The Year of Fog
Author: Semi Chellas
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:When her fiancé’s daughter disappears, a woman becomes obsessed with finding out what happened and who took her.
Synopsis:ABBY (29, an attractive photographer) and JAKE (33, a serious elementary school teacher) play with EMMA (5, Jake’s daughter). Jake tries to get Emma into a bath, but she resists. Later, Emma asks Abby if she’s the nanny. Abby wonders why she’s asking. Emma says a girl at school told her that Abby must either be a mommy or a nanny, and since Emma has a mommy… Abby tells Emma that the girl is wrong — she’s just Abby who loves Emma. The conversation gets difficult when Emma starts talking about her mommy, who had a necklace made of shells and who “had to go away.” Later, as Jake reads Emma to sleep, she complains of a stomachache — too many Swedish fish. Later, Jake asks Abby about it. Abby confesses that she may have given her too many; she’s trying, but she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Next, Jake surprises Abby by proposing. Abby accepts.
Abby takes Emma to Ocean Beach, to explain to her one-on-one what getting married will mean for the three of them. She photographs everything. As they cross the parking lot, they pass a gray-haired man in an orange Chevelle. He glances, watching Emma. Next, they pass a tan, sun-blond surfer, waxing a longboard next to a yellow van. The surfer watches them. Abby can hear him say something to someone in the van. As they jump off the seawall and on to the beach, they are enveloped in thick fog. Emma wanders to collect shells, with Abby following her aggressively. A black labrador, MOJO, suddenly emerges from the mist, with its owner calling after it. Emma notices something strange, a dark shape in the sand. She and Abby start digging and uncover a dead baby seal. Abby photographs it, even as she warns Emma to stay away. The seal distracts Abby, and suddenly Emma’s gone. Abby searches for her, but it’s impossible in the heavy fog. She roams, calling out for Emma. No response. She finds Emma’s shovel on top of a five-foot-high seawall. She starts asking if others have seen her — no. Finally, Abby dials 911.
Jake is told what happened by the school principal. At the beach, a helicopter searches from above. Police comb the area, and the commotion has drawn a crowd. Abby describes what Emma was wearing to DETECTIVE SHERBURNE, followed by everything that happened leading up to Emma’s disappearance. Jake arrives on the scene. Not looking at Abby, he asks Sherburne what he can do to help. He takes Jake and Abby down to the police station. Privately, Sherburne suggests maybe Abby did something to Emma. Abby vehemently denies it. Jake joins them, and Sherburne interrogates him about the birth mother. Jake says she left because motherhood “held her back,” but she’s since called and begged for him to take her back. This is the first Abby’s hearing of this. Sherburne casts his suspicions on Jake, suggesting that having a kid from a previous marriage could be inconvenient to his current relationship. Jake is horrified and insulted by the accusation, but Sherburne tries to reassure them that he simply needs to cover all his bases.
Outside, Jake heads for his car. He tells Abby to go back to the apartment and get a picture of Emma for Sherburne. Emma develops all the photos she took earlier that day, but Emma’s either out of focus or looking intent, unsmiling. Eventually, Abby settles on an older photo, from Emma’s birthday. That night, Abby wakes to find Jake sitting on the bed. He’s angry, accusatory. Abby goes back to her own apartment, where she obsesses over all the photos she took, trying to analyze every detail of the “crime scene” before the crime took place. She notices something in one of the later photos — Emma still has her shovel, after they jumped off the seawall. The next morning, Abby gives the photos to Sherburne, reminding him that she found the shovel on the seawall, which suggests someone had to have lifted her up onto it. Sherburne reluctantly accepts this evidence and stops believing Emma merely drowned. He establishes a command center. The story has hit the news, so they have hundreds of eager volunteers right from the start. Jake has a live news interview in which he announces both Emma and his ex-wife are missing and urges anyone with a lead to call. Watching from the command center, Abby is shocked and heartened when the phones start ringing off the hook.
While stapling flyers around town, Abby notices a black lab tied outside a surf shop. She calls to it — “Mojo.” The dog perks up. Abby goes inside and acts GOOFY, the salesgirl, who it belongs to. Goofy tells Abby it’s “Tina D’s.” Abby asks if she can hang a flyer, but Goofy tells her it’s a waste of time. Goofy knows the girlfriend did it. Abby’s taken aback. Later, Sherburne announces that they tracked down one of the people on the scene, and he couldn’t have done it. Abby tries to explain how he could have, and Sherburne accuses her of changing her story. Abby agrees to take a polygraph test. Later, Abby continues to examine the photos, enlarging, examining on different angles. She notices something strange on the orange Chevelle and blows it up until it’s little more than an unrecognizable blob. Abby has a nightmare. She wakes up in the middle of the night, notices a car sitting in front of the house. She goes for a drive and notices the car following her. Driving, she sees a familiar man, hops out of the car, chases him. He’s just a heroin addict. Around dawn, Abby wanders, still taping up flyers, when she sees a news report showing Emma’s face with the word “FOUND” underneath. Turns out, they found Emma’s mother, LISBETH.
Abby goes to Jake’s house, where Lisbeth bawls in his arms. Abby isn’t very nice or compassionate, pointing out that Abby’s been missing for 64 days with Lisbeth nowhere to be found — she abandoned Emma years ago. Lisbeth gives a sob story about being an addict and feeling the need to leave so she wouldn’t ruin Emma’s life. Abby’s taken aback with this information. Later, Jake explains that Lisbeth was in rehab, isolated, when a counselor saw Jake on TV and let Lisbeth know. He also tells Abby that Sherburne visited her mother in Salinas, which came as a shock to Jake because she told him her parents were dead. He wants to know what else she’s lied about. Abby explains she and her mother had a horrible relationship, and in her mind, her mother is dead. But Jake’s really angry about Emma. He leaves in a huff.
Walking through the city, Abby sees the orange Chevelle. She photographs the license plate, then sneaks inside the car to find the registration. When she sees the owner coming, Abby hides underneath the car, clutching his registration paper. But CHEVELLE MAN sees her and drags her out from under the car. Seeing the camera, he accuses her of being a nosy reporter. Abby explains she’s looking for Emma, and Chevelle Man suddenly softens. He explains he lost his wife in a car accident — that involved a Congressman she’d been cheating with. Even though he’s nice to her, Abby accosts him with questions about his odd behavior on the beach. As she unspools, she realizes Emma didn’t even notice Chevelle Man — whereas she waved to the surfer waxing his board.
Abby rushes home to examine her photos. Noticing something, she rushes out the door, going to the Sherburnes’ home — on Christmas, where he’s dressed as Santa, getting ready to etertain neighborhood kids. Abby shows him a series of photographs that suggests this surfer has been following them for weeks. Because the surfer is either out-of-focus or at the edge of these photos, Sherburne suggests it’s flimsy at best, but Abby is convinced. She asks him, and all the parents there, what they’d do if it was their kid. Sherburne sets Abby up with a sketch artist. She gets flustered trying to figure out a description, so the sketch artist suggests Abby describe her happiest childhood memory to distract herself. Abby recalls going to Gatlinburg with her parents, skiing and having fun. She’s able to complete the sketch. Abby gets a phone call from Jake, to meet him in the morgue. The child’s body is not Emma. They’re relieved and saddened.
Some time later, Jake is particularly depressed. It’s Emma’s birthday, which Abby has forgotten. Lisbeth came by, claiming she was leaving town, asking for money. Abby asks how she can forgive somebody who abandoned his child. Jake turns it around, suggesting what Abby’s done is far worse. Abby leaves. She goes back to the surf shop and asks Goofy if she can identify the police sketch. She can’t, so Abby asks her to give “Tina D” her number to call. Goofy apologizes for accusing “the girlfriend” of killing Emma. With help from a reporter, Abby gets interviewed on a talk show so she can spread the word with her police sketch. Instead, the talk-show host ambushes Abby with a series of personal questions, digging up all the skeletons of Abby’s past — she was hospitalized for sexual addiction, given antidepressants for being suicidal, her first boyfriend (who died) was 15 years older than she was… Abby fails to see what any of this has to do with Emma. They go to a commercial break, and Abby sees them preparing to put Lisbeth on the show. The host continues to browbeat Abby while treating Lisbeth with the utmost respect.
Back at the command center, Abby tries to explain the context of her past to Jake. Jake isn’t interested. He just wants to know what happened to Emma. Abby goes to a regressive hypnotherapist who takes Abby back to the day Emma disappeared. After cycling through everything she experienced, Abby finally realizes what the surfer, upon seeing Emma, said to the unseen person in the van: “That’s her.” Convinced the surfer and his partner took Abby, she returns to the command center…where she learns they’ve found Abby’s bloody shoes and clothing. They don’t have a body, but they have enough for Sherburne to consider her dead. Abby refuses to believe it. Jake won’t talk to her. They hold a funeral for Emma. At the reception afterward, Sherburne observes that Abby didn’t cry at the funeral. He implies Abby’s withholding something, implies once again that Abby killed Emma. Abby doesn’t even respond.
Abby drives to Salinas to see her mother. They hash out the past, and Abby brings up their trip to Gatlinburg. Her mother doesn’t remember the trip. Abby goes into specific detail, but it doesn’t jar anything in her mother’s memory. Abby points out that they even have a photo of it. When Abby shows her mother the photo, she says it’s the little girl from next door, then reiterates that the family never went to Gatlinburg. Abby’s stunned. She returns to her apartment, which is nothing but photos. Eventually, she spots something — a clear shot of the person inside the surfer’s van. A woman. Abby takes this, and the police sketch, to Goofy and TINA D. Tina suggests this is the couple with the “vintage Rossbottom.” Abby shows a picture of the longboard — Tina says that’s it. Abby asks where they are. Tina tells her they’ve headed to a surf competition down in Costa Rica. Abby brings this news to Jake, who’s less than thrilled. He wants to move on, let Emma be dead, so he can feel she’s at peace.
Abby won’t relent. She goes to Costa Rica. On a bus, she describes the surfer she’s looking for to a couple of other surfers. They identify him as an Australian. Abby falls asleep, and when she wakes, she discovers the surfers have robbed her. Abby presses on, searching the beach where the competition is being held for an Australian surfer matching the description she has. A fellow Australian introduces her to THOR, the man she’s looking for. Abby gets him drunk and propositions him. At his cabin, she searches for any sign of Emma. She finds nothing. When Thor confronts her about going through his things, Abby accuses him of kidnapping Emma. Thor is clueless. Abby describes the entire scene, but when she mentions the yellow VW van, it dawns on Thor that she’s looking for “Teddy.” He even realizes that Teddy and his girlfriend, Jane, were talking about picking up a kid at Ocean Beach. Abby shows Thor a photo of Emma and asks if it’s the same girl. Thor nods but tells Abby she drowned.
Abby breaks down. She calls Jake and apologizes. Sobbing. Weeks later, Abby’s still in Costa Rica — tan, hair lightened from the sun and formed into dreadlocks. Most of the surfers are gone. Abby gets on the bus, headed for the airport. It stops at a beach, and out the window — Abby spots Emma! Abby leaps off the bus and rushes to the girl. She tells Abby her name is Penny. Trying not to draw the attention of anyone else on the beach, Abby jogs the girl’s memory. She remembers the dead baby seal — it is Emma. Abby sees TEDDY approaching in the distance. She carries Abby away, into the trees, but Emma’s too big to carry. Emma doesn’t realize they’re trying to get away from Teddy, so she doesn’t cooperate with Abby’s demands that they hurry. Just as Teddy spots them and gives chase, Abby sees a passing taxi. She hails it, hops in, and they head for the airport. Emma asks where her daddy is. Abby says Jack will meet them in San José. Emma wonders if her mommy will be mad — she told Emma to stay with Teddy and not talk to anybody. Things start to come together for Abby, especially when she catches sight of Emma’s broken-shell necklace. She asks if Lisbeth gave it to Emma. Emma tells Abby they traded — she gave Lisbeth her shoes for the necklace.
At the airport, Abby and Emma con their way into getting Emma a ticket without her passport — but Lisbeth and Teddy have followed them. They chase Abby and Emma, trying to get the girl back. They catch the attention of the security guards. Abby begins yelling that Emma was kidnapped by Teddy and Lisbeth, but the guards don’t understand English. Fortunately, people in the crowd yell translation. Police arrive and hold Teddy and Lisbeth. Later, Sherburne and Jake arrive. Sherburne explains that Teddy and Lisbeth met in rehab. While Lisbeth had the alibi of being checked in, she sent Teddy to kidnap Emma and met up with them later. Because she was on mood-altering drugs, it threw off her polygraph results. Sherburne apologizes to Abby for suspecting her. Abby and Jack have a tearful heart-to-heart. Abby announces she’s leaving San Francisco to travel and be on her own. Jack wishes they could start over, but Abby makes him realize it’s impossible — to him, she’ll always be the one who lost Emma, not the one who found her.
On an exotic beach somewhere, Abby wistfully watches a little girl playing on the beach with her family.
Comments:The Year of Fog is a taut thriller, packed with suspense and a complex mystery. It builds relentless feelings of fear and dread that leads to an unpredictable but ultimately satisfying resolution. As written, it merits a recommend.
The first act’s detailed kidnapping sequence establishes dozens of possibilities — Emma could be dead, lost, or taken by any number of suspicious characters, wandering through the fog. Abby’s obsession with finding her does an excellent job of driving the story. All the clues are there at the start, but the audience won’t piece them together until Abby does, taking them on her personal journey. The second act just ratchets up the suspense, as Abby seeks out suspects on her own, even after everyone around her is convinced that Emma is dead. The story is only marred by the third act, which contains a few too many red herrings in the ultimate pursuit of Teddy the surfer. However, the exhilirating first and second acts and the resolution more than redeems the minor problems in the third act.
Each character is rich and well-developed, from “Chevelle Man” to Abby. Abby runs the emotional gamut, as finding Emma consumes her while her relationship with Jake collapses, she feels intense jealousy toward Lisbeth and anger toward Sherburne. She suffers constant anxiety and paranoia after Emma is taken, which makes the resolution all the more cathartic. Of the supporting characters, Sherburne is the only one who presents a real problem. His absolute belief in Abby’s guilt sets him up as the villain, but the writer only gives superficial reasons to explain why he believes this with such certainty. Nonetheless, superficial reasons are better than no reason at all.
Overall, this script is a solid effort. The story, and Abby’s struggle, will resonate with anyone — male or female — who’s ever had a child. The already good script could only be made better with high-caliber acting and assured directing.