Premise: When her husband goes missing, a woman investigates the cult who may have taken him, only to find that they’re involved in something way beyond basic brainwashing.
About: He’s baaaaaaack. The man who’s written one of my top 5 favorite scripts (The Brigands of Rattleborge) and the film with the most harrowing death scene ever (Bone Tomahawk) comes at us again with one of his many sold spec scripts – They Repair Us! In fact, Zahler has spoken openly about the fact that he’s sold or optioned 21 different screenplays, and until Bone Tomahawk, none of them had been made. Now that Zahler has a produced credit under his belt (he also directed Tomahawk), I’m sure that will begin to change. I’m also hoping that the success of The Magnificent 7 will help get Rattleborge made.
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
Details: 125 pages – undated
Yesterday (my post went up late, so check it out if you missed it), I was complaining about the lack of originality I’ve seen in the screenwriting community lately. So when I was choosing a script to read for today, I knew there was one writer I could turn to who would guarantee a unique read.
S. Craig Zahler, baby.
You see, there’s one element that, when it comes to originality, transcends concept, and that’s voice. Someone with a unique voice can take even the most mundane topic – say, living in Suburbia – and because they see that world in such a unique way, write something that feels wholly original (American Beauty, by Alan Ball).
This is why “voice-y” writers have such an advantage in this business. With everybody writing the same damn shit over and over again, the writers who can stand out in any way feel like superstars.
Now does that mean you should write like Zahler? 10-line paragraphs on the regular? A deep description of every room, every character? Taking “slow-build” to the next level? No. This is ZAHLER’S style. You need to find your own. Whether it be a relentless millennial pace like Max Landis. A weird comedic irreverent style like Brian Duffield. Or an “each-scene-is-a-mini-movie” approach like Quentin Tarantino. Find what works for you and embrace it.
Okay, now let’s check out some Repairing, shall we?
38 year-old Gail Linder, a violinist, has been struggling lately. Her husband, Emmet, has gone missing. While this has shattered Gail’s reality, it’s not completely unexpected. Gail and Emmet recently lost a child, and Emmet’s been unable to move on.
The police have discovered that Emmet may have turned to a shadowy cult for solace. The problem is, they don’t know anything about the cult. So when Emmet finally reappears, bald and a borderline vegetable, Gail becomes determined to find out what happened to her husband. Maybe whoever did this to him can get him back to normal.
So Gail follows the few clues that she has, eventually tracking the cult’s supposed gatekeeper, Alain Bertrand. Unfortunately, when Gail follows Bertrand to a hotel, she gets too close. Bertrand is able to turn the tables on her, and the next thing Gail knows, she’s in a strange holding room all by herself.
Since this script works best if you don’t know what happens next, I suggest you download and read the script yourself. Moving forward, there will be spoilers. So anyway, Gail is told that this is a place where they “repair” people. If you’ve lost someone close to you, or you’re a pedophile, or a murderer, they have a machine that goes into your brain on a sub-atomic level and erases the place that’s hurting you.
In Gail’s case, if they’re going to allow her back into the world, they’re going to have to erase the part of her brain that despises their “cult.” Otherwise, she will expose them. To that end, Gail will need to go through the same procedure her husband went through. And my friends? That’s where things get really fucked up in They Repair Us.
I wanted originality in a screenplay. I got it in this final act. It’s weird, it’s fun, it’s polarizing. And it was a great reminder that there are still strong screenwriters taking chances out there.
Reading today’s script was a lesson in confidence. When a writer has confidence, everything about the read changes. What is “confidence” in writing? It’s a few things. But the main one is that the writer has a plan. He knows where he’s going.
I remember yesterday, when I read that script, that the writer seemed to be making stuff up as they went along. You could see them searching on the page. “Hmm, I wonder where this will take me.” Since you could tell that she didn’t know, you weren’t convinced she would take you to the right place.
With They Repair Us, I knew Zahler always had a plan. And his confidence resulted in my confidence in him. Even when the script was taking its time through that first half, I never doubted that Zahler was taking me to a good place.
And if there’s anything I’m taking away from this script, it’s that. If you’re a slow-burn type writer, like Zahler is, YOU MUST WRITE WITH CONFIDENCE. That’s the only way we’ll stick with you. If you’re a slow-burn writer and we suspect you don’t know where you’re going with your story? Forget about it. We’ll give up on you long before we get to the good stuff, assuming there is any good stuff.
They Repair Us is also the PERFECT EXAMPLE of the mid-point twist. Remember that a mid-point twist is something you add near the midpoint so that the second half of the script feels different from the first half. Otherwise, you have one entire script that feels exactly the same.
In They Repair Us, literally RIGHT AT THE MIDPOINT, Gail wakes up in the underground facility where the “repairing” takes place. This ensures that the second half (escape the facility) is different from the first half (find the cult). I thought that was really clever.
Another choice I liked about that second half was adding a fun character. Sometimes what happens when you’re writing a deep and dark screenplay is that every choice you make is also deep and dark. There’s no contrast. And when there’s no contrast, things become too predictable, too monotone. Zahler introduces a doctor, Doctor Howard, who’s fun and jokes around a lot, and who therefore added some much needed contrast to the situation, some levity. It broke up the monotony and kept things fresh.
The only thing I didn’t like about They Repair Us was some of the third act technobabble. In my experience, readers/audiences don’t like to know the micro-details of what’s happening. It’s similar to the blowback George Lucas got when he added midichlorians to the Star Wars lexicon. We don’t need to know exactly how this brain-scanning thing works on a micro-level. We’re always going to be more interested in the drama of the situation.
It’s nice to read some good thinking man’s sci-fi again. If Arrival does well, someone should come and give They Repair Us a shot. It doesn’t have quite the hook that Arrival does. But there’s a good story here, it wouldn’t be expensive to make, and there’s nothing else out there like it.
They Repair Us should be easy to find on the internet. Check it out if you have the time!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you don’t have a unique voice as a writer, you must work hard to create ORIGINAL CONCEPTS. Because if you write something that’s unoriginal AND you sound just like every other writer out there? Forget about it. Your scripts will never stand out.