I have to be honest. The idea wasn’t mine — it was my wife’s. But the moment she said the premise, the rest of it played out almost instantaneously in my head.
That happens with me. I’ve written a few horror movies (“Children Of The Corn II”, “Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello Of Blood”) and wrote/produced “Tales From The Crypt” for HBO. I mention this “only” to lay down my bona fides. I’m not just a garden variety psychotic — I’ve actually made money at it.
What my wife pitched was a play on “Blow Up” (London photographer inadvertently photographs a murder in progress — but only after looking more closely — blowing up — the photo).
Her idea was this: someone watching a zoom meeting — a group of girlfriends, say — sees something in the background of one of those friend’s screens that makes them thing something bad’s going to happen.
That was it. The rest of the movie (with a few variations) came to me. Since no one knows when anyone will get to shoot such a movie — and figuring that by then this will be too faint a memory to mean anything anymore, I’m spending it here.
Here’s the horror movie — the thumbnail version: grab some popcorn.
There’s a group of girlfriends — 18 – 20 year olds. A few are quarantined alone for various reasons. A few are quarantined in small family groups — mom & dad plus a sibling. Normal family tensions.
But one of the girls — let’s call her Sophie — her family situation was strange to begin with. This is not a family you’d want to be quarantined with in the best of times. Let’s say there’s a bit of insanity in the family gene pool, the one exception being Sophie — who sees her friends and her Zoom connection to them as her only “lifeline”.
Did we mention that just as states and cities were ordering everyone into quarantine, Cousin MORGAN came to stay. In a family of crazies, Morgan’s the one all the other crazies won’t fuck with. He’s that crazy. And, having just gotten out of jail because of the approaching threat of coronavirus — he’s landed here because it was closest.
Did we mention also that Sophie’s family lives in a run-down old mansion (Grey Gardens style) — up a hill, around a bend — on the other side of the tracks from where all her friends live.
All Sophie’s friends adore her. They’ve all “taken care” of her, in part because she 1) came from the other side of the tracks but 2) was cool about it. All Sophie’s friends love Sophie — and are incredibly afraid of Sophie’s family — especially Cousin Morgan who they’ve always heard about.
Now — the fact is (back story here — we’ll learn all this as we go but, this being narrative — and a thumbnail — I’m dropping it here) most of Sophie’s family though eccentric and weird are harmless. But Cousin Morgan’s the real deal. And Sophie, her friend and the audience have every reason to be genuinely afraid of him. As far as we know.
Remember — our point of view in to Sophie’s family is Sophie.
The group has a Zoom call as the movie begins. We get how everyone’s quarantine is going day 1… day 5… day 15. For most of them, it’s a matter of muddling through — which they are. For a few others, the family dynamic is wearing them down. No one’s a child here. They’re all young adults and the ones forced back into their “high school bedrooms” (physically and emotionally) are beginning to bristle.
In Sophie’s case, it’s gone way beyond “bristling”. And that’s where — as Sophie’s friends begin to realize what’s happening in Sophie’s house (and what could happen to Sophie), the horror movie conventions begin to play.
What worries Sophie — the virus might be spreading inside her house. Her dad quarantined himself in his bedroom a few days ago. Locked the door too. Said he took in enough food and has water (there’s a private bathroom off his bedroom) to keep the door shut and the rest of the family safe. He won’t talk to them. Says hearing their voices is too hard. Only texts the others. He’s texted how exhausted he feels. Hard to breathe.
Problem is, Dad was the only thing in the house to balance Uncle Morgan — and what Sophie’s friends have seen are “hints” in the background of Sophie’s Zoom window that suggest she’s more a hostage than anything else.
And then, one night, Sophie doesn’t answer the Zoom invitation.
The horror movie is “what do Sophie’s friends do”. They’ll have to get to Sophie’s house, of course. One will at first — and give us a scary first-person, “Blair Witch” style creep-through of the carnage that’s already there.
She finds Sophie — tries to get her out — only to get killed by Uncle Morgan. A few more friends arrive. They get dispatched too. So does the cop who shows up.
Social distancing becomes an issue. The town’s on lockdown, say — because it’s suddenly a hot spot. The cops are stopping everyone who’s out and about — which will slow down Sophie’s friends at crucial moments just when Sophie needs them most.
One last friend (the one we’ve rooted for most) tries to save Sophie and nearly does when she realizes the terrible, terrible secret at the heart of it all — the real monster of the piece? It’s Sophie. SHE’S the one who, because of the quarantine, flipped out and massacred her whole family.
Sophie’s worse than a contagion. And, as the movie ends — she walks away — right into the sequel.
As we say in the business — “Scene”.