An excerpt from my script review for Antlers which will be available 10/31/21:
2.) Plot Stability
That’s what I want to discuss about this particular script in relation to our own writing.
For a horror project, there’s a certain amount of scares that should happen.
That said, it should also escalate from beginning to fade out.
That is with one exception…
Most horror films will give us that initial gory kill, demonstrating what’s in store and at stake.
Once done, enter a normal scenario that feels slightly off, giving the audience/reader characters we’re interested in seeing deal with the spooky fun shown moments before.
After the characters are introduced, start with little glimpses of what’s wrong (or who), and build upon it.
Maybe the monster is just off screen initially, or out of focus. Perhaps things aren’t what they seem, and a character who looks alive and well turns out to “not be so” when a character exits an early scene.
From there you can make it as ghostly or gruesome as you’d like.
This script was 96 pages.
That’s not bad for a horror screenplay, but around page 23 or so I’m wondering to myself, “Where’s the scary?”
We’re given Julia, a new teacher in a poor, rural town trying to make a difference with a small boy named Lucas.
Lucas’s life is sad, and we feel for him, but aside from the initial, barely disturbing scene, the script could very much turn into a predictable Hallmark movie shown around the holidays.
“Julia, a small-town teacher, takes a young student under her wing to nourish his artistic side, finding his place in the world.”
There’s nothing wrong with Hallmark movies (my mother-in-law loves them this time of year), but that’s not what this is.
At one point we’re given a scene where Julia drives to Lucas’s house. It’ looks abandoned, overgrown, eerily similar to It and she just…drives away.
It’s delivered as the “worst part of town” and that’s all. Not even a glimpse of spooky or scary while she’s there.
Realistically it’s not until halfway through the script that we get what we came for, Julia entering this decaying house and finding the Antlered Man.
After that it’s zero to fucking sixty in under ten pages with some nasty kills that would make Michael Myers jealous.
It wasn’t bad, because that’s what the audience is craving, just that it took too long to get there.
The advantage of good horror is that it strings the audience along, teasing them just enough that feet are lightly touching the sticky soda floor, for fear that what’s happening on screen may grab them from beneath the seat.
(“I know that the thing under my bed doesn’t exist. But I also know that if I keep my feet under the blanket, it won’t grab my ankle.” – Stephen King)
It’s a good script, and changes I’ve come across about the film seem to strengthen that as a project, I just implore you to take the time to establish your horror story properly.
By no means should you feel the need to hit certain beats at particular pages, but know that your audience has certain expectations for this genre.
Lastly, hitting some of the “spoiler” plot points, try to avoid jump scares.
They’re easy to do, and will get the desired effect at times, but they’re also lazy and becoming predictable.
I liked that the Antlered Man had certain “rules” he had to play by (another critical tool to utilize in a horror), but don’t have him constantly popping out of the dark and then disappearing when he’s not offering his other victims the same strung out version of cat and mouse.
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