Genre: Contained Thriller
Premise: In an apocalyptic future, a teenaged girl raised underground by her robotic mother, begins to question whether everything she’s been taught by Mother is true.
About: This Black List script is written from across the pond. So all you UK writers who think getting your work recognized in Hollywood is impossible, don’t give up! Now Green did work as Colin Farrell’s assistant on Miami Vice, but before you go thinking that’s what got him this opportunity, note that that movie came out all the way back in 2006. I doubt Green called Farrell up after ten years and said, “Hey, remember how I kept your coffee at exactly 71 degrees for the entire production of Miami Vice? Can you read my script?” and Farrell was like, “Sure, and I’ll give it to Spielberg tomorrow.” And, to be honest, I’m not sure Colin Farrell, with his current stature in Hollywood, would be able to do anything for Green anyway. Since Green’s short stint in P.A.’ing, he’s written and produced a couple of short films, but this is his first known screenplay.
Writer: Michael Lloyd Green
Details: 102 pages
A few people have asked me, “Why do readers like contained thrillers?” And while the first answer is that they’re cheap to make and therefore, with a cool concept, have a shot at getting made. They’re also scripts that don’t require the reader to take notes.
This may seem like a strange detail to someone who doesn’t read a lot. But all readers know that there are easy reads and there are difficult reads, and the difficult ones are when you have to take a ton of notes.
Like, recently, I read a love story that took place during World War 1 in Germany. Every page, I had to stop and write down either a new character’s name or a location I was unfamiliar with or some important detail about the war. Those scripts take a lot more out of you.
This script has three characters. Not only that, but the characters’ names are Mother, Daughter, and Drifter. Talk about a script tailor-made for no notes! And, look, I know it sucks. A reader’s job is to read. He should suck it up and work hard even when a script is difficult.
That’s a wonderful way to look at things if you’re an idealist. But the REALITY of the matter is that readers are overworked writers who would rather be working on their own scripts. So you can write as an idealist or write as a realist. It’s up to you.
Does that mean don’t ever write a complicated story? No. Of course not. Some of the best spec scripts ever – The Truman Show, Seven, The Imitation Game, American Beauty – they require focus and, yes, the occasional note-taking.
But this is what makes the screenwriting medium so interesting. If you’re going to go that route, you need to know how to simplify the things that need to be simple, how to always make things clear, and how to make the read easy amongst all that detail. And that takes practice. And it takes KNOWING that you have to do that in the first place, because you’ve written a half-dozen screenplays before this one and got lots of coverage saying, “I don’t know what’s going on here. There’s too much.” It takes time to find that sweet spot of “enough to give your script depth” but not so much that it’s hard to keep up.
So with all that swimming in your noon-day noggin, let’s jump into today’s script, “Mother.”
“Mother” takes place in an underground cavern built to sustain people after a nuclear war. The problem is, there are no people. At least not yet. The entity who runs this facility, a robotic entity known as “Mother,” incubates the first human embryo for a plan, we presume, that will open the door up for earth’s repopulation.
Soon, Daughter is born. Daughter loves her robotic mother at first, but when she grows into her teens, she becomes bored and curious. What’s outside of these dark walls? Mother insists that to go outside means death. The air is contaminated and no human beings have survived.
Except that soon after Daughter finds a secret exit, a bloodied woman appears on the other side. Daughter lets her in, and the woman, “Drifter,” begins to spin a tale that sounds a lot different than the one Daughter’s been told. For starters, there are obviously other human beings alive.
Mother finds out about Drifter, and to both Daughter’s and Drifter’s surprise, decides to help her. But Drifter remains skeptical of Mother, and starts filling Daughter in on what she knows of the outside. For starters, there are machines roaming around, killing people. Could Mother be associated with these machines?
Then again, Daughter repeatedly catches Drifter lying about things herself, leaving her to make the impossible choice. Believe the woman who’s raised her, or the woman who represents everything she’s wanted – to be free and live out in the wild? It’s a decision that, most certainly, will end in death… for one of them.
We’ve been here before, right?
Two people in a contained room. A third enters. Wreaks havoc.
We just saw it with Cloverfield Lane.
It’s a recipe that works.
So what has today’s script added to the setup? Well, we’re in the future. We’ve got a robot. That’s different. And we’ve also got a unique relationship. This isn’t two people who’ve been forced down into a shelter against their will. These “people” have been here for awhile. And the fact that they’re family creates the potential for new plotlines.
The first of those is trust – the trust between a mother and her daughter, and how we’re innately supposed to go along with the way our parents raise us. As children, we don’t know any better. So if our father or mother tells us that killing is good, we believe them. Because what else do we have to go on?
That’s the dilemma at the heart of “Mother.” When does raising a child turn into manipulating a child? And aren’t we all, to a degree, manipulated? We’ve been raised on the morals and ethics of the parents who birthed us. And since our childhood years are the most influential on our make-up, we usually take those beliefs all the way through life.
So that’s the undercurrent of Mother, which is interesting, I guess.
But what about the plot? Does Green solve the biggest issue facing Contained Thriller writers: Coming up with enough story to last an entire movie? Unfortunately not. He does okay. But I felt like I read half-a-dozen scenes of Drifter in the Infirmary complaining about Mother and trying to get Daughter to come with her.
Also, Drifter falls short as a character because she’s so mysterious. Again, when you have a character built on mystery, you can’t explore them below the surface. To do so would be to reveal who they are, which is something the character’s not created for. So Drifter ends up coming off as a repetitive sock puppet – there to repeatedly say, “Mother is lying. I’m not.”
Luckily, the Mother-Daughter relationship is compelling enough to overshadow this weakness. Whenever you can write a character who fills two different extremes, you’re going to get some interesting results. (spoiler) That’s what Mother is. She genuinely loves her child, but she’s also perfectly capable of killing her if she isn’t up to speed with what the repopulation of the human race requires.
So “Mother” was an okay execution of a popular setup that did some nice things. But in the end, it didn’t do enough to excite me or advance the genre. In that sense, it wasn’t for me.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you’re choosing a script to write, ask yourself, “Is this a note-taking script or a non-note-taking script?” If it’s the former, realize that you’ll be fighting an uphill battle against a reader who will resist the amount of focus required to understand your story. However, if you work hard to make all that extra information clear, and you’ve written an engaging story on top of that, you can travel down this path and survive.