Premise: (from Blood List) A monster-obsessed kid witnesses a murder in his neighborhood and must defend his house when it comes under siege by the killers.
About: Today’s script finished #2 on the 2017 Blood List, Kailey Marsh’s list of best unproduced horror, thriller, and sci-fi screenplays. A familiar script to Scriptshadow readers finished at the top – MEAT. Nightlight sold to Sony earlier this year.
Writers: Chris Lee Hill & Tyler MacIntyre
Details: 92 pages
Hollywood’s confused right now.
After September unleashed a record-breaking box office, October’s done the opposite. Nobody’s going to see anything this month.
This is proof-positive that there isn’t some overall declining interest in movie-going, as some doomsday sayers have attempted to propagate. But rather – if you come out with movies that look good (September), we’ll go and see them. If you come out with movies that look bad (October), we won’t. I mean, who’s going to see a movie called “Suburbicon?” Is that, like, what happens when a suburb transforms into a robot?
A more accurate box office analysis may be the one that’s most recently making the rounds – the Rotten Tomatoes Theory. Under this theory, Rotten Tomatoes scores drive the majority of moviegoers’ decision-making. This would line up with my above hypothesis that people go to see good movies and skip bad ones.
Who knows what the ultimate truth is? I just like tweaking Hollywood every once in awhile. Despite all of their research and models, they still can’t find that elusive sure proof formula.
So would today’s script, Nightlight, land in the September of the October category of movie? Let’s find out.
It’s 1989. 10 year-old Stanley is a bit of a misfit. He’s got a stutter. He spends all his time looking up the Lochness Monster and Bigfoot. Everyone thinks he’s a weirdo. To pour salt on the wound, Stanley’s parents are recently divorced and he’s still learning how to live alone with his mom and sister.
One night Stanley sees, what looks like, his female neighbor getting attacked by men in her home. The curious Stanley creeps across the street to check it out, only to watch as, indeed, a couple of men kill the woman. He’s spotted by one of the prowlers, who sees him run back to his house across the street.
When Stanley tries to tell his mom what happened, she thinks it’s all a result of his overactive imagination. The family then gets a call from the police, who inform Stanley’s mom that her daughter’s troublemaker boyfriend has been picked up, and that he was hoping she and Stanley’s sister could come pick him up.
This is a ploy by the prowler, of course, who moves in to the house the second the mom and sister leave. However, the prowler soon learns that Stanley is craftier than he looks. Stanley’s able to move around inside the house’s many hiding spaces (laundry chutes and such) to avoid the intruder.
Stanley’s plan is to play this game of hide and seek until his mom and sister get back. But when the prowler becomes desperate to tie up this loop, Stanley will have to use all of his craftiness to get out of this nightmare alive.
I should preface my breakdown by saying I’d sped through the logline and thought I was reading something different. I assumed this was going to be Home Alone but with monsters trying to get into the house. I thought that was a really cool idea. When I realized it was just one guy trying to get in, I was disappointed, and that definitely colored my reaction.
Regardless of that issue, this was a weird read. There were many moments where I’d come across a scene and say, “Wait, what?” For example, Stanley’s mother sends him up to clean leaves out of the roof gutters. As in, on a ladder.
This would be dangerous even for an adult to do. Yet Stanley’s mom is sending her ten year-old – a boy we’ve established is frail and weak no less – to clean out gutters on the roof?
Or there was the moment where the “police” call to have Stanley’s mom come pick up his sister’s boyfriend. Not only were we never informed that Stanley’s sister had a boyfriend in the first place. But why would it be up to the unrelated mother of a boyfriend to pick this guy up? There was a lot of this, leaving me constantly scratching my head.
There were lots of missed opportunities, as well. For example, at a certain point, the prowler makes it clear to Stanley that when his mom and sister get home, he’s going to kill them. This added a new wrinkle to the problem. Up until that point, Stanley could just keep hiding. However, knowing his mom and sister would be in danger when they got home, this meant hiding was no longer an option. He’d have to take this guy on. I thought that was a great choice.
However, it’s negated the second we find out that the mother and sister are coming home with a police escort. So they’re actually in no danger at all.
But the biggest missed opportunity was in how Stanley fends off the attacker. It’s all with basic generic tricks like clever hiding places and such.
When you write a story like this, it’s the perfect opportunity to use WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR HERO to help him survive. Stanley is set up as this monster expert at the beginning of the movie. It’s the reason everyone thinks he’s so weird. So what better better way to save your life than with the knowledge that, up until this point, everyone’s used to make fun of you?
What would the Loch Ness do? What would Big Foot do? Their unique abilities could have inspired Stanley to keep outwitting the intruder.
Something that could really help this script is more attention to setups and payoffs. Things like the sister having a boyfriend come out of nowhere instead of being properly set up ahead of time. And because these moments are major pillars in the advancement of the plot, it’s too easy to question them. Ditto the ending, which I won’t get into, since it’s a spoiler. But a character we’d never met until that point has a huge influence on the climax.
Now some of you may ask, “Well, Carson, why did this sell when my script is stuck in Nobody Gives a Shit Land?” Here’s the thing. Despite the problems I’ve listed above, we still have a MOVIE here. What I mean by that is we still have a clear situation with high stakes and lots of conflict, and an easy-to-market concept. Those things matter.
Whenever people complain to me that bad scripts sell while their great scripts are stuck on the shelf and I actually read those scripts? They’re not even at a level where you can compare them. They might be obscure tone poems. They might have second acts that deviate completely from the setup. They might not have a single marketable component to them. At least Nightlight is a movie, flaws and all.
It was an interesting reading experience nonetheless, even if it wasn’t my cup of hot cocoa.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: One of the easiest ways to strengthen a shaky plot point is to set it up earlier. For example, all we needed to do to strengthen the forced plot point where the fake police lure Stanley’s mom and sister out of the house was to SET UP an earlier fight between the sister and her boyfriend. Now we’ve seen the boyfriend’s volatility. Now we KNOW the boyfriend. This way, when we learn the boyfriend is in jail, we’re like, “Oh, of course he is. That guy was crazy.”