“The True Evil” has a nice pace, with major events happening frequently and changing up the story and providing new information, it never felt tedious from a story perspective. However, the characters too often feel like stereotypes which isn’t helped by dialogue that lacks subtlety and style. Additionally there seem like many logic issues with the script where people say things that aren’t supported. Unfortunately there are also major formatting and grammatical errors in the script that need fixing and will turn away most readers and need some serious attention.
I enjoyed the way the mystery unfolded in the script, and the idea of a criminal who can convince people to kill themselves. There was also a nice reveal later on about James knowing about the cop the entire time, and in retrospect maybe that explains some of his actions.
But while the mystery is good, I felt as though the answers weren’t quite as solid. For instance, Oliver plotting against the girls because naked pictures of him were sent around the school? That doesn’t seem like it goes far enough to warrant his reaction. Especially when you compare it to Mary/Brett’s story where she’s raped and it’s covered up. I love the parallelisms between these two stories (in the cover-ups), but hers seems so much more traumatic. I think the story could really benefit from amping up what these girls did to Oliver.
I also didn’t really buy that these girls would kill themselves just for turning in their friends. Maybe I have no heart, but while I see that action being hard to live with, I don’t think it would be suicide level bad. Maybe I’m alone on that, see what other readers think.
There’s some issues with the flow of the dialogue, and I suggest reading the lines out loud for that to eliminate the clunky ones, but a bigger issue is the lack of subtlety. Look at James’ big block of dialogue on page 11. He just spurts out his entire backstory and motivation in a blunt, unrealistic manner. It’s good to let an audience know who your characters are and how they got there, but there has to be subtlety to how they speak. Also, I bet the audience could piece together most of what he says from the rest of the scene, so this also amounts to over-explanation.
Overall I think the dialogue needs a major rehaul. Try to make it more distinct, less on the nose, and trust the audience to pick up the emotions and relationships between the characters. I’m looking at page 16 “She’s only been on the force a few months, but she shows promise.” That reads too much like a character description and lacks personality. If James really needs to tell Dan who Megan is here, think about “She’s green, but she makes a good cup of coffee, so she’ll probably be Captain one day.” Or not that exactly, but something with more style and less blunt.
The cop characters are all a little bit stereotypes and that’s unfortunate. The Gruff Detective with family issues because he overcomits to work? The smart, logical Asian analyst? The Black by-the-books Captain? The young eager Detective? I’ve seen those all before, and outside of James I think the others never grow out of those stereotypes. That’s unfortunate, and I’d really look to make them more unique by their actions and dialogue. Also maybe avoid the racial stereotypes, or mix it up a bit.
James is weird, he seems like a crappy cop and a poor father for the bulk of the film, and as a result I really don’t respect him or even like him that much… but I started to think at the end that maybe that’s the point? Is he the real villain of the film? Maybe, he certainly hasn’t behaved ethically. If I may suggest. Either make him more likeable and show his pursuit of Oliver better. Or, make the traumatic event the girls did to Oliver better, so that in the end the audience will feel for Oliver a bit more. Right now I kind of feel stranded about halfway through where I don’t really like anyone enough to identify with them.
Jennifer is kind of snotty, but when she laughs at “Rebecca always did whatever I told her to do”, it makes me kind of hate her. She just got her friend kidnapped, and that’s her response? Instead if she hung her head low when she said it we’d feel sorry for her, which is far more powerful. Just a small note.
With the villain, just a thought, but do you need to say it’s a man on page 35? Keeping that gender neutral may help keep the mystery going. I’d also like to see more description for the mask to know what we’re seeing. Is it a pig mask like is Saw? A Shatner mask like in Halloween? It’s an important detail.
The structure is a real strong part, and that’s a really good thing to have right. Dialogue can be tweaked, formatting fixed, but the frame to hang it on is sometimes the hardest part to fix. I really liked how major events seemed to happen so frequently.
There’s a great start to the mystery on page 6, hooks us in with this pile of belongings, I also love how it develops on page 14 with these being objects that went missing throughout the months leading up to the kidnapping. Then Cindy reappearing on page 30 pushes it in a nice new direction and her committing suicide right after. After that Jennifer shows up at the station, which keeps everything moving. Throughout this there’s nice hints at the Oliver’s history that keeps me interested.
The climax with the reveal of James’ knowledge and of Jennifer being kidnapped is decent, but I really got a little turned off by all the montages. Which may actually just be a formatting issue.
I felt a little cheated by the ending, but like I said, the montage format really distracted me from getting into it. Still, while the thematic ending made a lot of sense (and I loved the reveals of how each girl helped kidnap the others), I wanted more action at the end. There’s no physical confrontation, just a message on a TV/letter and a dead daughter. So the great final conflict kind of fizzled out. What I expected, and what may work better, is if James finds Oliver at the warehouse and is somehow put in a situation where either Jennifer of James must decide the other person’s fate. I’d like to see James decide to take his own life and not let Jennifer finger him, that would still be a dark ending, but it might give James some redemption and also complete his story a little bit better.
There’s a few problems where I feel like police protocol isn’t followed. Like James picking up the letter and walking out of the scene around page 20. Also James doesn’t always seem the quickest, and his reaction to Harold’s single kidnapper theory seems wrong. Or at least I don’t buy it. And James disregarding the letters easily? That seems foolish and unprofessional. Although I’m also not sure why Harold thinks it’s a revenge crime, but whatever. Then James discounts what Dr. Sklar tells him later? Is he the worst cop ever? Every piece of evidence he gets he seems to ignore, which makes me wonder what detective work he’s actually doing.
Also, why would James and Megan go to an NYU Office building, isn’t it out of their jurisdiction? And also a tad inefficient when they have phones? I actually realized at this point that I had no idea where we’re based. What’s more, the campus police office is closed? That doesn’t make much sense, or at least it isn’t explained in a way that I believe it. It feels like a writer’s device to delay action and create suspense (which is fine), but it’s done in such an unnatural way that it bumps me.
Other logic issues:
- 52: How do we know the kidnapper won’t go after Jennifer on the same night? That seems underexplained, and not only is James a terrible cop, he’s a beyond terrible father here, and kind of a bad human being for sending his daughter home like this.
- 64: A revenge case, still? Really? There’s nothing to suggest that, and with Oliver’s approach with Mary/Brett it seems quite the opposite. I get that in the end it is a revenge case but Harold needs to make his point better.
- 70: Weird thought, pictures of Oliver naked are probably considered child pornography, slipping them into newspapers? That’s a serious crime and maybe takes the teasing to a weird level.
- 85: James’ gun is left on the table? Really?
- 95: Did we ever see James giving information to Jennifer? I think that’s what it’s implying here.
As I said, formatting is a big issue with the script. It’s a sad truth, but unless a spec-script matches the standard it isn’t going to be taken seriously. I’d suggest picking up Trottier’s Bible and following that. It’s a comprehensive book that should answer all your questions. Also if you’re not already, I suggest getting Final Draft, as it makes most formatting easy. A few specific notes.
- The title page doesn’t count as page #1, so page 2 here is actually page 1.
- FADE IN comes before the slug line and is followed by a colon.
- Dialogue should never be split from one page to another where the person’s name (OFFICER 1) is orphaned on the first page. Additionally if dialogue carries over it should have a MORE/CONT’D between the two.
- General rule, but wrylies (like “attempting to be vigilantly (sic), but looking bored”) should be only used when absolutely necessary (it isn’t necessary here, and in most places) and try to keep them to one line and not wrapping down to the one below. Also, avoid using “beat”. It’s more a term for a stageplay, although there’s some wiggle room on that.
- In a slug line everything should be caps (looking at “several hours later” on page 4)
- You don’t need to break out everything into a subheading (like page 9 with DESK), this can be distracting and should be used only when essential. Again, this has wiggle room.
- There’s also a lot of unnecessary words in the actions. Looking at page 12, “James grabs a chair, sits down and beings speaking informally”. The begins speaking informally isn’t necessary, and isn’t in the moment of the script. We’ll see that all in a second and description like that should be cut.
- I also think the dialogue might extend to far to the right margin?
- The montage formatting is way off and very distracting.
There’s also lots of grammatical and spelling errors in the script. It needs to have a really detailed proofreading given to it, spellcheck won’t catch everything. Like on page 4. It says police offers instead of police officers. On page 23, it’s stalking not stocking. Also be careful in slug lines with all caps (page 7, ENTRENCE WAY, later on BRUNETTER).
Overall I think “The True Evil” has promise. It’s got a great churning of events, but needs a punch up on the dialogue, a good proofreading and format check, and then a few other tweaks to make it flow. After that some more attention can be given to our main character, his arc, and how the audience is supposed to feel about him. As well as amping up several of the story elements to make Oliver’s actions seem more justified.
At least that’s what I took away from the script, hopefully you find it helpful, but every reader is different, and in the end you need to write the story you want to write.
Review of: The True Evil
reviewed by ProfRedSweater on 03/13/2012
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