Turns out it’s some gangster monster named Prospero.
When Prospero finds out Milton’s coming after him, he hires a relentless monster known as The Red Death. After sticking his nose in a few more places, Milton runs into Red Death, and the two have an epic showdown, which Milton comes out of on top. More like The Dead Death.
That means there’s no one left to interfere with his revenge haiku. Milton connects with two old friends, Valentine, a hopelessly romantic imp, and Azrael, a fallen angel, to get the lowdown on where to find and destroy Prospero. He learns he lives underground, in something called the Tunnels of the Dead. But when Milton engages in his final showdown, he’ll learn a devastating truth about the real reason Aisling was murdered.
Let’s start with the obvious. How awesome is the pitch, “John Wick with monsters.”
It’s so awesome I just tried to buy my ticket on Fandango.
And here’s the thing – John Wick’s one weakness – that its mythology and level of detail were lacking? Gantz addresses that weakness in Monster Assassin. Which surprised me. I wasn’t expecting something titled “Monster Assassin” to be so rich and specific.
Whenever I see a really high “high concept” I’m immediately looking for whether this is a lazy poser who came up with a cool idea yet knows nothing about the world he’s writing about or if the writer LOVES their universe so much they want to explore every little crevice of it.
Gantz falls into the latter category. The reason I can tell is because he creates this entire mythology with monsters and rules and potions and spells. I lost count of the sheer number of creatures in this. This isn’t the kind of thing you write off-the-cuff. A lot of thought went into this script. That’s a fact.
And for about 40 pages, I was all-in.
But a couple of things derailed my investment – one that wasn’t Gantz’s fault and one that was. The first issue is that I’m not into this subject matter. It’s the same reason I’m the one person who didn’t love Killing on Carnival Row. As hard as I try to give a shit about fairies, I can’t. I don’t care if an angel gets his wings back or fairy gets its dust back or a unicorn gets its golden snout back. I try. I really do. But I can’t do it.
The bigger issue, though, is that this is an achingly pedestrian investigation. It’s almost like it was plucked out of a “Noir 101” text book. You go to Place A. They tell you to check out Place B. Go to Place B. Bad Guy A shows up to battle you. You beat him but before you kill him, he tells you where Bad Guy B is. He’s at Place C. So you go to Place C. Wash, rinse, repeat. It was annoyingly simplistic and after awhile, I got bored. You put so much imagination into this universe. Why wouldn’t you use some for the investigation?
On top of this, there were too many references to other movies. The mirrors in Azrael’s place were obviously lifted from the paintings in Harry Potter. The Sanctuary, where monsters stay and can’t attack each other, was obviously taken from John Wick. We have the club scene from The Matrix. But the worst of them all was placing a hidden area at a train station. I mean, come on. I saw one Harry Potter movie ten years ago and I know that reference.
If you’re going to take the time to build this extensive mythology, you should take the extra time to build your own original scenes. You’ve put too much into this to look lazy.
My final knock against Monster Assassin is that HOLY SH#T is it expensive. How expensive?
This shot alone would cost a couple of million dollars.
I don’t usually get on writers for money. A story is what it is. You can’t make a movie called Jurassic World and have the entire thing take place in a basement. People are coming to that movie to see dinosaurs. So I get that we needed monsters here. But there is “monsters” and there is a blatant disregard for financial reality.
Netflix’s upcoming “Bright” uses, arguably, bad prosthetic make-up to create its one major monster-type. AND THAT MOVIE COST 90 MILLION DOLLARS! Going off that number, Monster Assassin would cost three times that at least.
Remember that the similarly budgeted Killing on Carnival Row STILL hasn’t been made and that script has “the best unproduced script in Hollywood” tag going for it.
I hate limiting imagination but the rule here is one that plays across the board in moviemaking. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this shot/scene/character/set-piece?” If the answer is a definite yes, include it, regardless of how much it costs. If not, look for a cheaper way to do it. And remember that cheaper usually forces you to be more creative and come up with a better option.
But yeah, the last thing you want is producers doing a spit take as they read your 40 million dollar version of Hulk vs. Iron Man on page 17. You have to show that you somewhat understand the financial limitations of the business.
That wasn’t the biggest problem though. That was more of a teachable moment. My big problem with this script is the snore-worthy investigation. Do more with that. Be unexpected. Be brave. Try out new things. You can’t use a 50 year old plot template on a movie called Monster Assassin. You gotta be more creative.
Script link: Monster Assassin
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There’s a neat moment in this script where Milton gets into a fight with someone next to an exotic fish tank. The tank crashes, Milton grabs an eel off the floor, stuffs it in the other guy’s face, and it electrocutes him. — I find that moments like this work best WHEN YOU’VE SET UP THE EEL AHEAD OF TIME. You show the character walk in to the location, you establish the eel in the tank. The owner gives you some history on the plight of the eel. We see the eel use its electricity to stun a fish. Then, ten minutes later, when the fight happens, the tank breaks, and the eel is pulled into the battle, it plays WAAAAY better because we’ve spent so much time setting the eel up. — In Monster Assassin, the time between when we learn about the eel and when it’s used as a weapon is 5 seconds. So it doesn’t have enough time to create an impact.