Tripwire

Author: Craig A. Schwartz & Jacinthe Dessureault
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 7

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Logline:

A divorced mother takes her daughter on a vacation to an isolated lake cabin, where they are kidnapped by a seemingly friendly couple.

Synopsis:

Forty-year-old JEAN MILLER is a psychologist trying to analyze a recurring dream in which she’s attacked by a bear. She talks about it with her friend, PAUL BISHOP, and they both toss out ideas about what the bear could symbolize. Neither makes a firm conclusion. Paul compares bears to his theory on the “tripwire effect,” about how environmental stimulus will cause a person to snap, and he thinks perhaps Jean’s dream is her subconscious way of saying she’s afraid she’ll snap. Jean isn’t so sure.

She’s planned a trip with her daughter, AMY (15), to a cabin retreat. Amy is pretty angry about Jean’s recent divorce, and Jean thinks the trip will help them. Amy’s less than cooperative. On their way down to the lake, they stop at a truck stop store. They meet an overly friendly couple, RYAN and SHELLY. When Ryan startles Jean and causes her to accidentally break a ceramic bear figurine, he insists on paying for a new one and buying Jean and Amy lunch. Turns out, Ryan and Shelly live in a motorhome and just travel around. Shelly is well-off, so they can afford to not work. After the lunch, the group separates. Both Jean and Amy are a little uncomfortable after the lunch. They continue on their way into the mountains and reach the lake. Turns out, Jean’s husband — who made the reservation at the cabin — canceled the reservation. Jean is offered another cabin, more isolated, that had been reserved but the renters hadn’t shown up in over a week. Amy wants to get a hotel in town, but Jean would prefer to stay in a cabin, isolated or not.

Shortly after they arrive at the cabin, Ryan and Shelly show up. They claim they were the ones who reserved the cabin, and when Jean refuses to leave, Ryan explodes with rage. The group can’t even settle things because the cabin caretaker, after renting to Jean, has conveniently left for the week. Jean runs away and goes to the sheriff, but by the time she gets there (apparently) Ryan and Shelly have left. Because they left, the sheriff thinks Jean has nothing to worry about. She still feels unsafe, but there isn’t much the sheriff can (or will) do. For some reason, despite feeling isolated and unsafe after the encounter, Jean refuses to go to a hotel in town. They go back to the cabin. Ryan and Shelly are there. Ryan starts out with an apology, which turns into insulting Jean and Amy, which turns into more threats and rage. Finally, they slam their motorhome into the back of Jean’s SUV and speed away.

When Jean contacts the sheriff, he calls the police in Redding and learns Ryan and Shelly turned themselves in, swearing it was an accident and offering to pay for all the damages and Jean’s entire stay in the cabin. Jean refuses, but the sheriff recommends her taking their offer. He insists they won’t come back and recommends they relax and enjoy the vacation. They try, going out to the lake. Amy meets a guy her age, SCOTT. They make a date for that night. Jean thinks she may have seen the motorhome in the distance, back at the cabin. She calls the sheriff to make sure they’ve left town; he’s insistent. Jean and Amy return to the cabin, where Ryan and Shelly are waiting. They drug Jean and Amy into unconsciousness.

When they awaken, they’re treated to a bizarrely polite kidnapping. Ryan and Shelly act like it’s harmless, even while beating them into submission. They cook for Jean and Amy. There’s a knock at the door — Scott. Reluctantly, they allow Amy to go on the date, just to keep up appearances, but they threaten to kill Jean if she says anything to anyone or isn’t back at a certain time. Amy and Scott have a strange date at his family’s barbecue. He’s a bit morbid. Later, back at the house, Ryan and Shelly go through Jean’s things. They find her mother lives nearby. Amy barely shows up on time, and Ryan pulls a gun.

The next morning, the sheriff shows up at the cabin. Ryan forces Jean to go out and convince the sheriff everything’s fine and they’re having a great time. The sheriff seems mildly suspicious that Jean has gone from paranoia and fear to fast friends with Ryan and Shelly, but he accepts her word and leaves. When she goes back inside, Amy pleads for Jean to use her skills as a “shrink” to outsmart them. Ryan overhears this and isn’t pleased. They decide to divide and conquer. Ryan forces Shelly and Jean to go off shopping and to pick up Jean’s car (undergoing repairs in nearby Redding). While they’re out, Jean calls her mother at a phone booth. She tries to use her cell phone to dial 911, but it dies. She hears sirens in the distance, but it turns out they’re on the way to a drowning victim in the lake. Jean overhears this on the radio and assumes Ryan has killed Amy. They rush back to the cabin, where it turns out Ryan merely locked Amy in a closet; the drowning victim is unrelated.

Later, Jean awakens from a nap to discover that Ryan’s left. She tries needling Shelly with the idea that she’s subservient. When it’s not entirely successful, she tries a different tactic — fooling perfectionist Shelly into believing something’s floating in her hot coffee. When Shelly bends to look, Jean throws the coffee in her face, kicks her, and knocks her out. Jean and Amy run. They run to the caretaker’s empty cabin and call the police. Ryan has returned to the cabin, finds Shelly, and goes out to search for Jean and Amy. Ryan smashes the phone box outside, cutting short their call to the police. Jean discovers that Ryan and Shelly had never reserved the cabin to begin with. She doesn’t have time to be properly baffled by that because Ryan jumps through the window and grabs Amy. Jean throws the phone at his head, knocking him off balance. Amy gets away, and she and Jean run until they finally reach a dock with a boat. Just as they do, Amy is shot in the leg by Ryan. Jean finally snaps, turning back to Ryan as he continues shooting. He hits her in the arm, but she keeps coming. Jean leaps at Ryan, who drops the gun. After some struggling, Jean gets the gun. She’s about to shoot him when Amy brings her back to her senses; instead, Amy kicks a coil of rope under Ryan’s feet, knocking him into the water. Once he’s gone, Jean and Amy realize they’ve been shot with paintballs — not bullets.

When the sheriff comes to investigate, the boat at the dock where Ryan was pushed in is gone, Shelly is gone, and the motorhome is gone. A month later, Jean and Amy have moved to San Francisco, and Jean vows that Ryan won’t come back, because she’s a different person now, and he won’t be able to hurt her anymore.

Comments:

Biggest question, hands-down, is one Jean herself asks but never answers: why did any of this happen? Most of the story works pretty well, but without giving us anything resembling a motive, it’s really hard to accept their actions. Even if it’s a game to Ryan and Shelly — which is the only thing that even marginally hints at an explanation for their behavior — why do they play this game? What makes them so utterly sociopathic? Without even a hint of their motives, they’re cartoon characters, very difficult to believe. The explanation can be just as creepy and off-kilter as their behavior, but there needs to be some kind of method to their madness, and we have to know that in order to take them seriously as characters. Beyond this, the script works pretty well as-is.

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 4, 2006 6:13 PM