A disgruntled cult exile hatches a plan to bring down his former community with the help of a young, gay escapee who he’s inadvertently seduced, while the cult’s sociopathic leader and a loser cop, in way over his head, try to stop them.
SummaryInspired by the down to earth, but quirky, thrillers of The Coen Brothers, The Dying Light explores the downfall of a cult community hidden in upstate New York, and the various characters whose fate is altered by its collapse. Dealing with the themes of family, religion, love and betrayal, The Dying Light is a movie centered around the question of "What happens if you don't fit in?" Often, those feelings of otherness can have dire consequences, even leading to violent outbursts as they do in this film. On the surface, The Dying Light is an action thriller about two misfits trying to bring down the community they loathe, while the cult's leader seeks to quash their revolt from the inside, and a bumbling group of hot-tempered and misguided cops unravel the mystery behind the community's existence and the ramifications of its implosion. All together, this script is an action-packed, entertaining, and heartbreaking tale of love and lust that'll leave you gripping the edge of your seat.
This story seems like it is a tale about revenge and the price it requires rather than dealing with the themes of family, religion, love and betrayal. I see your intent to model the story like a Coen brothers as their stories are littered with people who suffer for other people’s moral failings. If this is your theme, then you need us to feel that for each character. Annie is angry with the villages for not crying at her funeral. But no anger at her mother? Or Ben for not leaving the commune with her? You did a good job with the most righteous person getting his just desserts, a common theme in Coen Bros movies.
Your summary reads like a movie review. Which is a good exercise in seeing if your script matches your summary. But Ben is not a misfit. He is the most normal of all your characters. Just wanted to love Annie (which is not explained why he can’t – very typical of Coen bros movies) but can’t (we don’t know why) and decides to make the commune pay. And the cops do not unravel the mystery of the commune, they just stumble upon it’s demise.
Ben is what moves the story forward, he is your action. But we don’t know what he is about. Ben never tells the audience why he wants revenge, especially revenge on the whole commune, other than “robbed me of my childhood”. The audience doesn’t know what that means. When Ben shows up, has he been gone eight years too like Annie? Also Max really doesn’t have an important role in helping Ben other than getting gas – for it to be in the logline Max has to be integral to the plot.
So that brings us to the Max consideration: other than he being the cause for Annie’s expulsion and the exposition of the bad side of the Reverend, Max does not add anything to the story. His interactions with everybody are just that, and his interactions with Ben are just curiosities of a teenage boy. If you want the audience to not only empathize with Max but also be concerned for him at the end (his regret of getting Annie booted out) his importance to the story needs to be elevated, otherwise he is just another villager frustrated with how things are run. I realized he caused his sister’s expulsion, but then Annie’s involvement in the story needs more attention to help the audience anticipate her desire for revenge – and Max’s redemption (or death by her hand). Max’s feelings towards males are an aspect of his character but does nothing for the story. Now if he had a crush on Ben and that’s why he does what Ben tells him to do, that makes for a compelling storyline of conflict (two authority figures splitting him apart) .
What I come away feeling about this script is that the story develops but I don’t have any investment in any of the characters. The theme you specified in the summary only applies to Max in how you told the story. We don’t know why Ben was exiled, or that he ever wanted to stay. Ben doesn’t seduce Max (per your logline), he just talks reasonably about what he wants. If this is a thriller, I don’t feel the tension building as it should during the whole movie. This is more of a drama with revenge. You have the story idea laid out, and the build to the climax is good. Take a look again at each character and see how they contribute to the tension. What do Max’s and Martha’s scenes do for the story?
What does Thomas and Martha’s affair do for the story? If it made Martha want to betray Eli then that would be a supporting subplot. But Thomas already has voiced that “We have dishonored him.” but the audience does not know or learn what that means. As a father he might resent what Eli did and thus plant the seeds for dissent, but Thomas’ actions don’t connect to that incident (e.g. Thomas seethes at the verdict. Or Thomas voices anger when alone with Eli. Something to help the audience know that Thomas is about to jump ship because of his son).
The story has good bones and a perfect Coen Bros conclusion. You just need to work out each character’s motivation and provide some exposition so the audience feels it. Then their actions will create anticipation and anxiety in the audience which builds tension and then you have a thriller.