Saturday, 9 January 2016

THE BOY - HORROR (Egerton)

LOGLINE: Sixteen years after stabbing a classmate to appease a legendary phantom known as The Boy, a repentant woman returns to her hometown to live with her sister and nephew. As The Boy continues to haunt her and the death count rises, she must face her deepest terror to discover the truth about The Boy before he claims her nephew.

WRITER: Owen Egerton

SCRIPT BIO: Finshed with the silver medal in the 2015 blood-list -- a list of the best unproduced horror screenplays for the year.


I didn't have high expectations for this script. The logline didn't excite me. There is a distinct lack of objective. 'Discover the truth' is rather open ended, and when a screenplay doesn't have a clearly defined objective, the story can feel unfocused and wandering. 

While the lack of clear goal did hamper this script, I enjoyed it much more than ELI. The writing here was a couple of notches higher, consequently it made for an easier read. 

The story felt more grounded in reality. I could imagine this situation really happening to someone. The story's premise relies heavily on daylight hallucinations, which is something I've read about. To people who suffer from these, what they experience is as good as real to them. 

The premise of ELI felt more 'concocted', more contrived. An idea and a scenario created more for the sake of trying to come up with something cool to write a movie about. 

Before we get into the breakdown of this script, I'd like to talk about JUMP SCARES.

Someone recently pitched a horror film to me. In their pitch they assured me that there would be plenty of JUMP SCARES. That's when I checked out. That's when I knew that this person didn't understand horror.

Jump scares aren't good horror. Jump scares are cheap horror. Anyone can write a jump scare. Put someone in a house they don't know. Have them looking around. They look in a mirror, they don't see anything, something moves off-shot, they look for what caused the noise, then as they're looking we see that a figure - most likely a ghost of some sort - has now appeared in the mirror but the character is unaware of it.

That's a very typical jump scare. If done well, with a well timed sound effect, it will no doubt make the majority of audiences jump. But that's it. It plays on our high level of adrenaline and cortison. Two or three seconds later we're no longer scared. We'll probably still be tense, especially if there's more jump scares to come, but it's not what good horror is all about.

Good horror stems from story. Horror and comedy are more similar than you might think. The equivilent of a jump scare in a comedy is a joke. A joke can make you laugh, but truly good comedy rises from story - just like good horror rises from story. 

Take the story of THE RING. This is a great example of good horror. The terror in that film rises from the story. Sure there's plenty of jump scares in The Ring, but all of them are related to the story and most importantly moving the story forward.

When writing your next horror, ask youself if the scene you're writing is moving the story forward and scaring the audiecene, or are you writing it because it's just a kind of scary scenraio and you think it'll probably be a good jump scare.

This was one of the failings of The Boy, there were far too many scenes where it felt like jump scares weren't moving the story forward. They just seemed like a good moment for there to be something freaky happen. 

Let's get into it... 


Marina was evidently an impressionable young girl, as she was talked into enacting a violent act upon one of her closest friends when she was 12 years old.

She was talked into it by her other closest friend, Rebecca, also only 12 years old. A phantom of a young boy (known as THE BOY) haunts a lake in the woods near their homes. In a semi-sacrificial ritual to appease The Boy, Rebecca talked Marina into knocking their friend Lilly on the head with a stone then severing one of her fingers. 

This act, according to Rebecca will bring them closer to The Boy. Something they're both willing to kill for - for some reason?

Of course, Rebecca and Marina are sent to juvenile prison for their crime. They're separated, and don't see each other again for the next 20 years.

We join Marina, some two decades later as she's released from prison. In a bid to start life - for the first time really, as until now she's been a ward of the state - she goes to live with her sister Alice in a small town.  

Alice has a son Bryce and a douche bag boyfriend Will. Will is obsessed with serial killers, and sees Marina as somewhat of a celebrity. 

As Marina adapts to life on the outside, she starts to experience visions of The Boy. He interferes with her life, leaving her notes and doing all kinds of quasi-supernatural things to mess with her. 

Late in the piece it becomes apparent that The Boy is not just a daylight hallucination, but a bone-fide spirit, hell bent on causing carnage in the first degree.

Will Marina be able to defeat this demon before he 'takes' Bryce?

Let's break this down... 


The Boy doesn't rate as highly as yesterday's ELI in the concept department. This story feels old. It feels like there's nothing terribly fresh or new here. Where-as ELI had a unique hook to it - boy in a bubble meets haunted house - The Boy is more standard fare. 

The Boy concept is - spirit of a child haunts a lake. Sure it's not - spirit of a child haunts a house - but a haunted lake isn't really enough of a new angle to really make this concept pop. 

Also, the daylight hallucinations angle has been done and done. Is it really a ghost she's seeing? Maybe it is, maybe it's not, maybe it's all in her head. This kind of cepncept flew really well in the 60's, 70's, hell it even did well right up until the early 2000's, but by now, audiences are all too familiar with this trope. They want something more. A newer, fresher angle. 

On the concept alone I would normally give something like this a 4/10, but the execution here was better than I expected. So with that in mind I give it... 


CONCEPT TIP: Uniquely familiar. Audiences want something they understand, but they want a new take on it. Eli gave us something new - a boy in a bubble, in a setting we all understand, a haunted house. The Boy doesn't give us anything terribly new. 

There's an angry spirit haunting a lake. The only slightly new angle to this story is the lake setting, also that the characters are primarily female, but this isn't enough to make this story stand out. 

Break down the concept of your script. Be honest with yourself, is your new angle fresh enough to make it really stand out from the masses? If not, go back and re-work it until it is. You'll save yourself months of writing a concept that doesn't have enough of a hook in the first place.


The Boy was a mixed bag on the form front. While the writing read well and flowed easily, there were countless spelling mistakes, and worse, a lot of words were left out completely. It felt like the writer couldn't be bothered to do a proof read.


FORM TIP: Do a typo pass. Read your screenplay -- slowly -- focusing only on spelling and formatting. Don't worry about the story at all when you're doing this pass. The less form mistakes you have the more the reader will respect you.

FORM TIP 2: As a writer you often can't see the tree for the forest. Give your screenplay to two or three friends to do a typo pass. If you don't have people you trust with this, there are plenty of proof-readers on the net willing to do it for a nominal fee. Do it. It's worth it.


The Boy's structure was so-so. It started well. A good opening hook scene. Followed by the short 'ordinary world' of Marina in various prisons. The story then moved into the second act nicely when she moved into her sister's home.

But here is where The Boy's structure fell apart. It felt like one gigantic repeated beat throughout the entire second act until the very end. I couldn't discern anything that would pass for a solid mid-point, and I could not see a clear transition into the third act. 

Another major problem for The Boy was the lack of a clearly defined goal. Normally one of the things that defines the start of the second act is when a GOAL is established. Here, Marina's goal is to reintegrate back into society. 

That's an open ended goal, and means the story will be unfocused and wandering. The Boy could have benefitted greatly if Marina had a clearly defined GOAL.


STRUCTURE TIP: There are countless screen writing books that teach the Hero's Journey. Read three of them, as they all have slightly different takes on it, then create your own beat-sheet, your own break down of what defines each beat in your story. 

THEN -- here's the trick, veer away from the Hero's Journey. But know WHY you're doing this. Your story will be focused and move clearly from beat to beat, but there will be that x-factor, that unpredictable element to your writing because you KNOW WHY you're writing outside the HJ structure format. 


The characters in The Boy played better than in ELI. They felt more grounded and real. But They didn't really pop and they all felt like slightly different versions of the same. 

Marina and her sister were interchangeable, if you removed their character heading and read their dialogue there's no way you could tell who was who just from the way they were speaking. You could tell them apart from WHAT they were saying, but it's the WAY your characters speak that defines them and gives them personality. 

Will, the boyfriend was the worst character of all. His obsession with famous killers felt written, it didn't feel real. It felt hammed in to create some sort of conflict. 


CHARACTER TIP: You don't want characters to feel written. Think about your characters as if they were real people in real life. Pretend you're meeting your character for the first time. They way they speak, the things they say, would it seem plausible that a real person would speak and act that way? Will does not pass this test and consequently he doesn't feel real. When your characters don't feel real, the reader starts to check out. 


Dialogue wasn't too bad here. It was slightly better than Eli, but again, it didn't pop. If you compare the dialogue writing here with that of the JEFF BAUMAN story, The Boy's dialogue fails miserably. 

It all comes back to understanding your characters and making sure that there is enough of a difference between them that they speak in different ways. 

The setup for The Boy offers a great opportunity to paint different characters. We've got someone who has been in prison for 20 years meeting her estranged sister, someone who has had to live with the stigma of having a killer in the family for 20 years.

Here there's scope to create two vastly different people, but Alice and Marina felt like peas in a pod.


DIALOGUE TIP: Some story setups provide more room to move with the creation of your characters. Look at your story setup, and where possible milk those differences.


The Boy had a good voice. In fact, this is probably one of the stronger parts of this screenplay. There was a genuine chill to the writing, there was a definite dark tone from the first word to the end. 


VOICE TIP: Decide on the tone you want for your screenplay, then be consistent. One of the major problem with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is its shifting tone. Jokes were often hammed into dark scenes, you really had no idea what you were supposed to be feeling. 


This would fall into the Jason Blume 5 million dollar range.

Low cast. Small amount of locations. Little/no VFX.

That makes this an easier sell, despite it's muddy concept.


Despite it's short comings, I enjoyed The Boy far more than ELI. The tone was good, there were some decent scary scenes and the characters felt more real. 

If the writer and the producers could fix the bullet holes in this piece, namely, 

a) Lack of clear goal.

b) Poor dialogue
c) Create better separation of characters.
d) Work on the overall structure 

This film could really be something worth watching. As it stands, it just passes. I'd watch this for the mood it creates, not the story it tells.