Author: Stephen Prentice
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:One by one, popular kids at a local high school are getting killed — could the killer be the ghost of a kid they bullied until he committed suicide?
Synopsis:The HEAD TEACHER leads a group of his students to the funeral of recently deceased 17-year-old Darren Mullet. He gives a brief speech about the tragedy, then turns the floor over to JUSTINE, the attractive and confident ‘Head Girl.’ Justine gives a speech about friendship, enraging a kid named JASON BANKS, who shouts that she’s a hypocrite in the midst of a barrage of obscenities. The Head Teacher and the GAMES TEACHER drag Jason away, as he screams that the other kids murdered him.
TASHA and BRADLEY — the obnoxious queen and king of the school — smoke among the headstones. ALEXIS keeps his distance, staring after Justine. Just as a teacher chastises them for smoking, MARCUS pulls up in his car and tells them the Head Teacher has given them the afternoon off Alexis casts another wistful glance at Justine. In another part of the headphones, a group of goth goofs (NASSER, TIM, and MAI LEE) discuss how beautiful death is. KHALILAH, SOPHIE, and HELENA, more popular girls, stroll past the goths. Sophie gets a text announcing a party at Brad’s tonight. Helena is disgusted, but the other two are thrilled. Alexis tells Bradley and the others that he’s going to ask Justine to the party. They mock this decision. He goes to Justine, who’s talking to Helena and EMILY, and asks her. Helena renews her disgust, but to her surprise, Justine agrees to go with Alexis. Helena tries to talk Justine out of it, but she says she wants some fun and scampers off. Helena says they do have fun, but Emily’s facial expression suggests this isn’t true.
At Bradley’s house, DJ JEZ mocks Justine the instant she walks in the door, to the rage of Alexis, Marcus, and Bradley. They throw Jez out of the party. They toast Darren Mullet, a.k.a. Shrek, but Justine admits she doesn’t even remember what he looked like. Everyone finds this amusing. Drunk, Jez wanders through the cemetery and pisses on Darren’s grave. He shouts hostilities at it, but this turns out to be a bad decision — he’s impaled on the wooden grave marker. Jez manages to crawl away slowly. Back at the party, Nasser, Tim, and Mai Lee share a tiny joint and describe how great their suicides will be. Irritated by the noise, Alexis drags Justine to somewhere a little quieter. They start kissing when Alexis’s phone starts buzzing with a text message. Alexis ignores it, not realizing it’s from Darren Mullet and is a threat on his life.
Bradley gets a similar text message and calls the number back, angry. All he hears is somebody breathing; he assumes it’s Jason Banks. In the garage, a mystery person grabs some gardening shears, then decides a chainsaw would be better. It goes back into the house. Just as Alexis tries to convince Justine to take things to the next level — a chainsaw-wielding maniac bursts into the bedroom, scaring the hell out of both of them. It’s just Bradley playing a prank. In the backyard, an actual mystery person stares at Justine through the window. We can’t see his face, but he wears a school uniform and uses an asthma inhaler.
The next morning, Helena and Emily are horrified to find Justine has officially become one of the “in-crowd,” walking into school with her arms linked with Justine. The Head Teacher forces Jason to apologize to Justine. He’s reluctant and insincere. A secretary tells the Head Teacher that Jez’s parents are concerned that he didn’t come home. The Head Teacher is sure he’ll turn up. Jez’s body has been shoved into a compost bin at the cemetery, which the groundskeeper doesn’t notice as he dumps in a bag of grass clippings, obscuring Jez forever. Outside the Head Teacher’s office, Justine asks Jason what he expected her to do — tell the truth in front of his grieving parents? Jason’s angry because Darren was madly in love with Justine, but she doesn’t even remember what he looked like. He hands her a note, saying Darren would have wanted her to have it. It’s Darren’s suicide note, which mentions that the motivation for his suicide is that Justine has finally joined in on the nastiness. She’s terrified and confused.
Nasser talks about mixing together a mash-up of the funeral march and some hip-hop song. Bradley confronts him about taking down a website. Nasser says he’ll do it. Justine finds a Care-Bear — which was placed on Darren’s grave by his parents — in her locker. She doesn’t realize it’s the same, thinks Alex left it for her, is touched. In English class, the teacher discusses the ghost of Banquo appearing to Macbeth. Helena struggles in vain to answer the questions about why the ghost appeared; the teacher calls on the distracted Justine, who believes Banquo was a figment of Macbeth’s guilt-ridden imagination. The teacher jumps on that, thrilled with the answer. Nasser records a song in the school’s recording studio. The Schoolboy appears, somehow ties Nasser’s wrist-straps to the chair, keeping him from getting up. He forces the music volume to such an obscene degree that Nasser’s ears bleed, drums puncturing, deafening him. Still tied to the chair, he bounces down the hall screaming that it was Darren Mullet.
Alexis apologizes to Justine for Bradley’s prank. The Schoolboy watches this from a distance, then stalks Justine as she walks around the girls’ locker room, alone, after school. He does nothing to her. We become aware that the Schoolboy is, in fact, Darren’s mutilated corpse. The next day, Justine confronts Jason about the suicide note — he says she never bullied Darren. She doesn’t even remember him. Jason describes to her what it feels like to be bullied, mentions they even set up a website to mock Darren, so the bullying didn’t end when he went home from school. She wants to know who bullied him, and Jason points her to the in-crowd. Justine takes the suicide note to Alexis, asking what he knows about it. The others take the note and pass it around, awed. Tasha sets the note on fire. Later, Tasha, Sophie, and Khalilah decide Helena is the one pretending to be Darren. They invite Justine to confront her, but she’s disturbed by her former friend being the subject of their bullying. She doesn’t stop them but doesn’t participate, leaving for an activity.
After school, Sophie goes to the pool to swim some laps by herself. Darren forces her head underwater until she drowns. Justine invites Alexis over to her house and confronts him about the website. Alexis says he knows about it, and he tried not to get involved, but Bradley’s a prankster. Justine is thrilled to hear this — so thrilled, in fact, that they have sex. Darren watches from outside, getting increasingly angry. After Alexis leaves, Darren sneaks into the house, leaves some wilted flowers, tears the ‘Head Girl’ badge off her uniform lapel, then rearranges a series of refrigerator magnets to spell out some hostilities about Justine’s relative sluttiness. The next day, Justine confronts Alexis about this. He assures her he’s clueless. During soccer practice, somebody kicks the ball out far. Marcus goes to fetch it — and finds Darren, who chases him, eventually killing him. The bodies of Sophie and Marcus are found, freaking the entire school out.
The in-crowd kids discuss Marcus and whether or not the ghost of Darren is to blame. Alexis lets slip that he did participate in some of the Darren bullying, enraging Justine. She walks away. That night, Bradley and Tasha get drunk and try to dig up Darren’s grave to make sure it’s not him. They end up having sex in the backseat of his car instead, and then Darren kills them both. Alexis goes to Justine’s house, and Justine demands to see the website. It’s a series of videos — all of them hosted by obnoxious Alexis — designed to humiliate Darren. The worst video, for Justine, is one in which the in-crowd girls try to convince Darren that Justine wants him to ask her out. They push him into talking to her, but she’s on the phone. She ignores him, so the girls shove Darren onto him, pissing her off. She shoves him away, and he drops his inhaler. Justine, meanwhile, is thrilled because she’s been accepted into a program at Oxford. Meanwhile, the in-crowd kids all play keep-away with his inhaler. At one point, they drop the inhaler near Justine. She picks up, and Darren is relieved — until she smiles at Alexis and throws it to him.
Justine’s so embarrassed by her behavior, she forces Alexis to leave. The next morning, Justine goes to Jason to apologize to him. She tries to apologize to Helena, who accuses her of being too self-absorbed to notice anything around her. Meanwhile, Khalilah is desperate to find Tasha; she receives a text telling her to meet Tasha in the art room. In the art room, Jason is confronted by Darren, who stabs him in each nostril with pencils, jamming them into his brain. The Head Teacher pulls Justine aside to say Tasha and Bradley were found dead. Khalilah goes into the art room. Jason’s nowhere to be found. Darren sticks a plastic bag over hesr head and suffocates her. Alexis rushes to Justine with a screwdriver. He’s terrified about Darren and goes to try and kill him. Justine follows. Alexis stabs Darren with the screwdriver; it has no effect. Darren stabs Alexis through the hand when Justine notices Darren’s reliance on the inhaler. He grabs it, but Darren smacks it away. Alexis smashes it, so Darren strangles him, then turns his attention back to Justine. Police find Justine with the screwdriver and corpses, and she insists it was Darren Mullet. They arrest her and drive her away, with Justine seeing the ghost of Darren taunt her while nobody else sees a thing. The Games Teacher is approached by the ghost of Darren, who hands him a note saying he can’t do games because he’s dead. The Games Teacher asks if this is a joke. Darren shakes his head.
Comments:Tormented is a rather bizarre read. Since it pits bullies against the ghost of their now-dead victim, none of the characters (except Jason, the only non-bully) even come close to generating sympathy. The writer tries, in vain, to wring some sympathetic moments out of Justine, but, ironically, the more we get to know her, the less likable she becomes. As a result, when the characters die, there’s no emotional impact. When Justine is wrongly arrested at the end, there’s no emotional impact. In the Darren-torturing videos, the characters come across as so relentless and cruel, they lose what little humanity they have and leave us feeling like they deserve whatever Darren dishes out. We’re left feeling like Darren is the good guy, but if that’s the case, it would be nice to get to know him in a non-zombified state — maybe using the first act to establish who he is, then have him kill himself and stalk his victims from beyond the grave.
It might have also been more interesting if the writer played more with the idea of bullying. These kids’ shenanigans are ridiculous and over-the-top (and pretty juvenile for people about to graduate high school). What if they weren’t so bad? What if Darren had some sort of emotional problems leading him to overreact to what was, at worst, aggressive teasing — not outright, life-threatening bullying. Adding this moral gray area allows every character, including Darren, to gain more complexity, and it allows the victims to become as sympathetic as their killer.
As it is now, the story is littered with both slasher-movie clichés and high-school-movie clichés. For every death that’s ironic and mildly clever, there are two or three that are just killing with whatever’s convenient. The soapy histrionics between Alexis and Justine come close to working but, as I mentioned above, when she starts to lose sympathy in the third act, the compassion for the relationship drama crumbles right along with it. Worse than that, the ending left me confused. Early in the script, they have their Macbeth discussion, which comes back rather unsubtly at the end, with Justine mirroring that famous scene as she sees Darren but nobody else does. So, wait, are we left to believe Darren was a figment of their guilt-ridden imaginations and they all somehow committed suicide? Then that’s immediately negated with the absurd ending with Darren and the Games Teacher. This scene also suddenly made me wonder if I’d just read a satire of slasher movies. If that’s supposed to be the case, they really need to play up the humor and satirical intent. Much of the script is fairly humorless and dull, so this final scene comes out of left field.