Terrifying thriller? Or self-fulfilling prophecy?
by Aimée Lagos
I wrote the script years ago. It’s called No Good Deed and it’s coming to a theatre near you. And now suddenly I find myself living it – almost exactly – as if it was some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Problem is – it’s a home invasion thriller that ends with a destroyed family and serious body count.
When I wrote it I was single, living alone, career on the rise and totally carefree. So what made me write a thriller about a woman who had achieved success in her career, got married, had kids, bought a beautiful new house in the burbs but then suddenly found herself in a strained marriage, fumbling through the pitfalls of new parenthood, enduring the chaos of a remodel and facing an impending identity crisis? Was it that I’d seen that happen to so many women around me and just had to write it down? Was my intent to tell the story of a life that too many women are silently struggling through and to hopefully empower them in the telling of it? Or was it some sort of prescient vision of my own future, a prophetic moment of clarity about what lay in the path ahead of me? And if it was indeed prophetic, where does the prophecy end?
When the script was in development at The Montecito Picture Company, I was sitting in a notes meeting with Ivan Reitman and he asked me to work on one of the opening scenes where the protagonist gets in an argument with her husband about grocery shopping with the kids. His first question was how did I know that this is what people with kids fight about? It seemed a strange question to me at the time. Now, having just had that same argument with my husband, I too wonder how I could possibly have known? His second question was more pointed. Could I change the dialogue in the scene a bit – the protagonist sounded too “bitchy.” I got very defensive. “Bitchy?” You try schlepping an infant and a toddler around a grocery store as they knock things off the shelves and cry for seemingly no reason causing your milk to let down which mortifyingly soaks the front of your t-shirt while you try to gather the food your family needs for the week and then tell me she sounds “bitchy!”
But wait, who the hell was I? There was no infant or toddler in my life, no leaky nipples, no schlepping. I am suddenly realizing now exactly who I was in that moment. I was my future self! I bristled at his comment not only because I dislike the word bitch, but because I was the “bitch” he was referring to (just a few years before I’d become her).
Now sitting in my beautiful new house (okay it’s not in the burbs but it is tucked away in the hills), my baby having just finger painted the kitchen with her lunch, my house swarming with workers finishing our remodel and my husband nowhere in sight because he’s off shooting a film, I realize this is the opening scene of the movie right down to the random worker walking in just as my child stops nursing and my breast pops out of her mouth, completely exposed.
Okay, so the opening scene is the same. Maybe it’s just a universal experience – no prophecy here. I can rest assured that even though the set up is uncannily similar to my life, the plot would certainly not unfold in anything even close to a similar manner. There would be no confluence of random incidents that would leave me without any way to communicate with the outside world – no dead cell phones or broken alarm systems. There would be no trip (or night shoot) to keep my husband away until morning. There would be no stranger knocking at my door with a deceptively charming smile and a seemingly simple need to use the phone. Right?
Then the ADT alarm starts to beep. It has been doing this randomly for days, each time threatening to wake a finally sleeping baby. I call the alarm company. The system isn’t getting enough signal to communicate with their centers – they’ll send a tech at some point in the next week. Several more minutes of beeping and I can’t take it anymore. I disable the system unplugging the main keypad and taking out the batteries on the others. As I put the batteries in the drawer I think to myself, “At least I’m being calm about it. In the script she smashes the thing into oblivion because she’s so frustrated . . . ”
I check my phone for my husband’s shooting schedule and am reminded that he won’t be home until after midnight. It’s not the “golf trip” her husband takes in the movie, but it will leave me alone for the night.
Then suddenly more beeping. It’s the AT&T box. The M-cell is out. Now I have no cell service and no wifi. As I unplug the box that is my last connection to the outside world, I think to myself, “If only I’d thought of this device to cut her off from the ability to call for help I wouldn’t have had to write that scene where the kid drops the phone in the puddle at the grocery store . . . ”
But I don’t start really putting it all together until I walk into the kitchen to start dinner and notice a thick fog rolling in over the hills. Clouds gathering on my front lawn just as they do at the end of act one. If act two continues to play out, I’m in serious trouble. I pause and think, “I should make sure the house is locked up – just in case.”
And as I stand watching the sky go dark, suddenly there is a knock at the door. This is the break into act two! I wrack my brain. If she didn’t open the door would the rest of the story unfold as disastrously as it does? Could I change the plot now or was I doomed to a fate I’d unknowingly written for myself years ago? She had to become the hero of her own story – in the script it took three full acts for her to realize this. Could I learn it before the end of act one? Another knock. A man’s voice, “Hello?” I walk over to the front door . . . and lock it.Tags: Aimée Lagos, Creativity, Entertainment industry, Film industry, Hollywood, Home invasion thriller, Imagination run wild, Ivan Reitman, Motherhood, No Good Deed, Real life mirroring art, Screenwriter, The Montecito Picture Company