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Genre: Dark Thriller
Premise: (from writer) When a child killer is sentenced to death under dubious circumstances, the investigating detective discovers that the very man being executed holds the keys that can solve the crime.
About: (from writer) You mentioned in this week’s review of Escape From Tomorrow, “If you can find a way to break the rules in an interesting way, to create an excited discussion around your film or script, then the doors to Hollywood will open right up.” This script does just that! It’s a genre bending story that catches most readers off guard. — Just a note; it placed in the top 15% at Nicholls this year and finished in the top 10% in the PAGE AWARDS.
Writer: Shawn Davis
Details: 111 pages
Okay, I want to apologize here. In last week’s newsletter, I said that “Gravity Kills” was going to be the Amateur Friday script, when I meant to put “What Doesn’t Kill You” in there. Apparently I think anything with the word “kill” in it is the same thing. The biggest apology goes to Thomas, who wrote Gravity Kills. I’m incredibly sorry for the mix-up, buddy. Hopefully I’ll get to review your script another time.
Now that we got that screw-up out of the way, we can discuss what REALLY matters. Star Wars 7 in 3-D!! As in NO, Star Wars is NOT supposed to be in 3-D!!! Why would you go through all the hassle to be the last studio project to shoot on film if you were going to make it 3-D? I’m thinking JJ and Iger (Disney prez) struck a deal – “We’ll let you push the date back to the end of 2015, but you gotta give us 3-D.” The only silver-lining in this is that I think JJ did it for the screenplay. He knows it’s not ready to shoot. He knows they need more time to get it right. Star Wars isn’t just the creation of a story. It’s the creation of an entire universe. Imagination (TRUE imagination) takes time. So if the big reason we have Star Wars in 3-D is for the script, then JJ, 3-D it is.
What the heck am I talking about Star Wars for during Amateur Friday?? Because Star Wars is big enough that it can be talked about in any post. And since lots more Star Wars news is coming over the next couple of years, no post is safe!
“What Doesn’t Kill You” focuses on Clive Washington, a 45 year-old African-American detective with salt-and-pepper hair (hmm, I wonder which actor Shawn had in mind here) who’s had a rough month. He was involved in a skirmish that ended up getting another cop killed.
But that’s just the beginning of his problems. Three little sisters were murdered a couple of months back and they just found the bodies. All signs point to a lonely bachelor named Derek who splits his time between watching really sick porn and buying drugs (porn and drugs – not good for you, folks).
Derek doesn’t stand a chance with his city-appointed lawyer and gets the death penalty. To add insult to injury, a new law just passed that allows killers of multiple people to be revived after the execution, so they can be executed again. The state finds these killings so brutal, they want Derek to die three separate times.
When Derek is hit with his first execution, his “metaphysical body” is transported to the house where the killings took place. It’s here where we find out Derek isn’t the killer. It was someone else, a mysterious man in a black mask. Derek must gather as many clues as he can before he’s revived the first and second time to prove that he isn’t the killer (he gets a day between each execution).
In the meantime, Clive is starting to have doubts that Derek’s their guy. But what can you do when you’ve already technically executed someone? Derek is not legally alive. So you can’t turn him loose. This seals Derek’s fate, but that doesn’t stop Clive from trying to find the real killer before he continues his killing spree. And if you think you know who the killer is and what’s going to happen here? Think again. “What Doesn’t Kill You” keeps ya guessing until the very end.
Whenever you open a script, you’re always looking for something unique – a new voice, new concept, characters you haven’t seen before, a unique execution (no pun intended). You get that with What Doesn’t Kill You. I have some problems with this script, most notably the fact that it’s needlessly violent in a lot of places (brutal descriptions of violent acts against little girls often go too far). But if Shawn can dial a lot of that back, he may have something here. This reminded me a lot of Prisoners. And I think it may even be better than that script.
Here’s the catch, though. This “execution/revive” thing has to be real. Although it sounds made-up, I’m very trusting of the writer and wondered, “Could this law have snuck in there without me knowing it?” When Shawn had the characters talking about the lone inmate in recent history upon which is was tested, I thought, “Hmm, I vaguely remember reading something about that… I think.” So I googled it but got nothing. If it’s indeed made up, I don’t know if this script can work. You can’t just make up a huge law like that and expect the public to go along with it. I’d love to be proven wrong though. Can anyone think of one? (Double Jeopardy was a real law, albeit used liberally in the film)
What was cool about that though, was it gave the script that “wild card” element a procedural needs to stand out. Seven had the really bizarre killings. Lambs had Hannibal. But no one’s really been able to catch that wild-card element since. This is definitely a wild card and is the main reason the script feels so different. Remember that without the wild-card, you have a cop chasing clues looking into a murder. We can see that every night on TV.
(spoilers) Besides the graphic violent description, another squeaky wheel is Derek’s character. Derek hasn’t done anything terrible (by “terrible” I mean hurt or kill anyone). But he is introduced looking at young girls online. Later, we’re asked to essentially root for this guy. And kudos to Shawn because he almost makes us do it. But we’re not going to get over that kind of thing. So he probably needs to dial that way back or take it out.
The thing is, it’s kind of essential to the story. We have to believe this man is our killer. And the fact that he looks at young girls online is the main reason he gets convicted for killing these three young girls. Screenwriting occasionally puts us in this position, where we’re forced to talk out of both sides of our mouth. We must make Derek likable enough to root for later, but terrible enough that it’s believable he’d get convicted. That’s some of the toughest stuff to make work.
The thing is, (major spoilers) Derek’s fingerprints and hair were planted on the scene. So if you just made him watch really fucked up porn (not little girls) and those two pieces of evidence put him at the scene of the crime, I think that’s enough to convince the police (and us) that he did it.
What I really have to give Shawn credit for is the out-of-body stuff. Technically, it shouldn’t have worked. You have your main character having an out of body experience. Then Derek has them three times while dead. It feels like we’re giving the story too much string – that it’s getting too “out there.” But it worked for me. I’m not sure why, but it did.
This script definitely needs a few tweaks, but I think we’ve found a cool new voice in Shawn Davis.
Screenplay link: What Doesn’t Kill You
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When dealing with extreme violent acts, do what directors do. Show the raised bat then cut to the next scene. There’s no need to show the swing and hear the thump. It’s too much. Remember at the end of Seven, we never saw Gwyneth Paltrow’s head (although I’m sure plenty of middle-aged women would’ve wanted to).