Script review: Baby's Breath

posted 1/10/03

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Cleolinda: ***

Screenwriter: Matthew Krause

Date: I'm not sure of the exact date, but I've been told that it has been since revised

Production company: Dorado Village Films

Official site:

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel like I ought to mention the small banner for this film on my news page. I don't receive a dime for that. The production company got in touch with the Digest, as well as several other websites, I'd imagine, and I took a look at their site and thought that the story sounded cool. I didn't take any money to promote The Ring or--what was it, Ghost Ship? I can't remember--either; I just tried to run ads that offered advance screenings or free tickets for the readers. If you have a film, independent or not, you'd like to see mentioned on the site, drop me a line and we'll talk. I just like to make our readers aware of things that sound cool or interest me personally. (Okay, Ghost Ship was an anomaly there.) Bottom line: If I thought something was crap, I'd tell you so.

Having read this script, I'm not sure if Baby's Breath is going to benefit from being lumped in with The Sixth Sense or be hurt by it. On one hand, as usually happens with blockbuster phenomenons, similar projects that have been languishing in turnaround or even outright obscurity get dusted off and produced. On the other hand, eventually the trend burns out, or worse, inferior knock-offs get churned out. (Like many scripts only now getting filmed, Baby's Breath appears to predate Sixth Sense; the film's website mentions that it was written in March 1999.) The fact is, though, having read the script, I think the comparison to Sixth Sense, which is how I was introduced to the story, is helpful as an initial  shorthand to describe the overall feel, the "emotional supernatural thriller," if you will, but at the end of the day it becomes quite unfair: the child in Baby's Breath is the haunter, not the haunted, and that gives the story an entirely different atmosphere.

In fact, it's one I liked. I dig this kind of movie anyway, as those of you who read my review of
The Ring can attest. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Can I just mention that this is a hard review to write, because I've promised not to spoil anything? So I went back to the movie's website, which gives some background information on the inspiration of the film, but not really the story itself. I'm left with one sentence for you: Baby's Breath is "a chilling supernatural thriller about the nomadic spirit of a semi-conscious child -- the only one who can identify a brutal killer."

Well, allrighty then. Let's take it from there. The child is Jessica, 18 months old, the survivor of a vicious attack that left her mother Anne-Marie dead, and Jessica is currently clinging to life, badly burned, in hospital. The college professor who was seeing her mother--and whom Jessica already calls Daddy--is deeply grieved and determined to help the police catch Anne-Marie's killer. I feel bad telling you that much, honestly, because she doesn't die until 20 pages in; you can imagine the emotional impact of her death at that point.

The rest of the film--or the rest of what I can tell you without spoiling anything--involves Jessica trying to tell Jake, the professor, the name of the killer, since she's the only surviving witness, but no one can quite figure out what she's saying. This may have a great deal to do with the fact that Jessica is physically in a coma at the hospital, and that her spirit--so technically, since she's alive, we're not talking ghosts here--keeps appearing to him and whispering, as toddlers do, half-decipherable baby talk. Personally, I feel that the script excels here--with the relationship between Jake and Jessica. Is it dumb to say that screenwriter Matthew Krause has a good ear for baby talk? Because he does ("bid beah" for "big bear," for example), and moreover, he has a good eye for Jake and Jessica's relationship. Seriously, "bo eah" ("blow [in your] ear") had me tearing up, people, and this is on page 13: Jake is the best surrogate daddy ever. More than that, he's written very like a real college professor (and trust me, I know; I ended up rereading the script during class breaks) rather than a screenwriter's half-baked idea of a college professor. Jake's also a pretty good detective on his own. This is one of the things I praised about
The Ring, too: You get to see the hero doing realistic amounts of research to come to his conclusion. (I still have not quite gotten over Arnold Schwarzenegger's logical progression from "Christ in New York?" to "Christine York!" in End of Days. That, folks, is what's just called cheating.) In this case, Jake goes to a children's speech therapist for help deciphering Jessica's garbled phonics, and this, again, is where Krause shows a linguistic flair: the final answer is neither obvious nor too obscure.

(A word about the search for the killer: obviously I can't say much, but I was honestly surprised by the time the killer was revealed, yet a reread showed that all the clues, the connections, were in place. Good job there.)

Jessica is a little more problematic--rather, the way she's used in the story. There's a moment where Jake tells Jessica's spirit to stay in the spare bedroom until he can bring another character back to see her, and I'm thinking, Spirits can be ordered around like pets? Do what? It just seemed really weird to me that someone else could be brought to see her and that she would just stay there, seeing as how she comes and goes the rest of the time with ghostly elusiveness. My other problem would be that Jessica has a very, very touching and spiritual moment late in the story, but that the appearance after that is sort of a vengeful afterthought. Of course, I hear that the script has been since revised, so who knows?

From checking the website, my understanding is that Krause is directing from his own script in true auteur fashion, so it will be interesting to see how several of these scenes are handled. In fact, I suspect that the finished film will live or die by how well a few key scenes are handled, the way a gymnast has to stick the landing on an already good routine to get the high score. For example--I looked, but I think these blurbs may have been lost in the website redesign--some early quotes on the
Baby's Breath site had people declaring how freaked out they were after reading the script. Maybe so; I didn't find it particularly scary. Atmospheric, yes; suspenseful, definitely; spooky, perhaps. But you're not scared by Jessica, you're scared for her, which is the crucial distinction; it's an unusual use of a "ghost," spirit, whatever you'd like to call her. It's a very emotional thriller in that sense, not a jump-out-and-startle-you horror flick, so several scenes, while very nicely fleshed out and described, are going to need a sure hand and room to breathe on screen. But there's so much right with this script that I can't help but think that you'll be hearing more about this one a few months from now.
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