‘Beating Heart’ – Excerpt

CUT TO:
EXT. THE LAKE – CONTINUOUS

Finn arrives at the shore. He raises his arms, PUMPS his fists and CHEERS, staggering across the sand.

FINN

Yaassss!

Harry emerges from the trees. They meet in the middle, the bags and trophy between them. Peace. Harry looks over Finn’s shoulder. Fixated on the water. Confusion scrawled across his face. Finn’s arms slowly drop from above his head. Unsettled.

FINN (CONT’D)

I raced Ross for the trophy.

HARRY

Where’d he go?

He turns around. The water settles. Just the gentle KISS of the tide against the sand. Ross is absent.

FINN

He was behind me. I passed by him.

Wind WHIPS Harry’s towel against his leg.

HARRY

Are you sure?

FINN

Didn’t you see?

Trees HISS as the wind rustles through them. Finn and Harry stand at the shore looking out at the jetty. The water remains still.

EXT. THE LAKE – CONTINUOUS.

It’s windier now. Trees RUSTLE. The sun is smothered by cloud. They grow pale. Their nipples harden. Droplets of water on Finn. Everything colder.

HARRY (shouting)

Ross? Where are you man?

Finn looks down at his hands. Then out to the lake.

FINN

I- Did you see him swimming?

HARRY

I saw him dive in… then…

They fall silent again. Looking around the lake side from afar for any movement. Walking skittishly around the shoreline, always pulled back to the same spot.

FINN

Maybe you should swim out to the jetty. He might be hiding behind it or something.

Harry drops his towel back by his bag.

HARRY

I feel like you’re setting me up. Like you’re both gonna run off with my stuff as soon as I get out there.

Harry slips into the water and THRASHES his way out to the jetty. He swims around it. Ross is nowhere to be seen. Harry climbs onto the jetty.

HARRY (CONT’D) (Shouting)

Nothing! He’s not out here.

Harry watches the surface.

FINN

The water isn’t that deep – he must be at the treeline hiding. (shouting) Ross! Come on out man.

Finn edges away from the water. He retreats to Ross’ belongings. His clothes remain by his bag and towel.

HARRY (shouting)

Finn. Get in the lake. We need to look for him.

Harry dives in and races towards the shore. Finn steps into the lake. He halts, the water caressing his heels.

FINN (shouting)

He’ll be hiding in the trees.

Harry stops. Just past halfway between the jetty and the shore. It’s shallow enough. The rim of his orange swim shorts just above the water.

HARRY

What if he’s not?

FINN

He must be. It’s too shallow to- it’s too shallow in there.

HARRY

But what if he’s not, Finn?

Finn turns away. Harry hurries after him. The water BURSTS as he charges out of the lake and onto dry land.

HARRY (CONT’D)

Finn! Come here.

Harry reaches out to grab Finn’s arm. Finn pulls away.

FINN

No. He’s not in there.

Harry grabs him this time.

HARRY

Where the fuck else is he?

FINN

I don’t know! But he’s not in there. He can’t be.

Finn wrestles free of Harry. He starts running for the treeline.

HARRY

Finn!

FINN (to himself)

I’ll find him.

CUT TO:
EXT. THE TREES – CONTINUOUS

Finn wanders through the trees. The surroundings RUSTLE. His attention keeps turning to the lake. Harry swims in zigzags. Finn leans against a tree. His hands on his head. He looks to the lake then at his hands then down at his feet.

FINN

No. I need you to come out man!

He shakes his head, fighting back thoughts. There’s frantic SPLASHING in the background. We hear Harry struggle.

HARRY

FINN! Finn, quick! Help!

He watches as Harry clings to Ross. Struggling to keep him above the surface. He watches as Harry DRAGS the body through the water. Struggling to make his way to shore. Floundering.

HARRY (CONT’D)

FINN!!

Finn remains paralysed by fear. Watching as Harry struggles. Another shout triggers a response. Finn opens his phone. Dialing 999.

FINN

It’s my friend! It’s my friend Ross. He’s… I don’t know! Please, just send an ambulance to the lake. He’s in trouble!

CUT TO:
EXT. THE LAKE. CONTINUOUS.

Harry has dragged Ross onto the shore. Finn arrives as he starts CPR. Harry looks takes a brief look at him.

HARRY

Where were you?!

FINN

I…

HARRY

I needed your help.

FINN

I was calling an ambulance.

Harry slides his hands across Ross’ chest, adjusting. He’s unsure of where or how to place them. He tilts Ross’ mouth open and starts pumping his chest. Finn stands over him. He pumps four times, then breathes air into his mouth.

FINN (CONT’D)

I don’t think you’re supposed to do that anymore.

HARRY

How the fuck is blowing air into someone going to stop them from being resuscitated?

FINN

I don’t know!

HARRY

Neither do I! But we need to do something. Maybe you should have kept the emergency services on the phone.

Harry continues pumping on Ross’ chest. This time he hesitates breathing air into his mouth, stopping to look up at Finn.

FINN

Well should I phone them back?!

HARRY

Jesus Finn, I don’t know.

Finn sinks to the ground, his head bowed, folding his arms around his legs. Sirens BLARE in the background. The ambulance is nearing. Harry leans away from the body. He drags his hand through the sand, clenching his fist as the granules slip through.

His resolve strengthens and he attempts CPR with even more vigor. Finn raises his head to watch. He blinks with each press at Ross’ chest. His fingers sliding up and down his face, resting over his mouth. Tears well in his eyes as he watches.

Harry’s attempts to beat Ross’ chest fade. He breaks, tears seeping down his face as the intensity of his efforts consume him. He lies back, falling away from the body.

The ambulance arrives. Three paramedics sprint from the vehicle to the boys. One of them crouches next to them.

PARAMEDIC #1

Boys, we need some quick answers to do our best for your friend okay?

They’re in tears. Struggling to answer verbally. They nod.

PARAMEDIC #1 (CONT’D)

How long have you been applying CPR for?

HARRY

Two minutes maybe.

PARAMEDIC #1

Has there been any response?

They shake their heads.

PARAMEDIC #1 (CONT’D)

And how long was he in the water for?

Harry and Finn look at each other.

FINN

Ten?… M-maybe fifteen minutes…

The paramedic nods at her colleagues.

HARRY

…It feels like longer.

PARAMEDIC #1

Okay, I need you two to give them some space.

FINN

No, we’re staying with him.

PARAMEDIC #1

I need you to give them some room. Come back to the ambulance with me.

Reluctantly they follow her to the ambulance at the head of the beach. She jumps into the back of the vehicle. Finn and Harry wait. Watching as the other paramedics perform CPR.

Droplets of rain land on the blackened ambulance window. The reflection of Finn and Harry watching on. Paramedic #2 performing CPR looks up, shaking her head as she tries again. Paramedic #1 pops her head out from the ambulance.

PARAMEDIC #1 (CONT’D)

Come inside boys. We need to get you warm.

They don’t respond. They watch. Paramedic #2 stops. Shakes her head. Paramedic #3 checks his watch. Finn looks at Harry. His mouth slightly ajar. Disbelief. Paramedic #3 pulls a silver cover from her bag. They wrap it over the body.

Harry half shakes his head. Biting his lip. Holding back the wave of emotion. Paramedics #2 and #3 approach.

PARAMEDIC #3

I’m sorry. We weren’t able to resuscitate him.

Finn and Harry embrace. Both in tears.

PARAMEDIC #3 (CONT’D)

We’ll give you a bit of time, but it’s best to get you out of the cold and tend to you at the hospital.

Finn pulls away from Harry.

FINN

We don’t need tending to, there’s nothing wrong with us!

PARAMEDIC #1

We need to take you somewhere where your parents can collect you. The shock-

They run across the sand to the body. The silver cover whipped by the wind. Rain pitter-patters upon it. They sit by it.

FADE TO BLACK.

CUT TO:

INT. FUNERAL PARLOUR – SOMETIME LATER.

Finn and Harry sit in a reception area. Ross’ Dad, TERRY NICHOLSON (47), sits across from them next to one empty chair.

TERRY

Thanks again for coming boys. I want you to know, there’s no pressure on you to go in and see him.

FINN

I’ll be fine, Terry.

HARRY

Aye, it’s nae bother. Terry nods.

Silence falls between them as they wait. Terry’s attention turns to the chair next to him.

TERRY

Feels like they’re rubbing it in leaving this spare seat next to me.

Finn and Harry don’t know how to respond. Terry stands and lifts his chair. They recoil, unsure what he’s going to do. He slots it down on top of the spare chair and sits on them.

Terry wobbles. The chairs don’t stack properly. They CREEK as he struggles to maintain his balance. Finn and Harry watch on. Dumbfounded.

TERRY (CONT’D)

This is a bit uncomfortable.

The FUNERAL DIRECTOR approaches. Terry does his best to sit still, staring at Finn and Harry across from him.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR

We’re ready now if you’d like to follow me.

Everyone stands. As Terry does, the chair he was sitting on slides forward, CLATTERING onto the floor. He hurries to collect it, sitting it back in it’s original place and mouths a silent sorry.

They follow the Funeral Director through a narrow doorway into a tight corridor. There’s a window at the end where light seeps in through a set of curtains.

INT. FUNERAL PARLOUR – CONTINUOUS.

He leads them to a door and opens it.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR

I’ll leave you to it.

The Funeral Director leaves. Finn and Harry hesitate, waiting to see what Terry does. Terry lingers in the doorway, looking in at the body resting on a white, cloth covered table. Terry finally decides to enter and the two boys follow him in. Terry stands at Ross’ head. He brushes Ross’ fringe with his hand.

TERRY

I always wanted him to cut the hair.

FINN

He used to tell us that’s why he kept it long.

Terry laughs.

TERRY

The wee bastard! It even looks like he’s smirking just now.

Harry smiles.

TERRY (CONT’D)

It’s partly why I asked you to come along today.

Finn’s hand rests on Ross’ leg. The same leg he tugged at in the lake that day.

TERRY (CONT’D)

I didn’t want whatever you saw a few days ago to be your last memory of Ross.

This draws Finn’s attention away from Ross, JOLTING his hand away from his leg.

TERRY (CONT’D)

I’ll leave you two with him for a few minutes.

Terry leaves the room. Harry walks away from Finn, around to the other side of the table which Ross’ body lies on.

FINN

I keep… wishing, that we had been setting you up. Just to steal your clothes.

Harry lets out a short, breathy laugh.

HARRY

I’m still expecting him to walk in the door with my stuff.

They’re both amused.

HARRY (CONT’D)

I keep coming back to the same question.

HARRY (CONT’D)

How could he drown in shallow water?

Finn shakes his head.

HARRY (CONT’D)

He’s not fuckin’ dim, y’know? How could he drown? Harry stands.

FINN

Maybe… maybe he got tangled in something. Seaweed or-

HARRY

Not that I saw.

FINN

I don’t know.

HARRY

Didn’t you notice anything as you swam past him?

FINN

We were next to one another. Neck and neck. He gave me the finger. Then I swam past him. I looked back… just once…

Harry gets closer to Finn.

FINN (CONT’D)

…But I didn’t see anything. He was still swimming. And I focussed on the beach.

HARRY

You were right there. Right there! Yet I’m the one who had to carry him out.

They’re nearly in each others’ faces.

FINN

I had to search the woods. You know what he’s like-

HARRY

I was in the water, I had to-! Whilst you fucked about in the trees.

FINN

I was calling an ambulance!

HARRY

“Search the woods”

Harry pushes Finn.

HARRY (CONT’D)

Too scared to get in and help me.

Finn barges out of the room.
FADE OUT:

‘Guess Who?’

FADE IN:

INT. FAMILY HOME – AFTERNOON

Answer Phone BEEP.

CHRIS’ MOM (V.O.)

Valerie. We’re about to board the flight. Make sure everything is ready for our arrival tomorrow. Give our love to Chris. See you soon.

Val (21), African American woman, sits with her legs crossed on the floor, leaning back against a couch. Chris (10), white, sits on the opposite couch, his feet don’t touch the floor. They’re playing the board game ‘Guess Who’.

VAL

That’s cheating.

CHRIS

My house, my rules Val.

 

There’s a table between them, a filled fruit bowl and brass candles sit on top. Chris rocks back and forward.

VAL

It’s your parents rules. I’m the one who enforces them.

Pictures in gold frames hang above a marble fireplace. Chris in a shirt and tie. The family unit. The pictures are formal.

CHRIS

I’m still going first. Are they wearing a cap?

The sun casts a shadow from the blinds, bars stretching across the white carpet, creeping across a picture of Val and Chris.

VAL No. Is yours a boy?

There’s an empty bowl on the floor with ’Drippy’ written on it.

CHRIS (Groaning)

Yeaaah.

Does yours wear jewelry? There’s trophies on display, like a shrine.

VAL

Uh-huh. How about blonde hair?

CHRIS

No. Big nose?

A potted plant sits in front of a cupboard full of bourbon, vodka and gin, complimented by luxurious glasses and decanters. It’s all for show.

VAL

Damn it!

Chris’ board has six faces remaining. Five black, one white.

CHRIS

Better get the car started.

VAL

We ain’t done yet. Blue eyes?

Chris shakes his head. Val flips more faces down.

CHRIS

Are they black?

VAL

No.

Chris SLAMS all but one face down.

EXT. DRIVE WAY – MOMENTS LATER

The doors of a Toyata Corolla SLAM. We hear the car engine REV. The car takes off down the winding drive way to the giant iron gates at the entrance.

CUT TO:

INT. VAL’S CAR – CONTINUOUS

Chris sits in the back. Seat belt across his red jumper which reads ‘KICKER’ on it. Val turns on the radio.

RADIO HOST

Police are appealing for any witnesses to come forward regarding the disappearance of Georgie Sellars.

Rain spits at the windscreen. She turns the volume down.

CHRIS

Drippy ran away one time.

VAL

Oh? How long for?

Police car sirens WAIL as they drive past.

CHRIS

Over a week.

VAL

How’d you find him?

CHRIS

We put lots of fliers up around the neighbourhood.

The windscreen CREEKS as the wipers swipe.

CHRIS (CONT’D)

I came home after school and he was waiting with Mom and Dad.

Val’s facial expression is skeptical.

VAL

Well, that was lucky.

CHRIS

He was still a bit scared for a few weeks.

The wipers GROAN.

CHRIS (CONT’D)

I hope the same’ll happen with Georgie.

VAL

I’m sure they’ll find him.

INT. SHOPPING MALL – MOMENTS LATER

Chris darts into an open slot in the revolving door separating himself and Val as they enter. He pokes his tongue out as he waits for her to enter. The mall is bright, spacious and HEAVING.

Families and teens, there’s a general RABBLE of conversation, but above that there’s LAUGHTER and SHOUTING. Val SNATCHES Chris’ hand and leads him aside. Hanging on the wall are giant advertising tablets displaying perfume.

VAL

Don’t do that again, little man.

CHRIS

Can we get ice cream first?

The tablet ad changes to a movie poster titled “MISSING”.

VAL

On one condition: you hold my hand at all times.

Chris nods in agreement, trying to drag Val further into the mall. She obliges. They pass a clown making faces at a boy standing with his Mum, WAILING as he holds a balloon.

Chris starts to DRAG Val. Her bag SHAKES. His pace QUICKENS. He leads her FASTER. NIPPING between shoppers. Chris LAUGHS and WHOOPS as he narrowly avoids an elderly lady and her shopping bag. His fingers SLIP through hers.

VAL (CONT’D) (Shouting)

Chris! Get back here!

Chris is ABSORBED into the crowd. No longer visible, only his GIGGLES are audible.

VAL (CONT’D)

Chris!

A MAN dressed in purple steps out from a booth titled: “SECURI-HOME”.

MAN

Mam, can I interest you in-

Val BARGES him aside. She DARTS between people. The sign ‘NARDINI’S ICE CREAM’ is visible. She breaks through a crowd of people. Chris is standing waiting at the entrance with an OLDER MAN. His white beard is bushy and distinct. He’s wearing a blue anorak.

He’s kneeling. One hand rests on Chris’ shoulder, he holds a purple dragon plush toy in the other. He’s speaking to Chris but it’s inaudible.

VAL

Christopher!

The Older Man gets to his feet. They face Val. She notices the teddy.

VAL (CONT’D)

What did I tell you?!

OLDER MAN

Are you his mother?

VAL

His Nanny.

The Older Man’s hand grips Chris’ shoulder TIGHTER. OLDER MAN Keep a closer eye on him. Next time you might not be so… Chris groans and struggles slightly. The Older Man releases his grip.

OLDER MAN (CONT’D)

…Lucky.

VAL

..Right. Well… thanks, sir.

Val motions for Chris to come to her. He waddles over sheepishly. She clutches his hand and leads him away from ‘Nardini’s’. The Older Man watches, the plush toy dangles.

CHRIS

But Val! What about-

VAL

Nuh-uh. Not a chance. If your parents covered fuel we’d be going home right now.

Chris tries to strop but Val is in control, hauling him away.

VAL (CONT’D)

Any more of this and you ain’t getting to the arcade.

CHRIS

But-

VAL

No more buts! Or I’m sending you home with Captain Birdseye back there.

Chris looks up at her, his mouth agape. Val glares at him. He submits. His arm flimsy as she leads him onto the escalators.

PULL BACK to show the Older Man on the escalator. LURKING. Between him, Val and Chris are a family of four and two couples.

INT. ARCADE – CONTINUOUS

BELLS RING. ALARMS. BANGING. POPPING. Claws SNATCH at toys. Kids shoot at screens. Pucks FIRE across air hockey tables. Parents, kids and couples battle. Everyone is with someone. Chris and Val team up on the light gun game ‘Time Crisis II’.

On the console the villain drags his hostage off screen. Chris and Val take control and start shooting. Action shots of them shooting the screen, but from a distance. There’s a sense of voyeurism. Ducking and dodging, they CHEER, SNARL and GROWL at the screen.

Val YELPS. Her screen reads ‘Continue?’ She crouches down – revealing The Older Man, LINGERING behind them – she fumbles for money to continue. Chris tackles the rest of the game. ‘GAME OVER’. Val is too slow. Chris GROANS. The Older Man has VANISHED.

CHRIS

OH! OH! The ball pit play area.

Val CLAMPS her hand around his wrist. Chris tries to run deeper into the arcade towards the ball pit area.

VAL

Cool your jets little man.

Val reaches for her bag, clinging to him as he struggles.

CHRIS (whining)

I want to go to the ball pit.

They draw attention from passers by.

VAL

Stop it or we’re leaving.

CHRIS

You’re not my mom!

The attention grows. Eyes on them. Watching. Concern. Judging. A Mall Security Officer is speaking to the Older Man.

VAL (Hissing)

You’re making a scene.

CHRIS (Louder, repeating)

You’re not my mom! Let me go!

He WRIGGLES and STRIVES. Val is distracted by people stopping. She reaches again for her bag. Mall Security approach. Her grip is broken. Chris runs towards the ball pit.

VAL

Christopher!

She is met by an imposing Mall Security Officer. He’s young, bald and AGITATED. His stare INTENSE. His brow furrowed. His eyes pore over her. Fingers teasing handcuffs on his belt.

MALL SECURITY

There a problem here?

VAL

No, sorry.

She attempts to follow Chris. The Officer doesn’t move.

MALL SECURITY

That your kid?

VAL

No. I’m his Nanny. I need to- Val tries to push past him. His arm stretches and stops her.

MALL SECURITY

Right. His Nanny. I want to see some identification.

VAL

Sir, I need to-

MALL SECURITY

Ma’am, I watched you harassing a child who obviously-

He clears his throat, a smirk crosses his face.

MALL SECURITY (CONT’D)

-is not yours.

VAL

What’s that supposed to mean?

MALL SECURITY

It means that I want to see your ID. Please.

Val, fumbling, hurriedly producers her ID from her bag. He examines it meticulously.

MALL SECURITY (CONT’D)

Can you get in touch with his parents to confirm your position?

VAL

He’ll confirm it. Let’s go ask him.

She tries to push past again. He resists. They struggle.

VAL (CONT’D)

Let me- Chris!

MALL SECURITY

Alright, that’s enough!

The Officer sweeps her to the floor face first. Val screeches. A crowd gathers. The jovial atmosphere turns to hostile whispers.

VOICE IN THE CROWD 1

I saw her grabbing a kid.

VOICE IN THE CROWD 2

Maybe she’s the one.

VAL

Get off me!

He slaps the handcuffs around her wrists. He brushes the sides of his head with his hands. He kneels over her back.

VAL (CONT’D)

I haven’t done anything. He dips his head close to her ear.

MALL SECURITY

I wouldn’t recommend resisting arrest.

VAL

And what about Chris?!

The Officer activates the radio strapped to his shoulder. His brow has dampened.

MALL SECURITY

Requesting support in the arcade. Over. The response is immediate.

THOMSON

This is Thomson, I’ll be right there. Over.

MALL SECURITY

Thanks chief.

Val whimpers. The Officer reaffirms his grip.

INT. BALL PIT PLAY AREA – MOMENTS LATER

The Play Area is built on a ball pit foundation. Rope ladders, climbing frames, slides and polls. Kids dangle and dive, there’s pieces of clothing strewn around. A shoe dangles from a rope bridge, tied to it by it’s laces.

Parents wait around the outside, some chatter, some bark instructions at their kids and others look disinterested on their phones – relieved to have a break. We follow the Older Man’s plush toy as it dangles from his hand.

He walks down the corridor, entering the Play Area. He reaches the Ball Pit perimeter barrier.

OLDER MAN

Christopher?

We see his face now. Beardless. His anorak removed. His face appears friendlier, his demeanor calm, but his eyes glare.

MALE PARENT

Which one’s yours?

He surveys the ball pit. They fix on Chris, sitting up right.

OLDER MAN

That one.

He waves at Chris and jiggles the plush toy at him. Chris clambers out of the ball pit and across to the Older Man.

OLDER MAN (CONT’D)

Come along Christopher, Val’s waiting for you.

CHRIS

Where is she?

OLDER MAN

She’s back downstairs. They wouldn’t let her through here with the ice cream.

Chris looks at the Older Man. The Male Parent has returned to swiping on his phone. The Older Man offers the plush toy and Chris takes it. They leave the Play Area, the Older Man’s anorak left behind on the perimeter barrier.

INT. ARCADE – CONTINUOUS

Thomson pushes his way through the crowd. Answer Phone BEEP.

CHRIS’ MOM (V.O.)

Valerie. We’re about to board the flight.

He staggers through to see the Officer kneeling over Val.

CHRIS’ MOM (V.O.)

Make sure everything is ready for our arrival tomorrow.

The Officer lifts her to her feet. Thomson puts his hands on his hips, his head droops.

CHRIS’ MOM (V.O.)

Give our love to Chris. See you soon.

CUT TO:

INT. ARCADE – MOMENTS LATER

Thomson removes Val’s handcuffs. The Officer opens his mouth to speak. Thomson grits his teeth, purses his lips and holds his finger up to SHUSH him.

THOMSON

Where’d the boy go?

VAL

The ball pit. Through the back!

INT. BALL PIT PLAY AREA – CONTINUOUS

The three rush into the Play Area. Val looks around panicked. She leans on the perimeter barrier.

VAL (Shouting)

Christopher?!

Thomson and the Officer both reach the barrier. Val walks past it, into the play area.

VAL (CONT’D)

Chris?!

MALE PARENT

You just missed him.

Val notices a group of kids playing. One of them wears a blue anorak. The other wears a big white beard, smothering his face. The other kids pull at it playfully. GIGGLING.

THOMSON

Where is he?

VAL

The beard…

Val returns to Thomson and the Officer.

MALE PARENT

He just left with his Dad.

THOMSON

What did he look like?

MALE PARENT I dunno, clean shaven. He had some dragon teddy with him. There a problem?

Thomson turns to his radio.

THOMSON

There’s a missing boy. Suspected kidnapping. Mark all the exits. Keep an eye out for any dragon teddies, get across the cameras and find him.

The trio rush from the ball pit area. The Male Parent looks perplexed. In the background, the kids succeed in ripping the beard off their companion.

INT. ARCADE – CONTINUOUS

Val CHARGES through the arcade. In an almost trance-like state. BARGING past people. A coin cup is scattered, games interrupted, drinks spilled.

INT. SHOPPING MALL – CONTINUOUS

She splutters and pants as she THRUSTS them out of the way on the escalator and dodging in between them. She continues to SCREAM Chris’ name in vain. On the ground floor now. Still no sign of him. People are startled by her panicked screams.

Someone grabs her arm. She turns, coiled, ready to STRIKE. It’s Thomson.

THOMSON

Any sign?

VAL (Distraught)

Nothing!

THOMSON

We’ll find him. Keep looking.

They separate. She’s running. She CLATTERS into a mother and her son. Val and the son hit the floor with a THUD. The balloon he held escapes his grasp, floating away. Free. He erupts into tears.

As she lies on the ground sound is distorted for a moment before returning with the cries of the son. Val blinks. Her cheek sticks to the cold marble floor, her reflection visible. Her eyes catch sight of something, discarded on a metallic chair. People pass by the seats. It’s the plush toy. Sitting alone. Two empty seats alongside. Her eyes widen.

FADE TO BLACK.

The Matrix – 20 Years On

The Matrix – Twenty Years On.

By Andrew McKissock

Upon discovering that The Matrix is twenty years old in 2019, I was reminiscent of protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) as he learns he’s been living inside a computer simulation. He panics, shouting “I don’t believe it. I want out!” before eventually vomiting. As Neo’s world unravels, so do my attempts to cling to my youth.

So what’s behind the longevity of The Matrix? The story can be read allegorically in ways which remain relevant today. You could interpret the machines turning humanity into batteries as a metaphor for mankind being enslaved by capitalism. There’s also the notion that Neo’s awakening is an analogy for transitioning – Lana and Lilly Wachowski both came out as trans after the trilogy released.

The opening five minutes of the film set the scene perfectly; Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) runs along walls, jumps impossible distances and swats two police units aside before fleeing in terror from Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his cohorts. She’s demonstrably capable of remarkable actions and yet she doesn’t entertain the thought of attempting to battle the Agents, which establishes their threat. She escapes by answering a ringing phone before Smith smashes a truck into it. The action is jaw dropping – whilst hinting at a greater, more complex threat.

That threat is the Matrix itself. As Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) and Trinity attempt to free Neo, the man they believe to be the saviour of humanity, Smith and the system race to prevent them. When Smith arrests and interrogates Neo, the allegory for transitioning starts to take shape. He denies any future for Neo if he refuses to return to his life as Thomas Anderson, a part of the status quo. This evokes parallels of refusing to acknowledge trans identity, instead choosing to identity them by their deadname – a theme which continues through to Neo’s final confrontation with Smith.

We later learn that the Agents can manifest themselves in anybody plugged into the Matrix. If we continue to apply a trans reading and the Agents represent transphobia, it suggests that anyone plugged into the system is a potential threat to Neo and his comrades’ existence – that fear and hatred can appear when you least expect it.

As Morpheus teaches Neo about the simulations origins, he reveals that humans are now grown – serving as a power source for the Matrix. Humans are born into bondage with the system, propping it up with little reward and are easily replaceable. Oxfam recently revealed that the 26 richest people in the world own as much as 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. It’s easy to see the similarities between populations sustaining two systems, capitalism and the Matrix, with scant reward for their enormous contribution.

Whilst strands of religious symbolism, morality and philosophical questions are woven seamlessly into the film, it’s possible that The Matrix still resonates because it’s a kick ass movie bursting with slick fight scenes that ooze style rarely matches in the modern films it helped inspire. As Neo and Trinity attempt to save Morpheus, Neo reveals to security guards that he’s armed to the teeth under his leather overcoat. It’s as iconic a moment as the slow motion ‘bullet time’ battle which follows.

The film’s climax is a masterclass in tension. Everything the film sets up in the first two acts are paid off in the final as Neo faces off against Agent Smith in the Matrix, whilst Morpheus and Trinity battle machines in the real world. The Wachowskis consistently blend moments of levity with outrageous action and high concept philosophy. They manage to package them into something easily digestible for the audience; something which, twenty years later, few sci-fi movies readily achieve.

In celebration of its twentieth anniversary The Matrix is being screened at the 2019 Glasgow Film Festival on February 22nd. Tickets are still available, offering moviegoers the chance to free their mind at the Argyll Street Arches, with the promise of an after party to unplug – hopefully without the threat of Agents crashing by.

‘Fragments of Memories’

Christmas traditions. Every family has them, good and bad. Mostly bad. I still remember rare moments of unity with my sister, bemoaning our mum’s compulsory photoshoot at the top of the stairs with the two of us holding our stockings.

I check my watch, 21.43. My pace quickens, the train within reach. Santa and Rudolph lurch toward the carriage ahead of me with arms linked and cases of dark fruits lodged between their free arms. I opt to avoid their particular brand of festivity and nip into the next carriage.

The train doors bleep and a whistle tears through the jovial atmosphere the carriage is wrapped in. The Just before the doors close a mother and son bounce inside. They celebrate their victory with high fives, each sharp inhale followed by a giggle. The train jolts to a start. As they collect themselves they approach me.

“Is it alright if we sit here?”

“Of course!” I answer, moving my briefcase from the table. Unlike any the rest of the year, I don’t grudge them.

I look out the window, catching their reflection against the darkened backdrop, Christmas lights dwindling as we depart the city. My eyes are drawn to the Christmas tree lodged in the boy’s jumper as he tries to rid himself of it, half revealing a Stormtrooper t-shirt underneath. His mum hauls it back down.

“It’s too cold.” She says. The boy crosses his arms.

I recall the battles I had with mum, trying to rid myself of each Christmas jumper. First it was too itchy, then I feigned an allergy. None of the excuses ever successful. Teachers have heard them all. I should have embraced it back then.

Christmas traditions. Every family has them, good and bad. Mostly bad. I still remember rare moments of unity with my sister, bemoaning our mum’s compulsory photoshoot at the top of the stairs with the two of us holding our stockings. It’s fun to look back and see how progressively worse the hangovers got over the years. Although we were ready to declare all-out war when she insisted on videoing us opening presents in our twenties, resisting became part of the theatre of the day. We might have hated it but fighting the camcorder became a fun tradition in itself.

I like to think Mum felt the same about me trying to sneak downstairs to open the presents every twenty minutes from two in the morning onwards. She must have preferred that to me stoating in at two with presents still to wrap. I swear that’s what killed me during the family quiz that my sister started after Christmas dinner. I dread and miss those games.

The carriage slowly empties as we pass each stop, each departure diluting the cheer until it’s time for the last stop. The remnants trickle up to the train door behind me. I resist the urge to assure them of my love for Christmas. My suit doesn’t fit with the dress code of Santa hats, antlers and Christmas jumpers.

After we filter out of the train I pass the boy and his mother as she zips his jacket over his jumper. I smile at the boy.

“Merry Christmas,” he says.

“Merry Christmas,” I reply, “Make the most of it.”

I meander up the winding road to my apartment block, wrestling the key into the lock before it finally turns. My footsteps echo up the staircase, it’s especially cold here. I enter into my apartment, neglecting the big light, opting instead for the lights which strangle the tree hiding in the corner of the room which extend around my window. I check the answer machine as I do every year for a message that doesn’t come. One of my three Christmas traditions. I fetch my Christmas jumper and change into it, making sure to flick the switch that makes the lights attached glow. I open my briefcase and remove the pack of six mince pies. I stick three of them in the microwave and heat them.

Mum used to usher me out the door round to old Mrs Fisher’s house to deliver banana loaf she’d cooked, my reward was taking the brunt of an hour long conversation. It’s the one tradition I can preserve. The microwave dings and I stick them on a plate. There’s no response at the first two doors on my floor, so I leave the pies sitting at the doorstep. They’re probably still out. I can hear Christmas songs from the last door. I knock the door and linger. They probably can’t hear me over the music, so I knock louder. There’s no response. I think I can hear muffled voices as I motion to knock again but I stop. I place the pie at the door.

“Maybe next year”, I say.

Let’s Talk About Oscar Categories

We need to recognise the films featuring men resembling a half melted candle opposite the latest talked-about actresses on the scene.

Recently the Academy’s decision to introduce the award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film sparked fierce debate about which honours belong at Tinsel Town’s showpiece event. As it’s the season of goodwill, it’s only fair that we put together a list of awards categories which have been neglected for too long.

The Award for Best Cinematic Universe, in which the only candidate is the Fast and the Furious franchise. The Award for Best Donald Glover Performance; is it for acting, writing or soundtrack? Probably all three. How about an award for actors and actresses cursed by being typecast? Yes, I am trying to find a legitimate award for Mark Hamill, but I’m also looking at you, Meg Ryan.

We’ve got an award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, but what about the Best Unoriginal Screenplay? Let’s hear it for the reboot of the remake of the movie adapted from the book, adapted from the fairytale. Robin Hood has recently returned to the big screen and if there’s one thing we’ve been begging for it’s an updated take on the notorious outlaw in order to ask: which will be more vacant? The script or the cinema? You’d have to travel all the way back to the distant year of 2010 for the previous adaptation, released alongside films such as Alice in Wonderland. Don’t even think about it, Hollywood.

Remarkably, one of Hollywood’s favourite tropes has yet to receive an awards category. I present to you the Award for Outstanding Age Difference between co-stars. It’s commonly known that men are allowed to age in the film industry whilst women seem to ridiculously pass their sell-by date by forty – if they’re lucky. We need to recognise the films featuring men resembling a half melted candle opposite the latest talked-about actresses on the scene. Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Brie Larson are some of the many lucky women to embark upon this rite of passage.

Sticking with age, it’s high time the Oscars introduced the The Liv Tyler Lifetime Achievement Award for Women. If movies have taught us anything it’s that when a woman’s fuckability expires, she might as well start a trendy smoothie company. As San Diego State University’s recent study shows, only 29% of women over forty star in mainstream movies. This award would help the next batch of actresses in their late thirties transition into the next stage of their career: network television, subpar Netflix movies and relative obscurity.

Saving the best for last, I think we’d all welcome the Matt Damon Medal of Commendation award. It’s been a rough year for all the ‘good guys’ in Hollywood – isn’t it time for them to get some recognition? Last year Damon bemoaned the lack of attention on those in Hollywood who don’t partake in sexual misconduct and are in fact decent human beings. It’s time we gave those men the respect they deserve on the back of a difficult year for them. Keep holding those doors open you chivalrous champions!

High Brow Horror

Many of the best critical performers in the horror genre today are dwarfed by the financial success of those which hold comparatively little critical credence.

Many of the best critical performers in the horror genre today are dwarfed by the financial success of those which hold comparatively little critical credence. Whilst outliers such as A Quiet Place (2018) are both box office and critical successes, far more prevalent are bloated franchises packed with jump-scares, many of which appear to have been chopped up and reassembled in a slightly different order from their predecessors. But why do audiences opt for franchised offerings like The Nun (2018)? What makes them more profitable than critical successes Hereditary (2018) or It Comes At Night (2017)? 

We need only look at the Paranormal Activity franchise, an example of the formula A Quiet Place seems destined to fall victim to. The first movie in the series was a genre-changing hit with audiences and critics alike, grossing $139m against a meagre $15,000 budget. It earns the scares through a slow build of tension and disconcerting scenes such as the iconic moment its protagonist, Katie, wakes in the middle of the night to stand lingering over her bed for hours. By the time 2015’s The Ghost Dimension was released, everything the first entry had done successfully had been butchered. The franchise became a shambolic mess of jump-scares and was consequently slaughtered by critics. The root of this can be traced back to Paramount adding a new theatrical ending to the original which was included in the film’s wider release, adding a jump-scare finale as a setup for future instalments. Once the imagination had bled from the franchise in exchange for lazy moments of shock, Paranormal Activity became a safe financial investment.

Similarly, franchises offer audiences the kind of safety that original-concept just can’t. The formulaic nature of franchised horror films grants ticket-holders a feeling of comfort and familiarity. Originality doesn’t always appeal when the option to step back into recognisable scares already exists. Take the recent entry into the Conjuring franchise, The Nun. The film’s effectiveness hinges solely upon whether you find the appearance of its titular character scary. After that, it relies upon jump-scares in order to frighten its audience. There’s little imagination offered up in these lazy attempts to frighten, and this transfers to the viewer. It’s momentary terror driven by a sudden intrusion of noise, often without an accompanying frightening image. Scared, we may be; but the feeling passes. We’re not asked to think too hard, and if we do we’re likely to dismantle a nonsensical plot. We leave the cinema with an adrenaline rush, but there’s little to dissect and no lasting effect on our psyche. 

In contrast, the horror of It Comes at Night is born from the unknown. It examines psychological degradation as one family struggles to maintain their humanity under threat of infection from an unseen enemy. The audience is given no information about the infection, we never see any creature or infected humans actively trying to hurt them. The tension is instead drawn out through a dubious friendship with another family and the resulting paranoia created. The film effectively approaches its world building with unsettling imagery, an atmospheric soundtrack and its placing of characters under extreme duress, all elements which linger long after the film ends. Yet, the marketing for the film by production company A24 presents it like a creature horror much more akin to 28 Days Later (2002).

This year’s Hereditary issues a lethal injection of terror with its compelling depiction of a family unravelling in grief. It was billed as ‘this generations The Exorcist and yet, The Nungrossed nearly $300m more at the box office. Hereditary was also distributed by A24, with much of the promotional material portraying a more generic movie seemingly revolving around a disturbed child. There’s a correlation between packaging psychological horror films as formulaic and their poor performance with audiences. It suggests that we would rather take our chances with the spooky Nun, which has a tangible presence, than the more abstract haunting presence of evil which is liable to linger in our minds. When presented with a film which is more challenging than initially promoted, audiences respond negatively.  

This goes someway to explaining why A Quiet Place enjoyed such universal success. It managed to blend unnerving imagery and a tense atmosphere with an accessible story. There is undoubtedly a place for both the jump-scare and more emotionally challenging horror. Whilst some films will lean heavily on one or the other, the best manage to combine them, earning the scares which service a story that audiences are invested in; allowing the horror haunt us long after the closing credits.

Skate Kitchen – Review

It’s a welcome change to see women with agency in a culture which is often portrayed as predominantly masculine.

There’s a moment in Crystal Moselle’s 2018 Movie ‘Skate Kitchen’ where the titular posse pass a young girl on their skateboards as they roam through New York City. The girl turns and gawks at the group, whilst her mother drags her in the opposite direction. It’s easy to relate to the young girl as we’re thrust into the New York City skateboarding subculture, just as we relate to protagonist Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) who struggles with her identity throughout the movie.

The film opens with Camille suffering a particularly nasty injury whilst skating in her local Long Island area. Despite being in pain she attempts to skate home, still wearing hospital clothing, which grants us an immediate insight into the importance of skateboarding to her identity. When her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) bans her from skating, it’s clear she’s going to ignore her. Their relationship is turbulent – her mother often speaks to her in Spanish, but Camille only responds in English. Such is the disconnection between them, her mother stumbles through asking if she’s alright after a follow up hospital visit.

Where Camille does find a connection, however, is with the all-female ‘Skate Kitchen’ in New York City. Though her introduction is awkward, she decides to meet with them because of a post on the group’s instagram and establishes a rapport through her skateboarding. Still, we can sense her discomfort as the squad skate off through the city traffic and she is left behind. Director Crystal Moselle is excellent at capturing mood and perspective through moments like this, using locations, street signs, street art and backgrounds to great effect. As the group of friends chill and smoke they cling to a fence which segregates their decaying skate park from the affluent city in the distance.

As Camille’s relationship with her mother crumbles, she moves in with Janay (Ardelia Lovelace) and her family. She grows closer to her and the group and, more comfortable with her sense of self, adopting lingo used by the group’s brash leader Kurt (Nina Moran). The film is at its strongest when discussing teenage insecurities and sexuality. The group also explore concerns about the insidious aspect to male skaters they encounter which serves to foreshadow a close call later in the film. It’s a welcome change to see women with agency in a culture which is often portrayed as predominantly masculine. The dialogue feels natural, rarely indulging heavily in exposition, instead only opting to do so when it’s earned.

However, when her newfound friendships threaten to come off the rails, Camille is forced to confront old wounds. Her past insecurities seep into the new identity she’s established – testing whether it can survive without her friends and without the security of skateboarding. ‘Skate Kitchen’ demonstrates the strength an individual can gain through friendship. It encourages us to share our passions, to reach out and form bonds, as Camille does, gaining confidence as an individual – and as part of a team.