Premise: A young husband feels that his marriage is slipping away. But he has no idea how bad it’s about to get.
About: Today’s script comes from one of my favorite screenwriters, Brian Duffield. I’ve reviewed all of Duffield’s scripts except for two, today’s script being one of those final two. My favorite script of his is Monster Problems, which is in my Top 25. And the script of his that is the closest to production is The Babysitter (about a babysitter from hell), which some have argued is Duffield’s weakest script. Vivien is one of the scripts that first put Duffield on Hollywood’s radar.
Writer: Brian Duffield
Details: 102 pages
Been saving this one for when I needed a pick-me-up.
Yesterday’s script left me with such a bored taste in my mouth, I needed a script I knew I was going to like – something weird and unexpected. That was my issue with Mr. Toy. It was just so… rote. You knew everything that was going to happen 30 pages before it happened, because the script never set a precedent for surprising you.
What do we say here? The enemy of entertainment is predictability. As soon as your story becomes predictable, you’ve lost your audience.
I went into this one completely cold. All I knew about it was the title. So let’s find out what it’s about together!
Tom and Vivien have been married for awhile, though like a lot of the details in this story, we’re not given exact numbers. What we do know is that Vivien is drifting away from Tom. He knows this. Somewhere, deep inside, he knows she’s fucking their neighbor, Charlie.
And so he’s gotten used to the fact that Vivien has stopped laughing at his jokes, that she now sleeps facing away from him, that in the tiny moments when he tries to make her jealous so she’ll notice him, she’ll notice but won’t care. That she’s, for all intents and purposes, checked out of this marriage.
“Vivien Hasn’t Been Herself Lately” then asks the question: What if that were the best case scenario?
When Vivien starts walking on walls, Tom knows that his life has taken a turn for the worse. When she starts biting off her own fingers, he knows shit is getting bad. And when she starts beating Tom up mercilessly, he knows that his life has changed forever.
Vivien, Tom quickly learns, is possessed.
But, you see, Tom refuses to leave her. He tells the million plus demons who have now taken residence inside her body this. That he loves Vivien so much, he will stay until he finds a way to get them out of her.
And boy is he tested on that. Vivien does everything in her power to get Tom to kill her, kill himself, or leave forever. One day, she chokes Tom out until he comes to again, then repeats the process. Over and over and over again. For 24 straight hours. And still Tom won’t leave. He keeps probing, keeps trying to figure out how to save his wife.
Unfortunately, as we move through the story, and we experience just how dark things get in this home, we realize that this isn’t your average exorcism script. And that it’s very unlikely that there’s going to be a happy ending.
I haven’t said that in a long time after reading a script.
This script was… wow.
I mean, holy shit. That had to be one of the most intense reads I’ve ever experienced. I’m still processing it. It’s basically about the person you love more than anything actively hating you every day for months on end.
It’s relentless. To the point where I had to stand up a couple of times and walk around just to assure myself that there was still good in the world.
But to this script’s credit, I couldn’t stay away for long. I had to sit down and find out what happened next.
I’m trying to get myself into the headspace where I can help you guys learn some screenwriting tips from this screenplay since it was so affecting. But I’m just not there. And that’s probably the biggest compliment I can give a script. It pulled me in so much, I wasn’t even thinking about screenwriting.
Or maybe I was abstractly. I know I’d catch myself thinking, “Holy shit is this brave. Holy shit is this unique. Holy shit nothing in this script is happening when it’s supposed to.” I mean, this is a possession movie and the exorcist shows up on page 17. Page 17! Most writers would’ve drawn the story out before bringing the exorcist in, padding the script until page 50 or 60. Our exorcists (plural) run away on page 20 here. I’m looking at this script going, “What the hell is he going to do now for 82 pages???”
And what he does is he turns this into a character piece. This is about – at least in my opinion – how difficult marriage is. It’s that things don’t go swimmingly all the time. And there are going to be periods where shit gets really bad. And you’re going to want to run away. And so despite the relentless negativity that is hurled at the reader throughout this story, it’s ultimately about a man who’s so in love with his wife, that he will stay with her at her worst.
But if that’s all the script offered, I don’t know if it would have been enough for me. It was the choices that Duffield took that really wowed me. Remember – writing is about making bold unexpected choices. Not all the time. Some of your choices have to be familiar. But every once in awhile, you have to be bold. Yesterday’s script didn’t have a single bold choice. Not one. Thats why it was so boring.
Here, for example, one of the surprising sequences was that Tom and these demons actually developed a relationship of their own – separate from Vivien. It’s a fucked up relationship where one second they’ll be laughing together and the next “Vivien” will hurl Tom against the wall, breaking his arm. But it’s so unexpected and weird that it adds to, easily, the strangest character piece I’ve ever read.
And on top of that is Duffield’s voice (‘Voice and Choice’ should be the new mantra I endorse here). He’s one of the best screenwriters, hands down, at painting a picture with as few words as possible. On the very first page, we get this line: “Their socked feet touch.” Not “their feet touch,” which is what 99 out of 100 screenwriters would’ve written. But their “socked” feet. That one word turns a cliche into a verifiable image that you can imagine. And once you’re imagining, you’re no longer outside. You’re inside the story.
On top of that, this is the kind of stuff writers should be writing to start their careers. You want to write stories with 2-3 characters that are cheap but that have a hook to them. And because 99% of writers who take this route go the “cliche contained thriller” path, trapping a few characters in a room with danger outside (Cloverfield Lane, for example), if you’re the 1% that can do this without using that trope, you have a great opportunity to stand out. And if you have any directing aspirations whatsoever, try to direct that script yourself. Because you’ll get your career moving a million times faster by directing your own script than you will waiting for someone else to direct it.
I have nothing but praise for this screenplay. It’s not easy to read. In fact, it might be one of the hardest reads you’ll have all year. But it’s hard for the right reasons. It’s hard because you want these two to end up together so badly but you have to go through so much pain to find out if they’re going to.
This was really good. And a new TOP 25!!!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive (NEW TOP 25!!!)
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you want to write about a relationship, don’t literally write about a relationship. Find a metaphor for the relationship, something with a hook, and write about that. To use Vivien as an example, if the original intent was to write about a troubled marriage, writing about a literal trouble marriage will put people to sleep. By using this possession as a metaphor, you’ve all of a sudden got a clever hook, and your movie can now be marketed.
What I learned 2: Be brave and write about the things you’re scared to admit to anyone in real life. Your scripts and your novels are the places where you have to let that stuff out. And the more honest you are, the more the reader is going to connect with your story.