Author: Craig Schwartz & Jacinthe Dessureault
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:On their way to a wedding, a group of friends become infected with spores that slowly turn them into zombies.
Synopsis:Six friends in their early 20s, on road trip from Albuquerque to Kingman, stop in a small desert town called Friendly when the driver, JAKE, thinks he hears a leak. Slacker stoner CODY plans to marry sensible girlfriend, KIRA; the wedding chapel is their ultimate destination. Unfortunately, there’s some tension: Jake used to date intellectual science queen LEE, but they broke up; they’re stuck together because Jake is Cody’s best friend, and Kira is Lee’s. Along for the ride are Jake’s sleazy stripper girlfriend, DIANE, and Lee’s athlete boyfriend STEVE. Jake and Lee don’t get along at all. Steve and Diane flirt constantly, increasing tension between all four of them. Even Cody and Kira have tension: his slacker ways interfere with her straight-arrow mentality.
On their way into Friendly, the group runs into a creepy OLD WOMAN and her equally creepy son, BOBBY JOHN; after first mistaking the group for “church folk” and then for Cub Scouts, the Old Woman gives directions and some insight onto the town-that-isn’t-quite-a-town. It seems, aside from an operating general store and a healthy Mormon church, there isn’t much more than a ghost town — or, as the operators of the general store (SHERMAN and JUDY, a friendly middle-aged couple) joke, a “Holy Ghost-town.” While the gang tries to buy beer at the store (unavailable in Friendly because of its Mormon influence), a blind Indian, LOMY, tells Lee that he’s cursed. She thinks he’s nuts. A local PREACHER and his assistant, SISTER RUTH, try to convince the gang to stay for services; the group leaves as soon as possible.
They make camp near the town, and Jake notices an abandoned mine in the distance. Jake, Diane, and Kira go to the mine; meanwhile, Cody, Lee, and Steve have found a silver trailer near their campsite. Music plays, but it seems abandoned. As the group in the trailer investigates, finding a lot of dust and a dead family, the group at the mine discover dust and a bunch of disgusting, tumor-like mushrooms. Investigating further, they find a dead den of Cub Scouts, covered in these mushrooms — dead except for one CRAZY CUB SCOUT, who pulls a gun on them, drags them back to the van, steals it, and drives away. Steve has been “infected” by whatever this stuff is, and he’s not doing well. Jake and Diane go for help back at the Old Woman’s house. In a murderous rage, she kills Diane and she and Bobby John both go after Jake. Meanwhile, Steve goes nuts and tries to kill everyone at the campsite. Lee whacks him with the tire-iron, while Jake accidentally forces Bobby John to kill his mother, then he impales Bobby John on a pitchfork. While escaping, he stumbles across the van.
Steve, tied up, regains consciousness. Lee starts punching him. He doesn’t understand why he’s tied up or why they’re all so angry and violent. Lee realizes Steve, whose nose was smashed by the tire iron, is no longer affected by whatever “spell” compelled him to try killing them. She thinks it’s pheromones — something about the dust they breathed in compels people to murder them. But why the mushroom-like spores and their airborne dust cause others to kill them when the dust itself is deadly? Answer: the spores don’t kill them — they turn them into zombies.
Jake returns with the van, and they start driving. They’re attacked by a hitchhiker they stop to help. He kills Steve, they kill the hitchhiker, but he’s done major damage to the van, rendering it almost inoperable. They’re near the town, so the go to the general store to call for help. They also try to cloak their scent, but they’re attacked by Lomy (whose blindness heightens his sense of smell) and his pet chihuahua. They kill the dog and keep Lomy out of the store. In the van, a zombified Steve comes back to life. The group gradually piece together that alcohol can stop and reverse the attacking dust. Since it’s a dry town, there’s only one place to get alcohol — wine at the church. Before they can go, they’re attacked by Sherman. Judy, meanwhile, tries to feed his leg to the chihuahua, but instead she’s killed by — the Crazy Cub Scout, who is now a full-on zombie. The group deals with Sherman in the store, then sneak off to the church. They ambush the Preacher, who tells them that their wine is non-alcoholic. Jake, having seen him drinking rum earlier, knows there’s booze somewhere. The only way to get it is to reveal themselves, and their scent, to the full congregation.
After he sees what their scent does to the congregation, he is fully cooperative in helping them not only get the booze, he supplies them with more guns and allows them to take his bus out of town. They just have to get there… Meanwhile, everyone who has died rises again as a zombie, Kira and Cody steal the one bottle of whiskey they have for the four of them, but they’re killed. Jake and Lee get it back and get on the bus, just as Jake succumbs to the black spores. It reverses the process and he returns to normal.
Comments:This is a well-paced, well-structured take on the zombie movie. The dialogue is effective, with strong wit, nice character voice, and heightening tension without being overly expository. Steve and Diane could use a little work, though — it becomes pretty obvious that they’ll be the first victims based on their lack of depth. If they had more emphasis early on, their inevitable deaths would be more surprising and have more of an impact. Thanks mostly to the dialogue that really defines the strength of the Jake/Cody and Lee/Kira friendships, the betrayal of Cody and Kira comes out of left field, but it’s completely within their established characters. It works well.
I’ll say where I thought the story was going as it headed into the third act, because I think it could lead to something very interesting and effective in a rewrite. When they figured out the alcohol secret, they realized the church was the only place to get it, and they also realized they would have at least a hundred people willing to stop at nothing to murder them, I thought it’d be a bloodbath. That poses a really interesting moral question, dramatically: are the lives of these four people worth the slaughter of so many? Would the main characters be willing to sacrifice so many others to save themselves? If they did, how would they react to the aftermath of such atrocities?
Like the rest of the script, a development like that would turn aside a lot of the clichés of zombie movies — taking the common “let’s shoot everybody” ending and saying, “Yeah, but they aren’t shooting zombies — they’re shooting actual people to save themselves,” and then dealing with the consequences. It’s a kill-or-be-killed scenario, and it’s kind of a win-win situation: gore, violence, exciting gunfights — all leading to deeper questions about the morality of their actions. It also ties into the overall theme of being “saved.” What’s the price of being saved, and is it worth it?