The Fallout (a.k.a., The Divide)

Author: Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean
Genre: Thriller
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 3

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

After a nuclear attack, a disparate group fights for survival in a fallout shelter.

Synopsis:

In the New York City apartment of SAM and EVA (both mid-20s and attractive), the couple watches in shock as an ominous orange cloud engulfs the city, causing glass to melt and buildings to shake. Sam and Eva collect a bunch of things and rush into the hall. As they run out of the building, they notice DELVIN (50s, African-American) trying to pull open the door to the basement. They follow him inside and find MICKEY (60s, angry and paranoid) shouting insults at them, unheard over the cacophony outside. Others soon join them: MARILYN (40s) and her daughter, WENDY (11); brothers JOSH and ADRIEN (both 30s); and their friend BOBBY (30s). In the huge basement, Mickey — their super — has established an elaborate bomb shelter for unknown reasons. He’s extremely unhappy that all these people have gathered here, because dividing the provisions limits their survival time. Everyone tries to figure out what happened. Mickey believes it was a nuclear attack by the North Koreans. They all wonder how long it’ll take for the fallout to clear. Wendy wants to peek outside, and Marilyn’s willing to allow it, but Mickey holds a rifle on them, refusing to compromise their safety.

Later, the group gathers in what becomes known as the “central chamber.” Mickey’s divided the basement up into a number of “rooms” — a bedroom for him, a storage room for their provisions, and a room known as the “mattress room,” where he has been storing old, soiled mattresses from ex-tenants until he can sell them on eBay. The group divides the mattresses for something to sleep on. They hear banging at the door, followed by the wails of a small, crying child. Most of the group wants Mickey to open the door and let the child in, but Mickey adamantly refuses, insisting whoever’s out there is already dead, and they’ll all be dead if they’re exposed. Later, the group gripes about surviving off pork and beans. The ceiling suddenly starts to shake, and they hear what sounds like a tank rumble overhead. Hoping it’s a rescue, they don’t mind when the tank’s occupants use an acetylene torch to carve out the door’s lock. Obscured in smoke, a group of M-16-toting men in HazMat suits burst into the basement. They grab Adrien and draw blood. When Josh resists, they hit him with the butt of their gun. Realizing this isn’t a rescue, Delvin starts fighting back. After a long struggle, they manage to kill one of the HazMat men, but the others make off with Wendy. Adrien catches a stray bullet to the cheek. As Mickey, Josh, and Delvin struggle to hold the lockless door closed, they see a line of corpses sealed in body bags in the hallway outside. Eventually, the HazMat men appear to give up and move on. Eva, Mickey, and Adrien examine the body of the man they killed. He is of Asian descent, and the HazMat suit is clearly a radiation suit, all of which confirms Mickey’s suspicions. The HazMat men return — and weld the door shut, sealing them inside.

A week later, everyone looks awful. Josh tries to hide his obvious radiation sickness. Marilyn’s lost her rocker thanks to the trauma of losing Wendy. She refuses to eat and has fashioned a ragdoll that she seems to really believe is Wendy. Mickey forces them to survive on “half rations.” Uneasy, Eva leads the others lock Marilyn in the mattress room until she settles down. Josh forces them to discuss what to do with their HazMat man’s body, which is starting to stink. Mickey makes it clear that, now that the door’s welded shut, the only way to get rid of him is through the elaborate septic system — somebody has to carve up his body and jam it down the toilet in Mickey’s room. Everyone’s disgusted by the task, but Bobby volunteers to do it. He takes Mickey’s dull axe and goes to town on the body. Some time later, Delvin enters Mickey’s room without knocking to use the bathroom. He’s surprised that Mickey’s not in there. While urinating, he hears another door open — not the one to Mickey’s room. When he turns around, Delvin sees Mickey waiting there. Mickey throws Delvin out. They let Marilyn out of the mattress room, and she makes a creepy nest under the stairs. At night, Sam sees Marilyn creep over to Eva’s purse and remove something.

Eva dreams about going up to the surface and seeing a beautiful Adonis-like statue with Josh’s face in the center of the ruins of New York. She approaches it and kisses the statue, which doesn’t move. The next morning, Sam lets Eva know about Marilyn sneaking into her purse. Delvin discovers the HazMat suit has gone missing. Wanting some entertainment, Adrien and Josh take over Mickey’s bedroom, which has a TV and VCR. They find nothing but old porno movies and a few survivalist training videos. They pop in some of the latter as the rest of the group gathers around and ridicule the survivalist’s deadly serious tone and casual racism. Mickey gets defensive, noting that videos like these are what helped him prepare his shelter. Josh creeps out Eva by offering her a cigarette in exchange for a kiss. However, Eva responds to the less-creepy flirtations of Adrien, but she’s caught by an increasingly jealous Sam. Eva decides to approach Marilyn in an effort to convince her that she’s there for her. Marilyn hurls insults at Eva, suggesting she leave Sam and start shacking up with Josh if she wants to survive. Eva’s confused, but Marilyn casually observes that this group is picking sides, and Eva should want to get on the winning team.

Later, Mickey rations out a tiny amount of beans. Mickey claims it’s their own fault for flushing perfectly good meat down the toilet when they got rid of the HazMat man. The others are disgusted. Delvin realizes they’ve all been losing weight, but Mickey’s stayed the same. They wonder why, but before they can really get into it, they hear a noise. HazMat men are cutting their way through the door. This time, the group is ready for them. The HazMat men head straight for Mickey’s ration supplies, trying to take as much beans and water as they can. Mickey kills one of them, insisting he’s Russian when he turns out to not be Asian, while Marilyn tussles with other one. She’s like a feral cat, so the other HazMat man gives up and flees. Despite the struggle, the HazMat men make off with virtually all their provisions. Bobby tries to run out through the hole in the door, but the HazMat men have covered it with something the weakened group can’t possibly move. Delvin takes a hidden gun from one of Mickey’s storage lockers and waits for him in his room. Rifle-toting Mickey comes through a door hidden behind a hanging American flag, carrying a few candy bars and some soda. Delvin forces Mickey to take him into his panic room, which is stocked with more food. They struggle, and Mickey accidentally kills Delvin. Nobody believes it’s an accident.

Josh and Bobby tie Mickey to a chair and try to force him to tell them the panic room’s lock combination. Mickey refuses, so Josh takes the axe and chops of Mickey’s index finger. Adrien and Sam try to stop him, arguing that Mickey doesn’t need to be tortured, but Josh can’t be convinced. Once they get into the panic room, Josh takes charge of the rationing. Eva has a similar dream, but this time, the statue is Sam, not Josh, and the statue comes to live, grabbing and trying to kill her. Eva wakes up and goes to the bathroom. She finds Adrien in Mickey’s room. After more flirting, Eva asks how Adrien can be so sweet and Josh can be so awful. Adrien doesn’t know. Later, Bobby forces Sam and Eva to watch over the still-tied-up Mickey. Adrien argues with Josh about the ration sizes, which he thinks are far too small. Josh hints that he’s intentionally starving them, because once they die, they won’t have to spread the supplies so thin.

Eva believes Mickey when he tells them he has a gun stashed in a can of baking powder hidden in the panic room. He offers to take out Josh and the others if they untie him. Sam thinks he’s a liar who will say anything to get out of his restraints. Marilyn’s mental state is getting worse, so Bobby takes advantage of it by sleeping with her as frequently as possible. Josh still has his eye on Eva. One night, Eva goes into Mickey’s room to find Josh, Bobby, and Sam getting drunk on Mickey’s liquor. They force Eva into a tense game of truth or dare, which ultimately results in Sam being dared to dismember Delvin and flush him down the toilet. Trying to prove his machismo, Sam does it. Eva is disgusted. She returns to Mickey, who gets close enough to grab her and tries to force her to untie him. Eva still refuses. Mickey tells her there’s a way out of here, through the septic system. Eva comes up with the plan. While Sam cuts the power and tries to get into the panic room, Eva seduces Josh to keep him distracted. Eva discovers Marilyn has died (but Bobby has continued to have sex with her) and is disgusted. Sam manages to get the gun. He kills Adrien first. Josh and Bobby try to beat up Sam, while Adrien tries to stop them. Eva runs and cuts Mickey free. Josh kills Adrien and is so horrified by what he’s become, he torches himself with a kerosene lantern.

Eva puts on the HazMat suit and uses a magnesium torch to burrow into the septic tank. This produces acrid smoke that, in the confined space, will cause Sam and Mickey to choke to death. Mickey hands Sam the gun, allowing him to kill himself first, but Sam turns the gun on Mickey. Meanwhile, Eva crawls through the sewage into an old pumping station, which is guarded by some gun-toting, radiation-afflicted survivors. They’re threatened by her HazMat suit an M-16, so they allow her to pass. She gets to the streets, which are exactly as she imagined them in her dreams. A truck rumbles toward her, filled with HazMat men. They stop when they see her, but they don’t aim their weapons. They bring her onto the truck. As she rides away, she surveys the devastation of the city.

Comments:

The Fallout attempts to tell a Twilight Zone-esque morality tale about the lengths humans will go to in order to survive. Unfortunately, the script combines preachy dialogue with one-dimensional stereotypes, which weakens the overall story significantly. As written, it merits a pass.

The script starts by locking a disparate group of people into a room and leering as they do horrible things to each other in the name of survival. Nothing is known of their pre-apocalypse lives, and the script offers very little in the way of character development. Each character has one or two generic traits — Eva the tough chick, Delvin the token black guy, Bobby the idiot, Mickey the half-crazed survivalist — but the writer(s) never dig deep into these characters, so they remain flat caricatures.

As a result, it’s hard to empathize with the characters’ struggles. Josh, the villain, has nothing at all to redeem him. He starts the script as a horndog sociopath and ends the script as a horndog sociopath with a glimmer of conscience. No effort is made to show a progression from a reasonable person driven to unconscionable behavior by the circumstances of their situation.

The writer(s) do attempt to give some development to Eva, who is revealed as the hero somewhere around the halfway mark, by allowing her to have a relationship with Sam. However, the relationship provides very little insight into Eva. They never take the time to describe anything about their lives before the bomb drops, so it’s hard to see how this has changed their relationship, or even if Eva evolves as a result of these events. Like Josh, she starts the screenplay as the warrior princess and ends it in the exact same way, with no effort to make her a little more complex than a generic two-word description.

The same can be said for all the other characters, from nutty Marilyn to ineffectual Sam. Without anything to make them rise above clichés, it’s difficult to accept them as real people and relate to their problems.

The story moves efficiently from one depressing plot point to the next without taking much time to dwell on anything other than Wendy’s kidnapping. Certain sequences are harrowingly effective — particularly the first attack by the HazMat men — but overall, the script gets too preachy as it delves into hot-button topics like torture, equality, gun control, and the human desire for power.

When it’s not being preachy, the second act introduces some interesting ideas by suggesting that a group like this would not work together to fight the HazMat men, instead turning on each other. Like the rest of the ideas in the script, though, the writer(s) don’t dwell on this, instead chugging along to a third act that descends into a cliché-ridden gunfight.

This script might work with the right ensemble playing these characters, but the script itself is nothing but clichés and caricatures.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 29, 2009 12:29 PM