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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 06.30.09] cyberpunk script scifi horror thriller



[Editor's Note: While this review is fairly spoiler-free it does contain lengthy excerpts directly from the screenplay.]

Imagine for a minute, sitting down to watch a film where the gene-perfect world of Gattaca, mixes with the crime free, pristine techno-utopia of Minority Report and throws in some gritty, gun-heavy action set pieces the likes of which we haven't seen since the first Matrix. Sounds like an amazing f#$&king movie doesn't it? Now, image all that science fiction perfection wrapped around a twisted and bloody serial killer mystery featuring the most horrifying and inventive murderer since "John Doe" stalked victims in Se7en. How does that grab you now? Yeah, I thought so. I'd line up for that s#!% too. Screw that, I'd buy that baby on double-disc special edition DVD and throw a party.

So when can we see the film? Unfortunately it's up in the air. In brief, Siphon was a hot script back in 2005 and then went into development hell. We've heard that the original price-tag was around 50 million and, considering Julien Leclercq made his futuristic cop actioner, Chrysalis, for around 12 million, I'd say that 50 should be well enough for a hot director to fully realize the script's epic potential. But enough of this background, lets talk about what's in the script already.


STORY:

The story takes place in an unnamed megalopolis that towers to unimaginable heights and stretches to the edges of the coast like a "continental shelf of glass and steel." This isn't the grunge-tech, gothic dystopia of Blade Runner, but a working utpoia, where for every mundane task there is a glorious new technological advance, and for every hungry mouth there is a block of tofu-style food substitute to satisfy, courtesy of "Ellison Foods and Pharmaceuticals."

There is virtually no crime in this fog-filled future world, and modifying your genetic make-up is as easy as getting a fancy new hairdo. I guess if everyone's pretty, no one gets angry anymore.

Detectives have become glorified data entry clerks thanks to robot investigation drones, so when a series of violent murders erupt in what looks like the work of the first serial killer in years, the cops are at a loss as to how to deal with it. Of course, it doesn't help that the killer seems to have materialized out of nowhere and is virtually impossible to track or kill. What's going on?


The script starts 500 feet above the city streets, in a monorail as it glides between massive futuristic buildings. We catch a fleeting glimpse of blood on a window before moving inside where a woman is being carved up by an unseen madman. All we get are glimpses of him: a tattered overcoat, raw pink skin, a hairless hand with no fingernails quickly doing its work while its owner screeches. FFFT, FFFT

KILLER’S VOICE
(distorted, screeching)
...awaiting response, awaiting
response...

This "WTF is that?!" moment is followed by another shock to the system that is bound to shake up any audience that views this on the big screen. The monorail is now a crime scene, with droids and cops everywhere:

****

INT. MONORAIL CAR

TWO BRONZE ORBS, like metallic soccer balls, hovering through the car. These are EVIDENCE COLLECTION UNITS, “SPONGES”, recording, beaming images back to the cops outside on the platform. An assortment of tiny lenses and scanners sprout from the sponges, scouring the crime scene, absorbing DNA, hair and fiber.

FSSSSS! The ECUs spray a LUMINOL-TYPE mist of glowing electromagnetic particles. A final sweep for the tiniest speck of evidence. After a moment... ECU (synthesized feminine voice) Complete. Clear for police entry. The monorail doors slide open. The ECUs float out.

Malveaux enters the monorail car. Alone. She pauses, closes her eyes a moment.
Malveaux turns, stares at the bloody hand print on the glass. Then steps over to the body. She kneels beside it, staring, totally detached from the massacred human in front of her.

EXT. MONORAIL PLATFORM - SAME TIME

Curran, Blake, watching Malveaux through the window.

OFFICER BLAKE
Shit like this ain’t supposed to happen
no more, you know? Not here anyway.
Suburbs maybe, some lowlife beats his
wife to death. But not up here.

Curran grunts.
OFFICER BLAKE
(re: Malveaux)
You take turns?

CURRAN
What? Oh. No. She needs to do her
thing.

OFFICER BLAKE
What’s her deal? ECU’s are already
crunching the evidence, feeding it to the
station. You guys just have to sign off
on this.

CURRAN
It’s always gotta be knee deep with her.
That’s how she does everything.

The monorail doors open. Malveaux steps out.
MALVEAUX
(to Blake)
Can send in the coroners now.

Blake waves over TWO CORONERS in sterile jumpsuits. They rush into the monorail to remove the body.

CURRAN
(to Malveaux)
Well? C’mon that brain is cooking, I
know it...

Malveaux, lost in thought, looks at him. She doesn’t have an answer. They all flinch when they hear an EAR-SPLITTING SCREAM coming from...

THE MONORAIL CAR
Through the windows, we see the coroners recoiling in shock... The murder victim is still alive. The nurse is on her feet, flailing, shrieking in agony, running toward the back end of the car. She barrels straight for a window...

KE-RASHHHH! The nurse dives through the glass! She sails out of the monorail from the side opposite the boarding platform, plunging to the streets five-hundred feet below. The cops just stand there, jaws hanging open. Malveaux, dead calm, walks to the edge of the boarding platform. Gazes down, into the chasm of concrete and steel. Her breath steaming in the cold, as a harsh gust of wind whips her raincoat. A bank of cotton-white fog rolls in, and Malveaux fades out.

****

Almost every scene in the script is full of scenes like this; loaded with intriguing, futuristic minutia and a thrilling shock or action set piece around every corner. Honestly, for anyone who thinks the detective procedural has been done to death, Siphon stands as a testament to how much more cinema has yet to offer the genre.

The quest to discover who, or what, the mysterious killer is takes our detectives deep into two seemingly disparate worlds- the underground world of gene moding, and the wealthy world of consumer and military science (don't both always seem to mingle?). However, each step seems to take them further away from the truth , and every killing only seems to beg more questions.

Overall, the mystery of the story is pretty tight and consistently intriguing, though (without giving too much away) I think it could have used more of a dramatic punch in terms of how we find out where the killer came from. You kind of see it coming and the characters find out too easily from a character who should have been harder to crack. This doesn't however, take away from the sheer awesomeness of the killer himself, who seriously has the potential to be as influential as the creature from Predator or the character of Hannibal Lector.

CHARACTERS:

Our main character is veteran cop, Malveaux, who Sloan calls "a Riot Grrl combo of Clarice Starling, Ellen Ripley and Gwen Stephani." She's a boozer and she's single (surprise, surprise,) but she's a damn fine cop who takes no prisoners.

She's got some great one-liners and I like that she's a strong and capable female character but she's also my only real complaint about the script and I think that Sloan may have gone in slightly the wrong direction with her.

See, grizzled cops are rarely identifiable (even Deckard is tough to penetrate) and, in my opinion, don't always make the best main characters. Think about it. What makes Clarice Starling such a great character in Silence of the Lambs? She's a rookie, fresh out of training - she is sorta green and therefore becomes way too emotionally attached to her case. Same with Ripley in Alien. We think of Ripley as a badass but she only becomes a badass by the end of the movie. Badass Ripley is actually sorta boring. Scared, desperate, emotional, yet determined Ripley is not. And what about other cop flicks like, oh, Training Day? We don't identify with cynical dirty cop, Denzel Washington, but with young rookie, Ethan Hawke who must decide what side of the thin blue line he should stand on.

Don't get me wrong, this film will rock the casbah either way, but my gut wanted Malveaux to be a young soul at the beginning (who stills kicks ass and aims for the head) who becomes an old soul and learns something about what life's all about by the end of the story.

The other main character is Malveaux's partner, Curran. He's the loyal punching-bag who's secretly got a thing for our emotionally unattainable protagonist. The two have a good dynamic and Sloan threads a nice and subtle romantic tension throughout the script that luckily never crosses the gag line into melodrama. These are two cops that will take a bullet for each other and that's enough.

Then we've got the murderer. The monster. The beautiful. Is it a man? Is it an alien? Maybe it's a bit of both, but I'll not give that away here. Suffice it to say, you've never seen anything like him/her/it before... alright, alright here's a taste for you. The scene below takes place after a particularly intense firefight between a SWAT team and the murderer:

TIGHT ON KILLER’S HAND

The top layer of flesh is peeling off in transparent strips. Like a reptile, shedding dead skin.

The killer stands. A sickening RASPY SOUND - his muscles rippling beneath his skin, his spinal column stretching. He places both hands on the top of his bald head, digging into his scalp... SHHLLR-R-IIIPPP!

ON THE FLOOR,

the killer’s skin, peeled off in one piece, like a snake. It
lays on the floor like a see-through bodysuit.


Yeah, exactly. It's that weird.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Let me just put this out there. If I was a young hot-shot producer looking to land a whale of a first feature I would do whatever it took to make Siphon, and make it right. Yes, this film would be expensive, but it has that much potential. I'd get the best of everyone I could afford to get every lick of mystery, action and horror in this story up on the screen because, if done right, Siphon has the potential to be a movie that lives on long after its box office take (which I predict would be high). This truly is "Blade Runner meets Silence of the Lambs" as Variety reported but also so much more. Pay attention Hollywood and get this movie made!


Recommended Release: Gattaca









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Dan Sachar (11 years ago) Reply

Wow, sounds great, you got me hyped there!
great review.
Now let's hope someone will embrace it..

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quietearth (11 years ago) Reply

Paging Enki Bilal.. Paging Enki Bilal.. you're needed in development.

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agentorange (11 years ago) Reply

Dead on. If Pearry Teo bows out for some reason (like he's working on 100 projects already), Enki Bilal - or someone with the same sensibilities - would be perfect.

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Pat (11 years ago) Reply

couple of points i d like to raise:
- how do these amazingly futuristic dna tracing robots not even notice the "victim" is still alive in the first excerpt u quoted? thats seems utterly strange (maybe its revealed later the killer controls the tech, that would make sense, i guess).

- the mad, tough detective, even though female here is definitely overdone, however if she was a rookie character, which - like you said would yield a more classic, intriguing character arc she wouldnt have the same street cred and her relationship to her partner would be completely different.

- regarding the issue with finding financiers+ "young hot-shot, upcoming producers" for this. producers are rarely young. by the sounds of it this would a ton of money for CGI.

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Dick2 (11 years ago) Reply

It will not get made unless a major study pours tons of money into it, and a supersuperstar attaches himself to the project. I find it a bit predictable and thus boring, I´ve seen it before, so I don´t think it has a future. Sci-Fi´s are so last year. Especially, since it requires a director who is of Ridley Scott´s class, just like the two reference movies mentioned. All the "thrilling" reference movies mentioned in the script feel rather outdated today. As a moviegoer one wANTS TO GET SURPRISED AND MOVED TO A NEW DIMENSION. This is something no young and dark horses, I´m sorry, can change, and neither no aging beauties with no director experience.


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