Author: Brandon Camp & Mike Thompson and Rob Legato
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:A student journalist and her sheriff father try to track a bizarre serial killer.
Synopsis:After SARA’s (17) bedtime, a creepy man with a scarred lip breaks into the house and makes Sara choose who will live: her mother or her father. Sara doesn’t want to choose, so Scarlip uses her little brother as a hostage. Sara chooses her father. At the university in a small, rural college town, FIONA, MARNI, BRIAN, and PAUL (all 20s) walk the campus as they discuss the incident with Sara. They talk about which parents they’d choose, and everybody admires Fiona’s easy choice — her mother’s already dead. They invite Fiona to hang out with them, but she tells them she has to finish her story for the college paper.
An orchestral pianist with a bad comb over stays late to practice. Scarlip magically appears, dropping a bag of power tools as he gives Comb Over a choice: lose his hearing or his hands. Either way, Scarlip is going to rob him of his music. Comb Over can’t choose, so Scarlip chooses for him — hands. At her apartment, Fiona checks out the news. She’s disappointed to read headlines stating Sara committed suicide. Fiona turns on her police scanner and turns on the shower. As the water heats up, she cleans up the kitchen, then latches the chain on the front door. Fiona tries to close and lock the bathroom door, but it’s old and won’t close all the way. She gets into the shower anyway. After a few moments, the door flies open. Fiona leaps out of the shower and finds her soccer ball was the culprit. There’s an odd symbol drawn on the fogged-up mirror. Confused, Fiona searches the apartment. The chain on the front door is undone, and there’s a jar of peanut butter on the counter — Fiona’s allergic. Marni arrives, scaring the crap out of Fiona. Marni accuses Fiona of taking her work too seriously and becoming paranoid.
Fiona tells her dad, SHERIFF TOM WAGNER, the whole story. He wants to believe her, but the whole thing is just too odd. Wagner tries to allay her fears by pointing out the incident with Sara happened over 100 miles away. Wagner gets a call and leaves. At the auditorium, DETECTIVE BENSON briefs Wagner on Comb Over’s attack. Comb Over is still alive and hospitalized. Fiona is frustrated by the headline of the second victim. At a coffee shop, a barista tries to flirt with her by upselling her some kind of candy with peanuts. This makes Fiona more paranoid. At a photography studio, model JENNA soaks up the attention of a photographer while acting shrew-like and unpleasant to everyone around her. Scarlip appears. He gives her a choice: he’ll either pull out her eyes with a melon scoop or set her on fire with a blowtorch — she can either stop seeing her own beauty or prevent the world from seeing hers. Jenna fights back, so Scarlip kills her with the torch. The next morning, Fiona’s computer gives her a weird message: “Click here to choose.” She clicks and is shown grisly photos of Jenna’s death — before the police have even discovered the body.
Fiona goes to Wagner with the new information. He’s shocked that she knows about the crime they’ve just discovered. Fiona’s angry that Wagner didn’t mention the pattern to her. Wagner tells her to leave the laptop so they can check it out. Fiona visits Comb Over in the hospital, pretending to be another cop. She interviews him and finds out the killer knew his name, which suggests to her a personal motive. Fiona tries to put the pieces of this investigation together, finds herself puzzled. At the home of a guy named WALRUS, his blue-haired mother hears some mysterious noises. She wanders the house. Later, Walrus comes home from work, looks for his mother. Meanwhile, Fiona shows something she’s discovered to Brian. He figures out it’s a barcode, specifically an old code used in libraries, which leads them to a book title, Pathologies of Rational Choice. Brian also figures out the code points them to where the book once belonged — Milburn Juvenile Detention Facility, closed several years back after allegations of child abuse.
Scarlip goes to the home of ELLIOT VINCENT, ties up Elliot and his wife, and makes Elliot choose who will die — himself or his wife. Elliot chooses himself, so Scarlip shows some photos of his wife cheating. Elliot is enraged, changes his mind, but his wife says she’s pregnant. Elliot wonders if the child is his but changes his mind back to himself anyway. Scarlip tells her not to worry — Elliot fooled around on her a lot, too. He shoots Elliot and dumps an array of photos showing Elliot involved with a dozen different women. Wagner, Benson, and Fiona discuss the pattern and possible motives. Nobody can figure out why the “reporter” Scarlip chose to mess with is just a college student. They get word that Elliot Vincent was killed by Scarlip, which Wagner believes changes the pattern — Elliot’s a D.A. Scarlip follows CLARISSA WELLS to her car. He tries to do the normal “choice” routine, but Clarissa messes with it by acting strong and brave and refusing to choose. Frustrated and confused, Scarlip snaps her neck and sets her car on fire.
Fiona shows Wagner an article on a therapist who worked at Milburn. His specialty? “Choice therapy.” Wagner’s shocked and impressed by the clue. He and Fiona go out to visit the doctor, PENDLETON, who is a charmingly eccentric man. Pendleton offers up hundreds of hours of videotape of his subjects from Milburn, which Wagner, Benson, and Fiona watch until exhaustion. Each subject on the tape is made the same offer — a certain amount of money to snap the neck of a puppy. Nobody will do it, even with Pendleton raising the reward — except for one kid, Nathan Jones, recognizable as a younger Scarlip. He knows exactly what Pendleton wants from him and chooses to do the opposite. Benson digs into the case file, showing he was adopted a two months but was given back at age three because of mental instability and destructive behavior. He was never adopted again and went through the foster-care system, enduring abuse in home after home until being sent to Milburn, which was even worse.
The death of Clarissa is reported. She was recently divorced from an alderman, and based on the death, Wagner isn’t entirely sure it’s Scarlip, although murder is not exactly common here. Benson arrives with a tip phoned in saying the killer works at a Burgerific restaurant, thought plausible because the caller gave his name as Nathan. At Burgerific, Scarlip notices the police and disappears. Benson and Wagner talk with the manager, who gives them his address. The address Scarlip gave is actually Walrus’ house. Walrus and his mother are both dead. Scarlip goes to a hardware store and buys a bunch of stuff. He notices a kid hiding from his mom and crying because she won’t give him money for a gumball. Scarlip gives him money and blows bubbles with him. The kid’s creeped-out mother comes and snatches him away.
Wagner gets word that they found a bloody hourglass near the Clarissa scene. He and Benson go to check out Scarlip’s apartment. Inside, they find photos, newspaper clippings, all sorts of stuff connecting the victims to Scarlip. Even weirder, the place is cluttered with photos and articles about Wagner and Fiona. They also find a body, decayed from an “acid bath.” Fiona gets an e-mail from “firstname.lastname@example.org.” It’s cluttered with photos of each victim and Scarlip’s relationship to them — Except for Clarissa, who just has a question mark. As Wagner/Benson and Fiona investigate this information, the basic motive is laid out: Scarlip is getting revenge on everyone who ever wronged him. Comb Over worked for Child Services and handled Scarlip’s case, Jenna was a foster sister who tormented him, Walrus was an abusive Milburn guard, Elliot made sure the abuse charges were dropped, and Sara’s father was Scarlip’s original adoptive father.
There is also an unknown connection between Clarissa and Wagner — he recognizes her maiden name.
Detectives show Wagner a supposed suicide note, explaining all of this in detail, but the body is so disfigured they will need to identify it through dental records and DNA testing. Fiona figures out that Scarlip wants her to meet him at Milburn. She follows a blueprint he sent all the way to Scarlip’s old cell. She sees a small giftbox in the corner of the cell. As soon as she picks it up, the cell door closes. Inside is a note explaining he’s going to gas her to knock her out. True to his word, gas sprays from a shower head. Meanwhile, Wagner and Benson head to Fiona’s apartment to try to find her, when Benson is shot in the head. Wagner tries to hide from the shooter and is knocked in the back of the head.
Wagner wakes up handcuffed to a chair in front of a freshly dug grave. Fiona is there, too, also tied up. Scarlip gives her a choice: buried alive or burned alive. He has a shovel and a tank of kerosene. But before she makes the choice, Scarlip has something else to get off his chest: in the car accident that killed Fiona’s mother as a baby, she had a twin brother who was severely injured, brain damaged, and would require serious care, possibly never recovering, so Wagner gave the child away. Fiona refuses to believe it, so Scarlip points out a few things: he has black hair and brown eyes, he’s left handed, he’s allergic to peanut butter, he has a birthmark along his right hip. Scarlip asks if this sounds familiar. Fiona is shocked — he really is her twin. Fiona is enraged — she kicks Wagner into the grave and starts dumping the kerosene on him. Scarlip is disarmed by her spirited participation — so disarmed that she gets the drop on him. They fight, but with Wagner’s help, Scarlip is killed. Three months later, everything’s fine. Fiona’s hanging with her friends, having a good time. She goes to visit Wagner and finds — Scarlip, face melted, grotesque, holding a glass of red wine. He pulls her inside the house and slams the door.
Comments:This script has a promising start and a reasonably interesting premise. Even the big twist, if executed properly, could be very effective. All the ideas here are solid but suffer from extremely poor execution. Throughout, the dialogue is by far the strongest element, giving each character a unique voice while struggling to cover up the various narrative problems and character inconsistencies.
Unfortunately, too much of what occurs in this story is just plain dumb. The most obvious example is the handling of the twin reveal — the explanation needs to happen quickly, so the writers attempt to use a “look at all these things we share in common; clearly we’re twins!” reasoning… Except male/female twins are fraternal and wouldn’t share traits like allergies and birthmarks — they wouldn’t even share hair or eye color unless they were dominant genes. Even if this isn’t common knowledge (although I thought it was pretty widely known), a cursory Google search could have solved a whole lot of problems. Something more coherent, like a DNA pattern from the teeth that show Wagner as the unsuspecting father, would go a long way toward making this twist plausible. Maybe they don’t even have to be twins; maybe the family shares some sort of obscure genetic illness, not necessarily debilitating but an easy identifier as being part of this family.
The characters possess a little bit of depth and have somewhat distinctive personalities, but they do have a tendency to change drastically whenever the plot requires them to — Wagner goes from kind and nurturing to stern and hostile; Fiona goes from a strong fighter to a scared little girl. They don’t have enough dimension to make such drastic changes possible — the writers don’t give the impression Fiona’s trying to mask her vulnerability with a tough façade, for instance. It’s sloppy. Scarlip has some interesting qualities, but he comes off like a mad scientist in a campy B-movie — his dialogue is truly ridiculous at many points.
The less said about the “Scarlip’s not really dead” ending, the better, but what about the events just before that? Scarlip really is Fiona’s twin. What a strange, emotional roller coaster that should take her on — the father she’s worshipped for so long is not perfect, her brother is a deranged serial killer. Wouldn’t this be a time to reflect on her life, what she’s potentially capable of, what her father’s already proved capable of? Wouldn’t it, at the very least, strain the relationship? Immediately, Fiona takes in all this information and reacts with thundering indifference, feigning a reaction to confuse Scarlip but still A-OK with her dad and not at all disturbed by the situation. Then it cuts ahead three months, where things are even better. No emotional fallout. No sullen withdrawal from her social life. She’s just okay with this — no impact. It’s a little off-putting and hard to believe, and again, it speaks to both the inconsistencies of the characters and the sloppiness of the story.