It (tediously) Follows – A review

It Follows

We all remember the dire warnings from health class or worried parents: If you have unprotected sex, you run the risk of coming down with an STD.

Well, for the kids in the movie It Follows, the itch of crabs or the need for antibiotics would be a welcomed distraction from the STW they risk by having sex with the wrong partner.

Choose your partners wisely

Choose your partners wisely

STW? Sexually transmitted wraith.

It Follows tells the story of Jay, a sexually active late-teen who finally succumbs to the charms of her newest beau Hugh, only to learn that not only did she accept his penis, but she also accepted a curse that involves a plodding ghost trying to kill her.

As long as Jay stays alive, the ghost leaves Hugh alone. The best advice, he suggests, is for Jay to pass the curse onto someone else as soon as possible, hooking up like he did with her. If the wraith gets Jay, it then comes after Hugh and then continues up the line of transmission.

Complicating life is the fact that only the cursed can see the wraith, which can transform from a urinating half-naked mutilated woman to a senior citizen to someone you know. Thus, even when Jay enlists her sister and friends to help her, they are largely useless other than as a source of comfort and uncontrolled screaming and running.

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Now, I don’t like horror movies. I am a jumpy person by nature, and so sudden surprises bother me. Thus, when my horror-loving friends suggested we see It Follows, I was reluctant. But I am trying to expand my genre repertoire and so joined in.

As it worked out, there was no reason to worry.


Throughout the entire 100 minutes of the movie, I jumped only once, and as it turned out, at nothing that had anything to do with the story.

None of the appearances of the wraith (okay, maybe one) were particularly startling or unexpected. And aside from the musical cues to the audience to become anxious—music that would not have been out of place in any classic 80s horror—the movie offered little suspense. And after more than a few musical feints, even that ceased to make me uneasy.

Aggravating the lack of tension was an excruciatingly plodding pace to the story, which triggered more yawns in me than shudders. The only thing slower than the pace was the plodding approach of the wraith.

My friends—the horror aficionados—suggested that this gave the demon (and the movie) a relentless feel…the wraith was often shown slowly approaching from a distance in wide-angle shots. But to me, the movie was relentless in the way a train travelling at one mile per hour is unrelenting.

It will crush you…eventually…once it reaches you…assuming you don’t simply step off the tracks.

What I will admit was relentless was that truthfully the story could only end one way. (I am trying not to tell you how the movie ends.)

Because the wraith will always move up the chain of transmission, Jay is fated to die. Even if she passes the curse onto another. She will die. It is simply a matter of when.

Not taking the news well

Not taking the news well

The writer and/or director essentially painted themselves into a corner from the outset.

This is not to say that the kids only run away, but they also had no information to help stop the wraith…if possible. And no one seemed interested in determining what is was or why it was.

This is yet another reason why I could not engage in the movie. It gave me nothing to do but wait, and watch the kids attempt roughly the same actions time and again.

Maika Monroe

Maika Monroe as Jay

Given the nature of the beast—horror movies, that is—the performances were solid. The acting was quite good—Maika Monroe as Jay was quite effective—and the relationships between the characters felt real. Aside from a few subtextual set-ups that had no payoff, most of the character interactions satisfied.

Sadly, the actors were completely let down by the writer and/or director.

With the wraith largely incapable of harming her sister or friends (it only wants the cursed), all of Jay’s (our hero’s) actions were self-serving. Simply put, Jay did everything not to die.

And while this is understandable and even compelling early on—again, Maika Monroe is very likeable—it eventually lacks nobility. There were no other stakes, and how do you raise the stakes from gonna die? After a very short period, I was ready for Jay to die simply so my friends and I could get to the pub.

I appreciate that I am in the minority here (and at the pub).

It Follows will inexorably spawn a sequel—no doubt entitled It Still Follows—and possibly a third (Yep, Still Following) and fourth (Hunh, Where’d It Go? Oh, Jesus, There It Is) chapter.

For me, however, I’ll just go back and watch Poltergeist (the original, thank you) and have nightmares about clown dolls.

Now THAT is scary

Now THAT is scary

Now, if you want a good (and shorter) counterpoint to my antipathy for It Follows, check out a post written by another friend Danny F Santos, which can be found here.

Anger after Robin William’s passing


A couple of days have passed since Robin William’s death and although I still cannot accept the truth of it, I have somewhat resigned myself to that truth.

Shortly after the event, as I watched the public response, I found myself getting upset. The following post, written the night of his passing, explains those feelings. If you read on, please read all of the post as I don’t want to hear anyone’s comments unless they have read all that I have to say below. 


I’m angry. I’m angry at all of the people who want to turn my grief into some sort of life lesson.

The death of Robin Williams from depression isn’t a parable, it’s not a morality play, it doesn’t serve a purpose; so stop throwing literature and comments about depression and the availability of help at me.

This is a man who made millions laugh. A man who struggled throughout his life with demons and who worked with and around those demons to make beautiful art. A man who had loved ones and raised children.

A man who touched my heart and mind and soul. A man who taught me that it was okay to misbehave, to act out. That to be frenetic could also be to be focused. That you can love and be livid with the world and its people at the same time.

And now that man is gone, and I want to mourn. I want to wallow in my memories of the joy and tears that he brought to my life. I want to remember the man.

I don’t want to rationalize his passing. I don’t want to find meaning in his death. I don’t want to learn a lesson.

I want to grieve, to storm, to wail, to laugh, to love.

But I am not the only one in mourning.

I know the people who post information about depression and mental health, who list hotlines and web sites, are doing that as part of their grieving process. They are doing what they have to do to process Robin’s death.

They are doing what is right for them as I am doing what is right for me. Pain is a self-centred thing.

Perhaps in a day…or two…or ten, I will be able to see their side a little better, but for now, I just want to hurt…and remember…and smile.

In the meantime, forgive me if I snarl.

Dara Marks at Toronto Screenwriting Conference 2013

Engaging the Feminine Heroic

Dara Marks

In a follow-up to her very popular Transformational Arc talk of previous years, Dara Marks took us through another aspect of character development, something she calls the feminine heroic. A counterpart to the well known hero’s journey, the feminine heroic completes the hero’s character and thus is not necessarily tied simply to female heroes. Rather, it encapsulates the feminine side of everyone’s natures.

Transformational Arc

She explains, as writers, we are constantly trying to understand the narrative in which we are living, but we experience that narrative from a very personal perspective. Thus, in her canonical transformational arc, there is both an outer realm, where external forces act upon the hero, and an inner realm, the more personal influences. We grow, she says, only in relationship to demands on us to grow, and the external realm stimulates the internal reckoning.

The union of the feminine and masculine brings about wholeness in the character. It is a combination of the masculine spirit, which represents all that we can be, and the feminine soul, the deepness of our authentic self. Marks offers the example of a tree, which may reach toward the sky, but is only as strong as the root system that provides it nutrients.

Everything we are in life is what comes from deep within ourselves.

Marks presented this relatively complicated diagram that illustrated the hero’s external and internal journey (and in many ways, reflects our own journey through counseling or life itself). To the left, we find the Ego Self, where the onus is on my aspirations and beliefs of me. To the right is the True Self, which is understood after reflection and denotes my understanding of myself in the universe.

The union of the masculine and feminine sides of a character creates a wholeness

The union of the masculine and feminine sides of a character creates a wholeness

Ego Self: All early development, even that of a child, relies very heavily on the development of the Ego, a sense of will and determination. We believe that we’re in charge, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So if we start the journey in the Ego Self realm, we can look at the External or Masculine side and the Internal or Feminine side of ourselves.

Masculine Ego: In the top left quadrant, we have the Call to Life, the external mission that demands we strive or ascend to a greater level. We assert the force of our will on the universe. This area therefore is associated with a youthful and energetic quality. We have to move forward. We cannot let fear hold us back. To do this, we must sacrifice our feminine side, pushing those feelings down, or we cannot move forward.

Marks suggests that the tragedy of Hamlet was that he couldn’t get beyond his feminine side when he needed to move forward. She also gives the very literal example of Agamemnon, who was forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia before the Greek ships would be allowed to voyage to Troy.

Feminine Ego: In the lower left quadrant of the diagram, we see the influence the masculine decision has on the feminine ego. We suffer a wound because part of us is no longer valued. We are literally abandoning a key part of our self and this will have a lingering effect. While we appear invincible externally, we are very vulnerable internally.

Thus, the feminine side needs to be rescued by the proverbial knight on a white charger. Marks is quick to point out that this is no time for political correctness as at this stage in our development, we just don’t have the internal skills to rescue ourselves.

She goes back to Greek myth to show how this works, focusing on the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, the latter of whom was abducted to the underworld by Hades to become his wife. Demeter was distraught at the loss of her daughter and journeyed to the underworld to bring her back to the surface.

The underworld experience may be difficult, but it is educational and we need to journey through it to come out more whole in the next stage.

Marriage of Death: The combination of the masculine and feminine ego is what Marks calls the Marriage of Death. Anytime we strive to become something new, it means the death to other aspects of our being. We just can’t strive at all things at the same time. But this marriage is not designed to last.

As Marks points out, the problem with striving is that it is doomed to failure. We can’t be rich enough, strong enough, famous enough, whatever enough. And it is at the moment of realization that our dreams are doomed that we have a Crisis of Faith (masculine side), which leads to an Awakening of Potential (feminine side). We move closer to the discovery of our true self, the right hand side of the diagram.

Masculine True Self: As the masculine ego passes through its crisis of faith, it suffers a fall from the unattainable heights, which converts the Call to Life into a Battle for Life. For self-renewal, it is essential that our delusions and illusions are shed during this descent, such as the belief that we are in control of our lives. And thus, at this stage, it is the masculine self that needs rescuing.

Marks offers the example of Odysseus (a popular subject at TSC this year) and the knowledge that his journey home was his great undoing as he loses more and more of his ego self (including his ships, crew, etc). The second half of his journey is literally the journey homeward toward his true self.

Feminine True Self: And who rescues the masculine true self? As the masculine side becomes more vulnerable, the feminine side becomes emboldened. We heal our wounds and reunite, turning pain and suffering into love and creativity.

The way out of our self-imposed purgatory is through compassion. We have to hear the story and then feel and acknowledge the pain. And it is only when the pain is given voice that it can move back from the underworld into life.

Marks exemplifies this aspect with the myth of Inanna and Erishkegal (which I do not know as well and so simply provide a link).

Sacred Marriage/True Self: It is at this point, through the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine that we finally achieve the true self.

NOTE: All images and illustrations are property and copyright of Dara Marks and are used here without permission.

Toronto Screenwriting Conference – Day One Highlights


I am hoping to a more complete write-up shortly about the sessions I attended at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference this weekend, but here are some personal highlights/insights from today’s sessions.

Glen Mazzara – The Odyssey of Writing (former show runner for The Walking Dead)

Be your own writer: Mazzara shared his earliest experiences in starting as a writer and he said that in the early days of his career, he tried to write things that he thought screenplay readers wanted to see, but that ultimately, this was a failing approach. In his eyes, you have to write topics that reflect and come from you. Things that represent who you are and in what you are interested.

Making sense of your characters: He also offered an interesting tip on how to make sure the emotional/story arcs of your characters make sense. He suggested approaching it like an actor, whom he says is only interested in and therefore reads his own lines. Move through your screenplay, tracking only one character at a time—ignoring all others—and see if their progress makes sense. Are they angry in one scene and suddenly laughing in the next? Does that make sense? It’ll also allow you to tighten up their dialogue, he says. You then do this for each character in your screenplay to ensure each tracks correctly.

Dara Marks – Engaging the Feminine Heroic (renowned Hollywood script doctor)

Too often, we only explore how a character responds to outside forces (masculine heroic). For a character to be whole, Marks says, we must also examine what is happening within a character (feminine heroic).

At the beginning of a story, the character receives the external call to life and responds by striving for a goal. But to do this, she says, the character must sacrifice other aspects of themselves that will slow or stop their progress. This sacrifice is not without a cost and the internal psyche suffers a wound because part of it is no longer valued.

Unfortunately, the problem with striving is that it is doomed to failure—we can’t ever achieve enough of our goal. A crisis of faith occurs in the masculine self, that triggers an awakening of potential in the feminine self—internal fortitude.

Externally, the character falls as the call to life becomes a battle for life as its illusions are shattered, and when the outer self becomes vulnerable the internal self is emboldened and can heal the wounds, turning pain and suffering into creativity and love.

Thus, it is the sacred marriage of the internal and external selves that allows the character to discover its true self.

David Hudgens – Breakdown of the One-Hour Drama (showrunner of Parenthood)

On receiving notes: The most important thing about receiving notes on your screenplay is understanding what’s the note behind the note. The note itself is often directed at something that may be relatively minor, but in its essence, it speaks to a deeper issue in the writing. Look for that essence.

Beau Willimon – Masterclass (co-creator of Netflix’s House of Cards)

Writing screenplays ≠ making movies: It is entirely possible to have a good career writing screenplays for movies without ever getting any of your movies made. It’s a numbers game, as studios constantly contract out for hundreds of screenplays, hoping that at least one of them will turn into a profitable movie, but they can’t afford to make all of the movies to find out.

Wither the pro- in protagonist?

I just read a review of the new movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and one of the complaints is that the lead character, the one after whom the movie is named, the protagonist is completely unlikeable. As the reviewer states about the seminal moment in the movie, “it’s too late for Burt or the movie to win back audience affections, on or off the screen.”

This highlights a problem I find in a lot of movies right now: there is nobody to like or cheer for.

I appreciate that this is all personal opinion and tastes differ. What I will write next may totally rankle with your own opinions. Cool.

In too many movies I see of late, I walk out of the theatre dissatisfied because I could find no one for whom to root. And for me, I need to root for someone when I spend time with a story.

Stoker? I found none of the characters likeable or in any way redeeming.

Prometheus? I want them all dead at the end. The closest I came to cheering for anyone was the robot.

I understand that the root “proto-“ means leading or first rather than in favour of and so each of the main characters of these movies fulfills the role of protagonist, but that doesn’t make me any happier with these films.

Hell, in the two films I named above, I couldn’t even cheer for the antagonist, as I did with Alan Rickman’s character in Die Hard (I’ll never be a Bruce Willis fan).

Decades ago, anti-heroes became all the rage (think Clint Eastwood in practically anything), and I thought that worked well. Unforgiven was a great movie.

But somewhere along the line, the world-cynical smarm of the anti-hero turned into two-dimensional self-absorbed slime.

Yes, we are supposed to see the protagonist fall a few pegs as their world collapses around them only to watch them triumph (or not) in the end. If I like the character, my heart bleeds for them at every crisis, at every moment of conflict, whether internal or external.

If I don’t like the character, however, I either don’t care about their knocks or I take sadistic pleasure in it.

On some level, I think it’s lazy writing. Rather than find interesting ways to show the internal humanity of the protagonist through a cloud of jack-assedness, the writer bets the farm on swaying the audience with a massively redemptive climax, where the protagonist makes some life-altering self-sacrifice and does the right thing.

As the reviewer above alludes, however, the writer runs the risk that it’ll be too little too late.

So please, screenwriters, let’s agree. I will try harder and you’ll try harder. It’s win-win.

Now I’m her-o

It may sound incredibly self-centred, but I am the hero of my personal journey through life, and by that, I don’t mean a literal Hercules or Aeneas so much as the protagonist. Everything in my life is interpreted through my eyes in how it impacts me.

Sure, if I try, I can step outside of my ego and try to consider life and specific events through others’ eyes, but even here, if I am to be completely honest, I am still tempering those reflections through my own life experiences and biases.

And now to the controversial aspect of this vignette.

When creating characters for a story—a novel, screenplay, poem, excuse for lateness—each character in that story is the hero of the story, if only in their own eyes. The events you record as a writer are witnessed by the characters in your story from their own perspectives and their responses and reactions to events and other characters will be based on their individual experiences and biases.

Sure, the story you are trying to tell may only have a main protagonist, perhaps a secondary protagonist and an antagonist. Everyone else is just there for colour or to help your main characters rationalize their worlds and world views. But you have to be honest to those other characters if we, as readers, listeners and viewers, are to believe them.

When I read screenplays, I often get quite attached to the main characters, whether positively or negatively. More often, unfortunately, I end up watching minor characters for whom I have no opinion if for no other reason than I cannot believe they exist.

They are placeholders to keep me from watching 95 minutes of nothing other than antagonist and protagonist in earnest conflict. To call them two-dimensional would be a slight to some finely crafted animated characters I’ve watched in well written cartoons.

Even if a character has one line or is silent, I want to know in my gut, if not my head, that the character has a reason to exist, not for the sake of your plot, but for the sake of his or her universe.

I’m not asking for 37 stories for 37 characters. I’m asking for one story for 37 characters that matter.

A lot of people tell me that this over-complicates things—you may be thinking this right now. I obviously disagree, believing that a Who is a Who, no matter how small.

That character’s reality doesn’t have to be on the page, but it better be in your head, because the reader will know if it’s not. The character won’t pop, if it isn’t.

If it helps, think of this as another way of telling a story that’s been told a thousand times before. Rather than tell the story from the perspective of the protagonist everyone knows, tell it from the perspective of the character few people ever remember. The 100 bajillion Christmas stories are perfect examples of this.

The Little Drummer Boy was the story of the birth of Christ and yet it wasn’t.

What if you retold the story from Pretty Woman but from the perspective of the hotel manager?

Make every character in your story believe he or she is the hero of his or her universe, and they will live on beyond their few lines of dialogue.