An extract from FRIGHT AT FRESH START FOREST!, a screenplay for an animated film, written by Ben Jones as their MA dissertation.
EXT. SPOOKY FOREST – NIGHT
We see the POV of SOMEONE treading carefully through a dark forest. They have a flickering torch which they point slowly around, checking for dangers.
A branch SNAPS behind them. They spin round with their torch. Can’t see anything.
They keep walking. Then another SNAP to the left. They point their torch. Nothing.
Then to their right. Then another behind them, then to their left; a cacophany of SNAPS.
Our POV character breaks into a run, panting with fear as the SNAPS seem to follow.
Their torch goes off. The character shakes it, smacks it.
It turns back on just as a SQUID-ZOMBIE (half rotting squid, half rotting man in a suit) pounces in front of them! It ROARS in their face.
BONK. Their torch is now a crowbar, which they’ve just bonked the Squid-Zombie over the head with.
The creature moans, their whole body flashing red. A health meter appears over their head, slowly going down.
The POV character quickly deals a second BONK:
Eat crowbar, you walking sushi dish!
And a third BONK:
POV CHARACTER (CONT’D)
And a final, killing BONK:
POV CHARACTER (CONT’D)
Eat crowbar, you walking sushi dish!
The Squid-Zombie falls to the ground, it’s corpse simply fading away.
INT. JO’S BEDROOM – DAY
The previous POV scene continues on the screen of a small telly, in a dark room with the curtains closed.
There’s a games console plugged in at the side, with an open games case for ‘CALAMARI CORPSE 9’ sat on top.
ON SCREEN, more squid-zombies emerge from the trees.
God. Squid-zombies just won’t stay dead.
Sat on the edge of a bed in front of the telly, clutching a games controller, is JO WRIGHT (12, black, they/them).
They stare at the screen with wide, expressive eyes, though one eye is covered by their long, frizzy hair.
They’re wearing a scruffy high school uniform, as well as wristbands all the way up both their wrists, with nerdy logos on most of them (including ‘CALAMARI CORPSE’).
As more crowbar-BONKS, ROARS, and blood SPLATTERS come from the game, they smile and breathe peacefully, as if meditating.
A yell comes through the walls – it’s MICHELLE WRIGHT (late-30s, black, she/her):
Josie! Livie! Dinner’s ready!
Jo winces, clenching their controller. They keep playing.
Uhm? Josie, did you hear me?
Could I just have it in my room, please?
They brace for the answer.
Nothing. That’s odd.
Then they jump as Michelle bursts in. She’s plus-size with floral vintage clothing, plus a pair of tree-shaped earrings, made from a honey-brown, slightly gooey material.
She yanks the curtains open, Jo flinching like a vampire, then reaches to turn the TV off.
She stops to stare askance at the game, shudders in resigned bewilderment, then turns it off.
She lifts Jo’s hair away from their eyes.
Be a good girl and eat with your family, Josie.
INT. WRIGHT FAMILY DINING ROOM – DAY
Jo is sat at a dining table, picking at their dinner. A radio in the background softly plays ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston.
LIVIE WRIGHT (12, black, she/her; Jo’s twin but with styled hair and makeup) sits opposite, slowly forking food into her mouth with one hand whilst holding her phone in the other.
She’s scrolling through Facebook – clicks ‘Like’ on a friend’s super-smiley poolside selfie, with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tag, ‘Taken at Fresh Start Forest’.
Sat between them both, at the end of the table, is Michelle, smiling determinedly through the awkwardness.
So girls, how was school today?
Fine, thanks. Mm? Oh yeah. Fine, I guess.
(forces a chuckle)
That doesn’t tell me much, does it?
What did you get up to in class?
Not much. Y’know, stuff. Reading books,
writing in books.
Right. Well, that sounds…
Hey, your birthdays are only next
weekend! Exciting! Have you decided
how you want to celebrate?
Going round Caitlin’s for a sleepover.
Oh. Okay, or she’s welcome to sleep round here?
Nah, you’re alright.
Right. What about you, Josie?
I don’t wanna do anything special if that’s okay.
Don’t be silly, sweetheart, it’s your thirteenth birthday.
Michelle leans in close and pinches Jo’s cheek. Jo recoils and starts anxiously scratching at their wristbands.
You need to think of something, young
lady. You’re not spending another
birthday in your room all day.
Jo’s wristband-scratching gets faster.
This year, you’re going to show your face.
And that face is going to blow out candles
on a lovely birthday cake that doesn’t have a
rotting squid-person on it, thank you very much.
Jo’s wristband-scratching is so fast, there’s smoke.
Michelle slaps their hand down. Jo stares at the ground.
Michelle looks at both her children. She’s at a loss.
Then she’s hit by one last idea:
Hey. Who’d like to play a game of Twister later?
Jo and Livie look at each other, panicked.
Homework, me too, sorry!
They wolf down what’s left of their meals in record time. They struggle on the final swallow.
JO & LIVIE
They dash out, leaving Michelle with only Whitney for company.
She forlornly fiddles with one of her earrings, and gazes up at a photo on the wall, of her in her 20s and the kids as toddlers, hugging and laughing.
We hear CHILDREN’S LAUGHTER.
INT. PRIMARY SCHOOL CLASSROOM – DAY
A CLASS OF SEVEN-YEAR-OLDS (about 25 kids) are sat on the carpet, giggling their heads off.
They’re watching two of their classmates, a GIRL and a BOY, all twisted up on a world map version of Twister.
Michelle is stood at the front of the class, laughing with them.
Georgia? Right leg, Japan.
All the other kids point and yell out suggestions.
Uhm? Audience? No helping her, please.
They all hush, rapt. The girl (GEORGIA) reaches her right leg towards Australia.
Ooh, not quite.
She overstretches, causing her and her opponent to collapse into a heap of limbs and laughter.
The school bell RINGS. The whole class make disappointed moans.
Michelle looks super validated.
INT. PRIMARY SCHOOL STAFF ROOM – DAY
Michelle is sat on a sofa in the corner of a busy office/kitchen, eating salad from a tupperware box.
A SMILEY TEACHER (early-40s, any race, she/her) strolls in.
Hello everybody! Hello Michael. Hello
Jenny, you look really pretty today.
Not that you don’t look pretty every day!
She laughs, seemingly unaware that everyone is staring at her. She approaches someone by the staff kettle.
SMILEY TEACHER (CONT’D)
Oh, Lorna, let me help you with that. The button sticks!
SALLY (late-30s, any race, she/her) leans towards Michelle from the other side of the sofa and whispers:
What the hell’s gotten into Grumpy Gwen?
I don’t know. Last I heard, she was going through a nasty divorce.
The smiley teacher (GRUMPY GWEN) turns to look directly at Michelle and Sally, who straighten up with panic.
She waves. Walks over to them.
My ears are burning!
We were just saying what a lovely mood you seem to be in, Gwen.
Oh abso-tively! I’ve just had the loveliest few days
off. Me and Harry took the kids to Fresh Start
Forest? You know, voted the UK’s number
one leisure park three years in a row?
Oh yeah. Been meaning to go there.
Grumpy Gwen puts a hand on Sally’s shoulder, which Sally just stares at.
I really recommend it, Sally. The best vibes. It’s
funny though; we were gonna cancel it because,
well, in the time since booking, me
and Harry started divorce proceedings.
Oh, I’m so sorry. Yeah, I knew that.
Michelle slaps Sally’s arm. But Grumpy Gwen just laughs and playfully shakes Sally.
Of course you knew that, you gossip girl, you!
The only people who didn’t know were our
kids. We thought; “We’ll grin and bear it, for
their sakes, and break the bad news when we get
back”. But when we got there, it was like magic.
One-by-one, everyone in the room starts eavesdropping on this conversation.
GRUMPY GWEN (CONT’D)
Just a few days of being outside and active
together as a family, and me and Harry
are now more in love than ever.
Grumpy Gwen starts pacing and turning her body like a TED Talk speaker, to address the whole eavesdropping-audience.
GRUMPY GWEN (CONT’D)
And same with the kids! They’re now always
wanting to play games with us, or go for walks
with us. It’s just like Roy Mulder Jr.
says. We just needed a Fresh Start.
Everyone nods and whispers to each other, some impressed, some uneasy. One TEACHER (40s) claps, before shyly stopping.
Michelle fiddles with her earring again. Lost in thought.
INT. MICHELLE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
Michelle is in bed, on her tablet. We hear a Tom Hanks-esque voice:
ROY MULDER JR. (V.O.)
Way I see it, the younger generation
are pulling away from their parents…
ON SCREEN is the Fresh Start Forest website, playing a video with several sun-dappled shots of families, running through the woods, riding zipwires up high, and splashing about in swimming pools.
ROY MULDER JR. (V.O., CONT’D)
…and pulling away from traditional values like respect.
Fitness. Unity. Fresh Start Forest? Well, it gives
them a gentle push back in the right direction.
The video cuts to a shot of ROY MULDER JR. (late-60s, white, he/him; wearing a bespoke suit) stood in front of a smiling crowd of families wearing Fresh Start gift shop shirts.
ROY MULDER JR. (CONT’D)
This is Roy Mulder Jr., proud owner and founder
of the Fresh Start franchise, saying to you parents
out there: your family isn’t in trouble.
MULDER & CROWD
You just need a Fresh Start!
Michelle looks up at a calendar on the wall. That weekend’s date is circled: ‘JOSIE & LIVIE’S 13th BDAYS!!!’
She looks back at her tablet: ON SCREEN, to the side of the finished video, is a ‘BOOK NOW’ button.
INT. JO’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
Jo’s playing Calamari Corpse again. They look away when they hear:
Girls! Can you come here for a minute
please? I’ve got a surprise for you!
A blood-curdling SHRIEK comes from the game. Jo looks back in time to see the ‘GAME OVER’ screen.
We hear ‘Happy Birthday’ by Stevie Wonder.
INT./EXT. WRIGHT FAMILY CAR – DAY [DRIVING]
‘Happy Birthday’ continues via the family car’s radio. Michelle’s driving and SINGING along.
Come on, everybody now!
Jo is sat in the back seat, wearing a baggy jumper and jeans (wristbands peeking out from their sleeves), with a face like a hostage. They do not join in the song.
Livie is sat in the back too, a seat between them, wearing a summery crop top and jorts, looking furiously bored. She also does not sing.
Livie’s phone PINGS – a message from ‘Caitlin <3’: ‘Where are u???’ Livie types: ‘KIDNAPPED. SEND HELP.’
Without looking, Michelle reaches back and snatches the phone off her.
Uhm! Device-free-weekend, young lady.
Jo looks out the window as they pass a sign for ‘FRESH START FOREST: Turn Here for your Fresh Start!’.
They grip their wristband-wrist to their chest like a wealthy woman clutching their pearls.
End of Extract.