SUSPENSE / THRILLER SUSPENSE/THRILLER DETECTIVE DRAMA MYSTERY HISTORICAL FICTION
1940s & '50s
A murder mystery exploring both "who done it" and a dark side of “The Greatest Generation” in the 1950s, the perpetrator, a 12-year-old boy, masks his guilt from a hard-edged police chief until the end and after the boy's mother fails to use the cop to escape her claustrophobic life.
Suspense / Thriller,,Suspense/Thriller,Detective,Drama,Mystery,Historical Fiction
An ex-Marine is shooting at quarts in the woods with a rifle as his 12-year-old son (Greg), a miniature jar-head, watches; the abusive father then surprises the boy with a new .22 and threatens severe punishment if the boy ever touches the gun on the sly.
Police chief Myers, with gun drawn, rushes into a bedroom as Greg, holding a stiletto high above the belly of a young girl—the only witness to Greg’s crime—pauses for a beat, but as the knife begins its descent, an unseen gun behind Myers fires, kills Greg, and saves the girl.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and surrounds in 1955
Based on a True Story
Plot - Premise
Plot - Other Elements
Twist,A lost soul seeking connection
Mature Audience Themes
Language/Profanity, Extreme Violence,Extreme Violence,Nudity, Language/Profanity
Main Character Details
Name: Karl Myers
Key Traits: Secretive, Strong Moral Code, Perseverance, Leader, Blunt, Complex, Decisive, Modest, Selfless, Masculine, Educated, Heroic, Lone Wolf,Masculine,Modest,Complex,Honorable,Leader,Selfless,Strong Moral Code,Lone Wolf
Additional Character Details
Name: Vivian Peterman
Key Traits: Secretive, Seductive, Aggressive, Beautiful, Complex, Desperate, Insecure, Manipulative,Desperate,Seductive,Empathetic,Insecure
Additional Character Details
Name: Greg Peterman
Key Traits: Desperate, Insecure, Manipulative, Secretive, Villainous,Insecure,Secretive,Manipulative,Unapologetic
Additional Character Details
Name: Jerry Peterman
Key Traits: Villainous, Aggressive, Blunt, Insecure, Masculine, Outspoken, Secretive, Unapologetic,Aggressive,Masculine,Narcisstic,Blunt,Unapologetic,Secretive
Set in a small town in 1955, "The Innocents" is a strong depiction of Historical Noir, which James Ellroy characterizes as the “The wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance ... it canonizes the inherent human urge toward self-destruction.” Ex-Marine master sergeant and small town police chief, Karl Myers, is one of four principal characters, each of whom hurtles headlong toward personal demolition. Myer’s marriage has dissolved; he lives in the brief spaces between calls, and reaches for the bourbon bottle more often than is good for him. Jerry and Vivian Peterman's abusive marriage is on the brink of collapse when a brutal murder of a 12-year-old boy involving Greg, their 12-year-old son, pulls back the curtains on the seldom-exposed dark side of The Greatest Generation. Greg, who knows what has happened, masks the truth and his guilt until the mystery is resolved almost serendipitously at the end of the story, which is shortly after Vivian's attempt to use Myers as a vehicle to escape her claustrophobic life explodes and turns the lives of both Vivian and Myers upside down.
Greg uses the gun his abusive father told him not to. The gun ends up shooting his friend Barry and Greg decides to kill the boy in order to avoid being abused by his father. Greg's coverup of the crime gets stickier and stickier until he is forced to try and silence the one witness. Luckily the girl is saved, but only after the police chief is forced to shoot Greg; which is unfortunate as killing Greg puts an end to the love affair between the chief and Greg's mom.
Authors Writing Style: GOOD
Franchise Potential: FAIR
Accuracy of Book Profile
The logline for the typeform synopsis perfectly captures the repression and problems with the hyper gendered roles of the 1950s post WWII American Dream. However the profile keeps Barry's killer vague when it is witnessed very early in the book. There is only a murder mystery to the police and the tension stems from people keeping secrets that the audience knows about. However the profile makes the story seem more like a mystery than a dramatic thriller.
Draw of Story
The tone of repression and fear is set early on and really adds to the lived in feel of the setting. It is like a small town noir that has a fresh setting, but tonally keeps pace with the noir genre. Greg's motivation to avoid punishment both by the police and his father for any means including murder is a testament to the problems with authority in a toxically masculine post WWII society.
Vivian's seduction of Karl seeming seems one sided and his lack of agency in it makes her dramatic responses feel hysterical or stalkery at times. He owns up his role in their goodbye embrace, but during their actual relationship as to which he is equally responsible, Vivian is portrayed as a femme fatale of sorts despite her normal housewife demeanor.
Use of Special Effects
THE STORY RELIES A LITTLE BIT ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
Primary Hook of Story
The hook is that a twelve year old boy kills his friend in order to avoid getting in trouble. The second layer to the story is that the police chief is having an affair with Greg's mother. These connections converge when Greg is killed trying to hid Greg's guilt by the police chief.
This could have a large fanbase in the world of historical period pieces involving dark family drama. Depending on if the genre is more dramatic or leans more into the mystery aspect, the fanbase would be bigger as a suspense thriller. There is a lot of gripping tension in the characters hiding their guilt and a relatable but complex family plot.
This could have some awards potential as period pieces tend to get recognition and the source material provides a lot of emotional range covering a complicated grey issue which is a good recipe to procure acting nominations.
Similar Films/TV Series
THE PLEDGE, THE PRISONERS, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, MUD, SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS
What’s New About the Story
The originality of the story stems from the use of 1950s repression to accentuate the motivations of many of the characters. Jerry's trauma from WWII manifest itself in abuse of his family. Greg's abuse causes him to kill his friend Barry out of fear of more abuse. It is a cycle of trauma this is interconnected, however Jerry's motivations are less developed than the other characters.
Greg is at the cusp of learning to stand up for himself, but at the moment is he weak because all he knows how to do is protect himself. Unfortunately, he is backed into a corner and protecting himself means killing others to hide his guilt. This duality of youthful innocence and selfishness is what is compelling about Greg.
Uniqueness of Story
This is a very solid family drama, but Jerry is less developed than the other characters. He is somewhat static and his motivations are less clear. Karl's lack of agency in his romance with Vivian despite his voyeurism is also a weaker subplot lacking clarity.
Film - Indie, Film - Streaming, Film - Studio, TV Series - Limited Run / Mini-Series
WORK IN PROGRESS
While the story has many positive points, it has room for improvement (see possible paths below). If you can't change the story at this point, my suggestion is using your notes as a guide to highlight the best aspects of it when taking the next steps, either putting a pitch page together, a treatment, or a presentation.
Tips for Improvement
Creating more dimensions to Jerry's abuse aside from the allusion that he was a Marine and that he kind of knew his family disliked him for how he acted would help add a layer of realism to his abuse but also some sympathy or humanity to his character. The motivation behind Greg's actions are thematically strong, but his blunt intentional death of Barry seems out of place rather than a second fatal accident just trying to quiet Barry. Vivian and Karl start off on a even playing field when they have distance, but the closer the get the less Karl feels like he has a say in their relationship which makes Vivian seem like the only wrongdoer. By making Karl more involved their relationship then the ill-fated conclusion will seem more tragic.