Bad Luck

Author: David J. Schow
Genre: Comedy/Horror
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 3

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A college student is forced to question her disbelief in superstitions when her friends begin dying in superstitious ways.

Synopsis:

A muscle car speeds toward an intersection as the traffic signal turns yellow. It turns red, but rather than stopping, the driver swerves, clipping another car. A delivery truck smashes into the muscle car, crushing it. Cops on the scene talk to the driver of the car that got clipped. They’re all interrupted by MARINA KILBOURNE (20s, currently distraught), who insists this was not an accident.

One week earlier, Marina talks seriously to her father, CARL (50s), about her mother, MARTA (40s). Marta is a little nutty — obsessed with the idea that silly superstitions will ruin her life. She’s fortified the house against mirrors breaking, cracks to step on, black cats, ladders, etc. She uses as her bible Better Safe Than Sorry, the latest self-help book about better lives through identifying and avoiding the superstitious causes of life’s problems. DAVANNA FORTUNE wrote the book and has captured the hearts of fearful Americans. Right now, Davanna is on the ledge of a New York City highrise, not trying to talk down a suicidal woman but trying to convince her to believe in Davanna’s philosophy. The moment the woman agrees, Davanna literally sucks the life from the woman, leaving nothing but a dusty skeleton. Feeling satisfied, Davanna goes to tape a daytime talk show, on which she promotes her book. She describes the definition of luck and identifies the many superstitions out there as luck insurance.

As the talk show plays on the TV, Carl tries to convince Marta to take her medication. Panicking, Marta insists she’s only trying to protect the family. Accompanied by boyfriend MICK, Marina attends a college class held by PROFESSOR DEUTSCH, another man obsessed with superstitions. Marina scoffs at the notion, a complete nonbeliever. She escapes the class early when her father sends her an emergency text message. Carl tells Marina that Marta has been institutionalized. Mick takes Marina to the hospital, where they discuss Marta’s symptoms with Carl in greater detail. Marina insists on looking at the house. Mick goes with her. After having sex in Marina’s childhood bedroom, they survey the house. It’s a disaster area, cluttered with Davanna Fortune’s many books and a lot of notes to explain the strange, superstition-avoidant changes Marta has made to the house. As they talk about it, Mick shifts the conversation to an uncomfortable topic: her moving into his condo. Marina makes excuses — bottom line, she’s not interested.

Back at Marina’s big, roommate-filled group house, she complains to her roommates (VIRGINIA, DARCY, and Virginia’s boyfriend, DONNY) about Mick’s pressure. Darcy acts like she speaks from experience when she urges Marina not to become another of Mick’s “possessions.” Virginia simply complains that she may be pregnant. Marina also complains about Deutsch’s class and the stupidity of superstitions. The others disagree — each of them has at least one superstition that they honor and believe in. Angry, Marina decides to confront Davanna at a local book signing. Marina spots Deutsch waiting in line. He says he wants to charm Davanna into guest-lecturing. CYRIL, Davanna’s bodyguard, tries to keep Marina away, but she’s vicious, accusing Davanna of preying on people’s fears. Davanna denies any responsibility, saying the only way to make a superstition real is to believe it’s real — in other words, Marta brought it on herself. Marina accuses Davanna of exploitation, then storms out as Davanna’s fans glare.

Marina complains to her roommates about how things went. Amused, the whole group (except Marina) decides to attend Davanna’s guest lecture in Deutsch’s class. Davanna reinforces the reality of superstition while simultaneously complaining that people only believe in them because they can’t take responsibility for their actions. Marina shows up late, and Davanna forces her onstage — forces her to stand on a crack. Simultaneously, Marta’s spine is torn apart. Marina is horrified when she finds out. Darcy offers sympathy. Marina thinks Davanna had something to do with Marta’s death, so she and Darcy decide to go after her — starting by finding out from Deutsch where she’ll be. When they arrive at Deutsch’s house, they find the door is open. Deutsch’s feet have been chewed off by his pet rabbit. Both Marina and Darcy are repulsed by this. They notice whoever did this stole the assigned “superstition diaries” from his students. Barely conscious from the lack of blood, Deutsch warns that Davanna is after Marina. The girls call 911 and try to explain what happened to CONNER, the detective on the scene. He thinks the girls had something to do with it — their explanation about Davanna is too ridiculous to make sense to him.

Meanwhile, Cyril and Davanna pore through the superstition diaries, shocked and amused by some of the students’ superstitions. Whatever Davanna’s plan is, she’s encouraged when she finds Marina didn’t really complete the assignment — she just wrote a note to Deutsch saying she doesn’t believe in superstition. That night, Donny buys some beer and throws it into his muscle car. As he drives, a black cat passes by the car. Donny freaks out, afraid to pass its path. He gets out of the car and tries to find the cat, but when that fails, he turns around in the opposite direction. As he races toward a yellow light, he discovers the cat is inside the car. The opening car crash, and Marina’s subsequent harassment of the police, is repeated. After insisting the accident is not really an accident, it’s revealed that Virginia and Darcy are with her. Virginia is an emotional wreck. Conner shows up on the scene and leaps to the conclusion that Donny was drinking. He does reluctantly admit that Deutsch has stabilized and regained consciousness, and he has told the police the girls had nothing to do with the incident.

The girls and Mick go to a bar to drown their sorrows. While Virginia gets hammered, Marina insists Davanna is somehow responsible for these “accidents” — somehow, Davanna is in league with supernatural forces. Even Darcy thinks that’s ridiculous, particularly because there’s no logical reason for Davanna to target Marina. Marina decides they need to see Deutsch at the hospital and figure things out. Virginia says she won’t tomorrow — it’s Friday the 13th, and it’s two minutes to midnight. Virginia realizes she’s spotting, and she’s happy — to her, this means she’s not pregnant. Mick drives the girls back to their group house, but he and Marina keep going to the Kilbourne house. She finds Carl at a cracked vanity mirror — and it turns out, he’s inside the mirror, somehow. Carl is terrified, and so is Marina. The mirror shatters to pieces. Meanwhile, Virginia’s spotting turns into a flood of blood. Darcy tries to help her, but she bleeds out too quickly. Mick returns to his under-construction condo. For some reason, workers are there, and they slam wrecking balls into the building. Mick narrowly escapes. The fire department shows up, confused. Mick walks under a hook and ladder truck and is immediately killed by a high-pressure fire hose.

Marina returns to the group house to find Darcy covered in blood. The cops have already shown up, so Marina sneaks them out before they’re accused of yet another murder. To get in to Deutsch after visiting hours, the girls’ fake an emergency situation (using Darcy’s blood-covered clothing as a believable cover). Marina sneaks away to see Deutsch. Deutsch tells Marina that Davanna chose her for something special, but before he can explain what, Deutsch frantically tells her not to let Davanna reveal her “real” face. Marina is forced to flee before Deutsch’s nurse shows up. Davanna arrives, acting the part of Deutsch’s nurse. Her face transforms into something monstrous, robbing Deutsch of life the same way she did with the woman on the ledge.

Marina and Darcy break into Deutsch’s faculty office to find information on Davanna’s whereabouts. While Marina looks through his appointment book, Darcy looks through his research. She starts to piece together that Davanna may be a manifestation of “Lady Luck.” Marina finds Davanna’s address — she’s renting a large, old house on the edge of town. They break into the house. Davanna is well aware of this before they even get inside. She sends Cyril after them. Cyril tries to stop them, but the girls quickly toss him down the cellar stairs, locking him up. Marina and Darcy confront Davanna in the parlor. Darcy tries to throw holy water at Davanna, who laughs at the suggestion that she’s a witch or any other supernatural creature. She pulls out a decidedly un-supernatural gun and shoots Darcy.

Davanna gives a long speech about why she’s tormenting Marina — it’s easy to keep suspicious people believing. What she thrives on is converting nonbelievers, and she gains more energy the less a person believed before the conversion. If Marina would just admit she believes in the superstitions that have killed her friends, Davanna would gain some power. Davanna hands Marina the gun and tells her to shoot if she really doesn’t believe. Marina does shoot, but the bullets pass through Davanna. Davanna’s face begins to contort to her “true face.” Behind her, Marina sees letters being written in a mirror that Davanna stands in front of. The words form: “Hold her legs.” Marina grabs Davanna’s legs, and Carl’s arms grab Marina from inside the mirror, pulling her halfway in. The mirror then shatters, leaving nothing but Davanna’s bottom half. Darcy barely survives. The cops have to release them because they lack evidence. Some time later, a young girl named “Fortune” starts her first day at a private school.

Comments:

Bad Luck aims to be a sort of tongue-in-cheek take on the horror movie, but it’s neither funny enough to forgive its incoherent story nor serious enough to engage its prospective audience. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act manages to embrace every available horror cliché without ever establishing what the story’s about or where it’s headed — and not in a way that’s satisfyingly unpredictable. It’s just unfocused and ramshackle. Every character talks almost nonstop about superstition, only occasionally interrupting the pseudo-philosophical rambling to shoehorn bland romantic troubles that add nothing to the story or characters. The writer simply brings in boyfriend characters to increase the body count.

The second act is where the killings start, but they’re all so obvious and predictable — stepping on a crack, a black cat crossing one’s path, walking under a ladder. Early in the script, Davanna mentions several more obscure traditions with superstitious roots (such as clinking glasses before toasting to ward off demons) that might have made for a more interesting, inventive storyline. On the other hand, the script has a gratingly “silly” tone, so the unimaginative deaths are probably intentional. Unfortunately, they don’t intensify either the comedic or horror stakes — they’re just silly and unimaginative.

All of this leads to a disappointing, frustratingly predictable third act in which Davanna reveals every nuance of her master plan like a James Bond villain — but the plan is not surprising, funny, clever, scary, or anything else. It’s simply just what anyone in the audience would expect. The writer spends much of the second act having the characters speculate on Davanna’s motives, but he never takes the time to make her behavior mysterious. The fact that it’s more comedic than anything else makes it harder to quantify its story problems, because the writer clearly doesn’t take the story seriously — but because its humor is as painfully cliché-ridden as its attempts at horror, virtually every moment in the script falls flat.

The characters are cartoons. Not a single moment in the script is recognizable as authentic human behavior. It’s not about realism so much as believability — if a character’s behavior is not in any way relatable to the audience, how do they empathize with what’s happening on screen? Marina comes closest to having a little humanity, but mainly because we spend more time with her than any of the others. She just doesn’t seem to do much except talk about what’s happening in the plot. Sure, there’s her anxiety over moving in with Mick, but the writer can’t even be bothered to have Marina react to Mick’s death (at the end of the script, she’s not even aware that he died) much less provide a satisfying resolution to that small character moment.

The supporting characters vary from ridiculous caricatures (particularly Marta and Deutsch) to having no distinguishable personalities (Virginia and Donny). The latter group exists to provide fresh bodies to theoretically raise the stakes, but how can the stakes be raised if Marina doesn’t know that these characters have died — or worse, if the audience doesn’t care that they’ve died? As for the caricatures — well, they’re there to provide nothing more than laughs, but the things they say and do is more bizarre and disquieting than funny.

Bad Luck is too big a mess to be fixed with anything other than major script revisions.

Posted by D. B. Bates on January 30, 2010 12:40 PM