Can it be true? Has a new amateur screenplay sliced and diced its way to an elusive “impressive” ranking?

Genre: Drama/Horror
Premise: (from writer) A secluded boy’s way of life is threatened when he befriends Rose – the girl whom his parents have imprisoned in the family attic.
About: I’ve started to include 5 amateur scripts a week in my mailing list, telling readers to read as much as they can of whatever they wanted, and to give me their thoughts afterwards. “Rose In the Darkness” has gotten a nice reception, so I added it to the Friday slate.
Writer: Joe Marino
Details: 107 pages
Status: Available

Black Friday. What the hell does that mean anyway? I heard it means that it’s the day that all the stores in America “enter the black” because it’s the biggest shopping day of the year? That’s a fine explanation but do you think they could name it something a little more upbeat like… “Fun Friday” or “Fantastic Friday” or “Kip Kalamahama It’s Time To Shop!”

I bring this up not to contribute to the marketing of a day designed to strip you of your 2012 savings, but because today is a great day. It’s only the second day in Scriptshadow’s history that I’m giving an amateur script an IMPRESSIVE! “Say whaaaat?” That’s right. And you know the last time I gave an amateur script that prestigious rating. A little script called “The Disciple Program.” Now “Rose In the Darkness” doesn’t have that perfect combination of elements to make it an easy sell like Disciple (a strong male adult lead, a good hook, and the easy to market “Thriller” genre), but this is still a movie that could be made for a cheap price with an easy-to-market horror angle. It’s kind of like Scriptshadow-fave Sunflower, and almost as good.

“Rose In the Darkness” starts with a great opening scene. It’s Mississippi in the year 1994. A young boy, Micah (13), is having dinner with his parents, Lily and Judah. While the three casually pass the potatoes around and say grace, there is a horrifying screaming going on above them, in the attic. It’s relentless, loud, violent. And yet nobody acts surprised or concerned.

Finally, however, wanting to eat in peace, the mother casually walks upstairs, and after a moment, we hear something (someone?) being beaten badly. Then silence. The mother comes back down, a huge bloody handprint on her dress, and the family resumes their dinner.

Over the next few days, we learn a couple more things about this odd family. First of all, Micah has never gone anywhere. He’s lived his entire life on this property. In fact, there’s a line of chalk that extends around the edge of this rural farmhouse that he’s never walked beyond. Second, the grounds are littered with dug-up holes, holes where, presumably, bodies have been buried. It turns out that whoever’s in that attic hasn’t been the first.

Religion’s also a big deal in this household. According to his parents, his family is the last of the righteous, and everyone else out there are demons. It is their job, then, to take down the demons one by one. That’s why his parents go out and capture people, put them in the attic, torture, then kill them. It’s the “right” thing to do.

Now up until this point, Micah’s gone with the flow. If his parents said the sky was purple, he believed the sky was purple. But Micah’s growing up fast, and he’s starting to get curious. So, when his parents accidentally drop the attic key, he snatches it up and goes into the attic for the first time. It’s there where he meets Rose, a beautiful 14 year-old girl who looks like she’s been through hell. She’s locked up in a cage and she’s terrified.

But after talking with Micah for awhile, Rose starts to cheer up. Micah goes upstairs to read to her whenever his parents are away. They form a friendship, and it’s through this friendship that Micah starts to learn that the world his parents have told him about may not be the one that really exists. According to Rose, there are good people everywhere, and it is Micah’s parents, in fact, who are the evil ones.

This is a lot for Micah to digest, and he’s not sure who he believes. But when his parents start becoming suspicious about his newfound curiosity, and he overhears them saying that they’re going to kill Rose within the next few days, he’s going to have to make a decision soon, a decision that will drastically change the rest of his life.

We’ve heard it all before and yet I continue to read scripts that don’t apply it. Hook us with your opening scene! Give us something interesting/exciting/mysterious so that we’re lured in right away. This opening scene where a family is casually eating dinner while someone screams above them let me know right away that “Rose In the Darkness” was a contender. Especially because it’s a slow-build type of script and Marino didn’t start with a slow boring scene. See, that’s the mistake a lot of writers make when they attempt the slow-build. They make it slow and boring from the very first page, not giving up the good stuff until at least page 40. Unfortunately, by then, the reader has already given up.

With “Rose,” of course, we not only have this great opening scene to keep us reading, we have a mystery that’s been set up, one we have to keep reading to get an answer to (“Who’s up in the attic??”). I don’t see anybody opening this and not wanting to continue until they find the answer to that question.

But I liked how Marino didn’t stop there. He created an entire history for this household. We have the newly dug up holes in the backyard. We have the chalk outlined border circling the property, the one our main character refuses to go beyond.

And then Marino creates this really creepy mother and father. The way these two manipulate the bible’s teachings, doing so as a way to push their own hypocritical agenda is enough to get you revved up for hours. You’re thinking, “How could they be DOING that to this kid?” That’s when I know I’m reading something good. When I’m getting emotionally amped up about one of the characters, and not the writer.

Then the script has this nice little midpoint shift where we finally meet the girl in the attic, Rose, and the narrative shifts into a sort of “Let The Right One In” love story. I loved watching these two together and wondering if Micah was going to be able to save her. And of course, I loved the internal battle Micah had to go through himself. Who does he believe? His parents, who are the only people he’s known up until this point, or this girl who, up until a few days ago, was a stranger? I could actually feel that choice eating away at him. And it’s not easy to make an audience FEEL an internal battle going on inside a character. In fact, it’s damn hard!

And there were other moments that just screamed, “Good writer!” For instance, there’s a scene early on where Micah’s mother tells him a bedtime story about a princess. But as she tells it, we flash back and realize she’s really telling a story about her childhood. Not only was it a clever way to reveal backstory, but the story of abuse actually made you sympathize with her, which was essential for her character development later on.

But these stories only work if they have a good ending. You know? Because the whole point of a slow-build is that it’s all going to lead up to something big. If we’re going to allow you to take your time telling your story, it better have a damn good payoff. And “Rose In the Darkness” does! I won’t spoil it. You’ll have to read the script yourself. But, in short, it was cool!

If the script has one negative, it would be the dialogue. It didn’t quite work for me and I’m not sure why. It was a little too simplistic but, more importantly, the kids spoke like adults most of the time. Here’s an exchange between Micah and Rose near the middle of the script. Micah: “So that’s why you’re so resigned.” Rose: “We didn’t do anything to deserve what happened. But it didn’t matter. Not with them. And now not for me.” Does that sound like a 13 year old and a 14 year old talking? I guess Micah’s only ever been around adults. But Rose is a normal teenage girl. Why is she talking that way?

However, this weakness is only evident in spots. The scene construction was so strong (there was always tension or suspense) that the dialogue didn’t become much of a factor. That’s why I say, learn to construct scenes correctly. If you do, the reader’s more focused on what’s going on in the scene than they are the dialogue.

I really liked this script a lot. I’m in contact with Joe Marino as we speak. Check it out yourself and share your opinion in the comments section!

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I don’t know if there’s a specific lesson I learned, but my favorite part of the script was the late arrival of the police officer. 9 out of 10 writers would’ve stayed with Rose alone up in that attic. But adding a police officer to the mix gave the third act a fresh unexpected feel. I always love when an ending develops in an unexpected way, and you rarely see it, so kudos to Marino for coming up with that inspired late-story choice.