Author: Richard Stanley
Writer’s Potential: 3
Logline:On an island off the coast of North Africa, two Americans struggle to survive in the wake of what might be Armageddon.
Synopsis:On the beach of a tiny North African island, gorgeous dancer CARLY dances while her hunky older husband, BRYCE, shoots her with his camcorder. Bryce notices a storm in the distance. The sky flashes an eerie white abruptly. He’s concerned, but Carly tells him to ignore it. Getting ready to leave, Carly turns on the radio, which broadcasts a report implying that some sort of natural phenomenon has disrupted all aerial navigation, electrical flow, and Internet communication. A jeep drives by that’s full of militia men from an oil consortium’s private security force. Carly notices the sun seems to be pulsating strangely, but Bryce doesn’t see what she sees. She tries to tell Bryce about what she’s heard on the radio, but the station fades into static. As they drop off their rental car — it’s their last night on the island — Carly is inundated with text messages from friends and family, wondering if they’re okay. Perplexed, they shrug off the messages. Bryce tries to pay for the rental car with a credit card, but the machines are down.
On the way into the hotel, they pass ESAU, the Arab gatekeeper who has an old Soviet gun slung over his shoulder. They meet SONJA and MITCH in the hotel’s restaurant, where an Arabian boy band croons. Bryce chats up KARIM (who also has an old Soviet gun) and his younger brother, DAWEB (both teens), who work in the hotel. Bryce and Carly barely know Mitch and Sonja; they merely bond over the fact that they’re the only Americans left at the hotel. In the midst of the conversation, Bryce’s vision goes funny — the walls and faces of his companions seem to be melting, and his body seems to absorb a weird, vibrating energy. Moments later, the electricity goes out all over the island for a few minutes. They speculate on what caused it. On the distant horizon, they see a faint red glow. They try to figure out the direction to assess what might have happened and where. Once again, Bryce tries to pay for dinner with a credit card, but YASMIN (Karim and Daweb’s sister) tells him the machine can’t process it. Bryce tells them to charge it to the room.
After dinner, Bryce and Carly get into an argument about his lack of initiative. He’s more interested in snorting cocaine and figuring out why the hotel’s satellite dish stopped working, but Carly wants him to take the initiative to actually find something that does work, now that all the phones and satellites seem dead. Carly tries to get Bryce to have sex, but he’s uninterested. Bryce goes downstairs and speaks with ARSHAD, the hotelier and father to Karim, Daweb, and Yasmin. He asks why the phones aren’t working, and Arshad explains apathetically that there’s a problem with the undersea communication cable. Arshad suggests Bryce go to the village to find a working phone. In the village, Bryce visits a 10-year-old BOY who deals him amphetamines and shows him to the only working phone. Although there’s a dialtone, Bryce can’t get a call out. The Boy ominously reports that no planes will come to the island, and that the West is in flames. Bryce notices that the entire village has gathered on the beach to gaze at the red horizon.
The next day, Daweb spies on bikini-clad Brit LORRAINE while she does yoga. Lorraine stops when she notices Carly in the hall, carrying a Blackberry. She demands to know if it works; Carly says no. Arshad comes by with English newspapers. Carly’s thrilled to know the outside world still exists. She takes one. High as a kite, Bryce stumbles into his room, where he spots Yasmin playing with Carly’s iPod. He starts yelling at her. Carly arrives in the room, amused by Yasmin’s behavior. They send her away, and Carly tells Bryce she has a newspaper, and everything’s fine. Still, there are no planes. Carly suggests Bryce cozy up to Mitch and Sonja so they can get a ride back to the U.S. on their luxury yacht. Bryce walks along the beach toward the marina when he spots a distant explosion. Meanwhile, Carly realizes her newspaper is more than two weeks old. Arshad explains that their newspapers are always out of date. Bryce runs to the marina, where he sees gas-masked militia men have cordon off the area. He demands to be let past, but the guards don’t speak English. Bryce finally pushes past the guards, causing them to open fire, shooting a kid. Now, both the villagers and the guards want Bryce dead. He runs.
Carly goes to the sauna, where she bumps into Lorraine and her boyfriend, IAN. Carly laments her acting career, which is now over because the inability to get a flight home has prevented her from making an audition. Lorraine and Ian are sympathetic. Later, they spot a dead American soldier who washes ashore on the nearby beach. Bryce tries to get away from the guards, but he’s captured rather quickly. Bryce trades the soldiers the gold chain he wears around his neck for his freedom. After forcing him to say, “There is no God but God” in Arabic, they return the Bryce to the hotel. Yasmin catches a clearly aroused Karim applying lotion to Carly’s exposed back and abdomen. Yasmin is disgusted. Karim scurries away. Having had enough fun for the day, Carly returns to the room. Bryce arrives quickly, and they compare notes about their awful days. Bryce insists they must leave the island immediately, but they have no way off. At dusk, Karim frantically prays while Arshad explains why the foreigners are awful, depraved people.
Bryce and Carly discuss the strangeness on the island over a dinner with Lorraine and Ian. Arshad hints to Bryce that he knows what happened outside the hotel and he will keep Bryce and Carly safe for the night, but he must leave in the morning. While Karim plays pool, Carly flirts with him relentlessly. Meanwhile, Bryce flirts with Lorraine, right in front of Ian. Karim offers to let Carly leave the island with his family on their fishing boat. She asks if there’s room for Bryce, but there isn’t. She declines, and Karim’s horrified to learn Carly’s married. She goes for a swim and bangs her head on the side of the pool. Bryce dives in and helps her. They hear what sound and initially look like fireworks. Lorraine is so thrilled, she doesn’t quite understand that these are nearby bombs exploding. Bryce and Carly excuse themselves to their room. They argue about Bryce’s dependence on Carly, but Carly silences them when she hears noise from downstairs. They hear Arshad barking in Arabic, gunshots, and a scream that sounds like Lorraine. They look, and find a gleeful Lorraine having sex with the local soldiers. A line has formed of patiently waiting men.
Arshad comes to Bryce and Carly’s room to offer them both jobs, which he assumes they’ll take since they’re stuck on the island. Bryce and Carly argue about whether or not to take the job. Bryce makes Carly see that they have no other choice. He immediately starts working as a bartender, impressing Karim with his skills. Bryce tells Karim he paid his way through law school tending bar. Carly comes downstairs and invites Karim to dance. The group of soldiers bound in. Some of them recognize Bryce from his earlier flight from the law.
The drug-dealing Boy arrives, too. He cuts Bryce a line, which Bryce snorts. As Carly’s dancing gets more erotic, Bryce gently takes Karim’s gun. He shoots Karim, then mows down all the soldiers in the restaurant. He runs out of rounds, so he takes one of the dead soldiers’ guns and kills Daweb and Yasmin. While Carly tries to comfort Karim, who’s dying, Bryce orders the Boy to give him more drugs. Bryce goes over to to Karim, then drags him to Arshad’s office, using the young man to convince Arshad to open the door. Carly protests, calling Bryce all sorts of vicious names. Arshad opens the door, and Bryce hears an American voice calling over the two-way radio. He takes it from Arshad, then ties Arshad to his shower with his own belt. Karim manages to tell Carly where their fishing boat is before he dies.
Bryce and Carly leave the hotel with the Boy, who gives them marijuana as they drive across the island to the boat. Bryce loses the radio transmission. They reach the boat, which is rickety and half-sunk in the water. Bryce is horrified. Carly gives his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, the first sign of affection she’s shown him in a long time. The two of them stand on the shore in each others’ arms, unsure of what to do next.
Comments:Vacation attempts to create an action-packed thriller about an island vacation gone horribly wrong. Although it starts well enough, the characters’ bizarre actions and apparent lack of motivation cause the story to derail quickly, leading to a laughable resolution. As written, it merits a pass.
The story opens with a fairly ingenious premise: what would happen if the end of the world happened while a couple is on a relaxing island vacation? The first act lays the groundwork for both the apparent off-screen catastrophe and Bryce and Carly’s fractured relationship. As electronics break down and the couple becomes more and more isolated, seemingly with no way off the increasingly hostile island, the writer does a good job of creating suspense.
It’s when the story hits the second act that things start to go awry. Bryce’s dealings with the island soldiers is reasonably engaging, but Carly’s apparent disinterest in anything but relaxing — as dead people wash ashore and bombs go off around them — is as confusing as it is off-putting. The writer never gives a clear reason for her to just hang around and let the strangeness roll off her back.
This strange behavior carries over to the third act, when the central characters lose all sense of motivation and the story takes a turn for the bizarre. It’s never clear why the couple simply gives up and accepts Arshad’s job offer, or why Bryce decides to shoot everyone (on some level, the fact that he’s rampantly abusing drugs does explain this behavior, but that seems like a cop-out more than a motivation), or why Bryce’s homicidal rage suddenly re-bonds the couple, ending the story on an eerie yet upbeat note.
The unclear motivations lie mainly in sloppy, inconsistent characterizations. Carly starts the story angry at Bryce for not taking an active interest in anything but drugs, despite the fact that she herself makes no effort to help them get off the island. They argue a lot about his drug abuse, yet his drug-induced killing spree somehow renews their love. The only thing that really makes sense is that Bryce’s repeated bad judgment — rushing armed guards, accepting Arshad’s job offer, shooting everyone — is a direct result of his steady drug use, but this feels more like a lazy excuse for illogical behavior than a fleshed-out, believable personality trait.
The supporting characters are less inconsistent by virtue of the fact that they aren’t well-developed. Bryce and Carly’s interactions with the Arab family running the hotel feel like something out of a bad PSA about tolerance. The characters never come across as anything more than stereotypical extremists. The other American tourists (Mitch and Sonja) exist only as a plot device (they have a boat!), while the British couple (Ian and Lorraine) don’t have any purpose at all.
This script is simply awful, wasting a great premise on a muddled, incoherent story. It’s unlikely that any amount of effort on the part of the filmmakers will make this script succeed as written.