Premise: Set in the Alaskan wilderness, a forest fire spotter receives an unexpected visit from a mysterious man.
About: Zetumer sold Villain to 2929 studios awhile back. Although he started out writing big sprawling action films, Villain was the script that got him noticed, secured him an agent, and ultimately landed him a sale. The script so impressed director Marc Forster that he asked Zetumer to rewrite Quantum of Solace (I wouldn’t hold this against him – Forster has gone on record saying every major decision about the script was his – so we can blame him). In fact, the script has led to a whole host of large scale assignments, including The Infiltrator (DiCaprio attached) and the remake of Dune (cause, you know, they’re going to keep throwing money at that franchise until somebody cracks it). Zetumer cites Chinatown as the biggest influence on his work.
Writer: Joshua Zetumer
Sooner or later, you have to start explaining things.
Whenever you write a thriller or a mystery, remember those words: Sooner or later, you have to start explaining things. We experienced that firsthand on Monday with the heavily mysterious “Umbra.” You see, it’s fairly easy to create a really fucked up world where strange ass shit is happening to your main character. What’s never easy, is coming up with a compelling story to explain the mystery. Since the answer is never as interesting as the question, many thrillers die a quick death after the first act. Cause people want answers. And the answers usually suck.
So what of Villain? Do the answers satisfy?
Will is staying up in the Alaskan mountains in a small shack doing what’s called “spotting” for forest fires. Will is a recovering alcoholic and part of the reason he took this odd job was to end his addiction to the juice – kind of his own version of AA. Step 1: Get 100 miles away from the nearest liquor store. Will is a complex character with a complicated history. The man has burns all over his body, the kind that imply an entire childhood full of abuse, and he’s generally “off”. In summation: The guy hasn’t had an easy life. His only contact with the outside world is the occasional radio contact he gets from basecamp, which is a good four day’s walk away.
Then one afternoon, Will gets a CB call from basecamp. Apparently, someone who claims to know Will stopped by yesterday and asked where he was staying. “Who?” Will asks. They don’t know. Just some guy. Some guy who is now on his way to see Will. This confuses the hell out of Will because, as far as he knows, no one even knows he’s up here.
A day later Will spots the man trudging up the hill towards his shack. This means it took the man two days to traverse a four day walk. Who is this guy? Superman?
Actually, the man’s name is Aiden, Will’s brother who he hasn’t seen in ages. If Will’s the rotten apple of the family, Aiden’s the core. He’s one of those guys you see at the Y and with just one look in his eyes – you know – he ain’t right (rest assured – I haven’t been to the Y in awhile). Although he enters with a smile, and the two immediately begin reminicsing about old times, it’s clear that there’s something boiling under the surface of this crackpot. Aiden has some hard questions he wants to ask, and he’s not leaving til his brother answers them.
The camaraderie begins to deteriorate soonafter and we learn the source of Aiden’s anger is that his daughter’s been taken from him by social services. Aiden did a little P.I. work and found some phone bills with some very interesting calls on them. Calls to the social service offices from Will’s number. His question to Will is simple: Did you contact them? Of course Will denies it, and he’s so convincing even we’re not sure what the truth is. The question becomes, how far will Aiden go to get to the truth? When you’re hundreds of miles away from the next human being, when the only law is nature, what are you capable of?
The abuse that follows is a direct reflection of the theme Zetumer’s exploring. These two men grew up knowing nothing but their father’s abuse. Living it. Breathing it. Fearing it. And yet here it is again, alive and kicking in their adult lives, so deeply rooted that it will probably be the reason that only one of them comes off this mountain.
Villain started out promising, but it hits some snow bumps almost immediately after Aiden arrives, falling into a pattern of Aiden drugging Will, Will waking up, Aiden drugging Bill, Will waking up, and over and over and over again. Like I said, once you get past the intrigue, past the mystery, tell us your story. And it’s not clear that Villain has a lot of story to tell. The answers are revealed slowly and aren’t all that satisfying. There were times when Will seems so fucked up that we’re wondering if this is a tripped out schizophrenic delusion of his – and we’re going to find out that his brother never came. I thought that would’ve been a fun angle to explore. But in the end it really is about Aiden trying to find out if Will called social services on his daughter. That’s it. And while that’s fine since that’s the story Zetumer wanted to tell, it left me feeling disappointed and a little empty. I wanted something bigger. More twists. Not such a straightforward story.
I’d like to make it clear that this is a solid piece of writing. A lot of people enjoyed it and it’s given Zetumer the amazing career he now has. For me though, it felt like it ran out of gas.
I know there are some of you in the Scriptshadow community who will disagree though (and make it very clear in the comments!) so take a stab at it and tell me what you think…
[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
WHAT I LEARNED: I loooooove when something unexpected happens in a script. I read so many scripts that fail to surprise me, and as I just mentioned, the second half of Villain falls into that category. But early on, the script is tense and full of great choices. One of my favorite moments is when Aiden (then an unknown man) first surfaces out of the forest after his two-day hike up to Will. Will’s been on edge waiting for this mystery man for hours. But instead of the man doing what we expect, which is to walk up to the shack, he stops…..and then turns back around, walking away and into the woods. This freaked the shit out of me. Who walks two days straight then turns around? Where is he going? What is he doing? Is he hiding? Why would he show himself in the first place? This upped the suspense factor by a thousand. Remember that your scripts are being read by people who’ve read EVVVERRRRYTHING. So you have to surprise them every once in awhile to keep them on their toes. Be unexpected!
Learn more about Josh over at The Rogue Wave.