The Tilting Point – screenplay for a short film

The Tilting Point


A late-model four-door Landrover (e.g. a Discovery) heads from Karekare North-West along Scenic Drive.


A woman in her early to mid forties drives, GENEVIEVE MARTEL.

She is dressed casually, pants, a top and low-heeled sandals. She wears very little jewellery, a wedding band and understated but expensive engagement ring, earrings, a neck chain.

Her nails are cut short. Her hair – naturally blond, now greying – is worn loose.

She sits with a straight back, drumming her fingers lightly on the steering wheel in time with music on the car stereo. The vehicle has air-conditioning.

Her cellphone sits in a holder fixed to the dash. She glances at it. The screen displays no service.

The music plays. She looks ahead: no traffic. She glances in the rear-view mirror: the same.

She rubs her lips together.

She looks down at her clutch-bag lying open on the passenger seat. She considers re-applying her lipstick.

Her hand hesitates over the bag.

The Landrover hits the grit on the shoulder of the road, shocking her to attention.

She sees something that she swerves off the shoulder to miss. The tyres skid.

The metal hisses under the tyres as the vehicle comes to a halt.

She checks behind her. She is shocked by what she sees. She’s breathing fast. She re-checks behind her.

She kills the engine.

All sound inside the vehicle ceases, apart from the sound of GENEVIEVE’s body.

She waits for something to happen, for some movement behind her.

She clenches her eyes shut, preparing herself to investigate. But she can’t let go of the wheel.

She finally takes the keys out of the ignition. She drops the keys into her clutch bag and zips it up.

She sits for a moment, bag in lap.

She removes the cellphone from its holder: no service.


A body lies on the gravel beside the road twenty metres behind GENEVIEVE’s now stationary Landrover.

The Landrover is her family’s second vehicle. It’s clearly well used, for sport and recreation, camping and fishing. Mud has splattered the guards. The rear window has a light covering of dust.

The road rises ahead and dips behind in a long straight incline. No other cars have passed.


GENEVIEVE – like a TV set resuming normal service after a technical mishap – returns to her practical self: she unzips the bag to get the keys and throws it onto the passenger seat. She takes the cellphone and keys.

She opens the door half-way.

As it opens, she sees the object, in the side-mirror, that caused her to swerve off the shoulder of the road: a man’s body, dressed mainly in white – polo, chinos, docksiders, no socks – with a big red stain on its top side.


GENEVIEVE gets out. The Landrover door slams shut.

She can see very little of the body from twenty metres away.

She looks up and down the road: still no traffic.

She approaches. Catching herself halfway, she stops and looks around, to see if anybody else is there.

She continues more tentatively.

The body lies face down, arms bound behind its back at the wrists.

The head is turned in three-quarter profile towards GENEVIEVE, face pressed into the gravel. Only one eye is visible. He is breathing.

Blood has dried on his face from grazes and cuts on his forehead, nose and cheeks.

The red on his back comes from a single puncture wound below the right scapula. The blood has pooled under his shirt, dying it red, and run over his hands.

His wrists are tied with thin nylon twine. The blood on his back is wet: he is still bleeding.

GENEVIEVE takes in the scene from a safe distance.

She looks around several times, afraid someone is watching.

She goes to say something.

His nose is apparently broken. Saliva mixed with blood and mucous makes threads from his nose and mouth to the ground, bubbling as he breathes. His breath is short and shallow. He is unconscious.

What she was going to say turns into a mutter, under her breath.

She steers wide of him, circling around to his other side.

She walks out into the middle of the road. She looks up and down it: no traffic.

She turns to the phone.

Although she knows better, she tries to ring for help.

She quick-dials ALISTAIR.

She tries emergency services.

She tries for directory: no service.

She holds the phone in various positions, above her head, out to the side, trying to get a signal.

She circles back around, wide of his head.

She looks down at his face.

His one visible eye is open, giving her a fright. She walks quickly back to the Landrover, casting backward glances.


GENEVIEVE starts the engine.

The music and air-conditioning blast into action.

She jumps.

She turns down the music and air-conditioning.

From this point she mutters almost constantly but inaudibly when she’s alone.

(under her breath)
…Pull yourself together, Genevieve…

She looks back at the body.

She turns the music right up.

She puts the vehicle in gear.

Before she has a chance to pull out, another car passes on her side. It’s a surfy wagon, windows down, oblivious.

GENEVIEVE depresses the horn. The surfy wagon toots back as it passes her and carries on.

She slams her palm on the wheel.

She releases the clutch. The Landrover pulls cautiously away from the shoulder of the road.


The Landrover drives away from the body. It travels a further one hundred metres down the road then brakes.

It indicates left and pulls over.


GENEVIEVE hunches over the wheel. Nobody would know if she just kept on going.

Torn between forgetting that she’s seen anything and going back, she frowns. She stares at the road ahead and looks back the way she’s come: no traffic in either direction.

Despite the air-conditioning, she realises that she’s sweating. Her hands are sticking to the wheel.

She rubs her hands on her pants.

The engine is still running.

She reaches around between the two front seats.

The back seat is covered with papers, books, pieces of clothing and an anorak.

GENEVIEVE rifles through the mess, finally sweeping most of it onto the floor.

She finds a large clear plastic drinking bottle still full of water.

She opens the valve at the top of the bottle and has a mouthful of water.

She wipes her lips with the back of her hand.

(inaudibly, under her breath)

She holds the bottle between her legs and swivels the rear-view mirror around so that she can see herself.

She rubs her lips together: her lipstick has almost all come off.

She turns to the passenger seat, considering reapplying her lipstick. Her hand hesitates above her clutch bag.

Her eyes return to the rear-view mirror. She swivels it back around.

She can’t see the body anymore. But she knows it’s there.


The Landrover indicates right, does a U-turn and heads back.

It stops nearer the body than before.


GENEVIEVE leaves the engine running, throws the driver’s door wide and gets out.

She places the water bottle in easy reach of the man’s body.

She returns to the still-running Landrover and jumps in.

She puts it in gear, checks in her side-mirror and takes it out of gear once more.

His hands are tied.

She turns off the ignition, muttering.

She gets out and walks slowly towards him.

His eye follows her.

She stops.

Can you hear me?

A long pause: the eye seems fixed on her.

You can see me.


I’m going to give you some water. Then I’m going to go and get help.

Neither GENEVIEVE nor the man move.

I need you to show me that you understand.


Before I can give you some. …water.

His eye is fixed on her without blinking.

You need to show me… – nod. Or something.

The eye shuts.

If you don’t…

GENEVIEVE mutters inbetween her statements.

If you don’t, you will probably die. … Show me by moving… That you understand… your situation.

GENEVIEVE waits, willing him to respond.

I’m going to go now.

She can hear the short laboured breaths of the man.

She turns back towards the body. She focuses on the water bottle still sitting where she left it.

She takes a couple of steps. He doesn’t move. She takes a couple more. He doesn’t move.


She carefully removes the bottle of water and is about to leave.

His breathing ceases.

She looks down at him.

After a gasp, the short painful breaths recommence.

She bends down closer.


Her hand goes out to touch him but stays, wavering in the air.

(in a whisper)
That’s it – keep breathing.

She pours some water into a cupped hand.

She takes her hand down low but – she is not a squeamish person – she can’t bring it close to the blood and bodily fluids for fear of AIDS, Hepatitis, etc.

She dribbles water from her hand down his face to try and get it in his mouth. He does not register the water.

The angle of his head means it misses his mouth.

The water mixes with the fresh blood.

She tries again.

She pulls away. She takes a swig, herself, unconsciously, from the bottle.

GENEVIEVE opens the rear door of the Landrover. The space is small, filled with holiday detritus, including a plastic tackle box, fishing gear, a picnic hamper, a tow-rope, gumboots, some rags and a bucket full of plastic bags.

She opens the picnic hamper and gets a bowl. She fills it with water.

She places it as close to his face as she can, then slides it towards his mouth using her foot, trying not to spill it.

She is growing increasingly annoyed: the man looks like some weird kind of dog with the water-bowl in his face.

She walks away, to the middle of the road; looks up it; looks down it: no traffic at all. She walks up and down the centre line, hoping for a passing car.

She hears a spluttering gurgle, followed by a series of weak coughs. Then nothing. Then a louder reflexive gasp.

She hurries back to the body.

The bowl has tipped into the man’s face, his nose somehow hooked on its rim. He is drowning. The water in the bowl is dyed red, with clear strands of mucous.

She kicks the bowl clear.

The body splutters into short gasps, breathing.

GENEVIEVE chases after the bowl.

Reaching it, she doesn’t know how to pick it up without coming into contact with the man’s fluids.

She hooks her fingers under her shirt and bends down, having to lower herself almost to the ground to reach the bowl.

The body gives a loud hiccuping burp.

She stands and sweeps the bowl from the ground.

Horrified, she looks at the bowl, her thumb clearly pressed into the thinned blood: still stuck to the inside of the bowl a tooth, with its root, glistens.


She is at the back door of the Landrover, running water from the bottle over her soiled hand and drying it on a rag in the boot.

Having cleaned herself to her satisfaction, she takes a plastic bag and turns it inside out, fully wrapping the bowl.

She empties the bucket in the boot of its remaining stash of plastic bags and drops the wrapped bowl into it.

She looks back at the body.

With each breath it makes small heaving movements and the pauses between breaths are getting longer.


GENEVIEVE has put a plastic bag on each hand.

She stands at the man’s knees. She nervously reaches out to grab his leg.

She attempts to pull the knee up into something resembling recovery position.


The leg won’t bend but pivots at the hip. Her hands slip down his calf to his foot.

She drops the leg. The shoe comes off. The foot is bare.


She looks up the road, down the road: nothing.

She contemplates his new position, chewing her lip.

She goes around to his near shoulder, squats in front of him and reaches under him to lift him onto his side.

She can’t get her hands between his upper arm and trunk. Added to which, the plastic bags slip. She can’t get a purchase on him.

She gives up, falling back on her haunches to sit on the gravel beside him.

She gets herself upright and stares at the blood on his back and the bound hands.

The body makes a small sighing noise. It has stopped breathing.

She comes up close to his head. She pulls at the collar of the polo-shirt, exposing a little more of his throat, which makes slight but regular convulsive gagging movements.

She introduces a plastic-bag-covered finger into his mouth, to clear his airways, and withdraws it bloody.

She opens his jaw slightly more with her other hand and inserts two fingers.

Her fingers are in his mouth to the second joint, she can feel no obstruction.

She looks away and plunges her hand as far as it will go into his mouth. She can feel something.

With a final thrust into the back of his throat, she grabs the thing but it doesn’t come away.

She turns her hand inside his mouth, to hold down the tongue and thrusts in again.

His whole body convulses.

She pulls, taking care to retain her grip, easing the object out.

A single black stocking unwinds from his mouth, clots of blood sticking to it.

The stocking stretches out obscenely, held in his windpipe by its toe.

She yanks it with both hands, releasing the stocking.

The toe is lumpy, weighted with ball-bearings. It hangs from her hands in a low sack.

A torrent of fluid follows the release as the body spasms and pushes out the blockage.

He gags repeatedly and quick little breaths commence.

GENEVIEVE clenches her eyes shut, holds the stocking-sack away from her, listening to the resumption of life in the body.


Beside the back door to the Landrover, she winds in the stocking from the toe, watching the ball-bearings slide up the stocking, until they fall clear into her plastic-bag-covered hand.

She feels her legs about to give way. She lets herself fall against the open back door of the Landrover.

She leans there for a minute. Then, as she did with the bowl, she inverts the bags from her hands over the stocking and handful of ball-bearings, depositing them in the bucket.


GENEVIEVE checks her hands, tops and palms.

Satisfied, she opens the tackle-box in the boot.

The top layer has sinkers and hooks, etc. She lifts this out, and underneath, is a long vicious looking fishing-knife.

She puts another two plastic bags back on her hands and takes the knife.


GENEVIEVE stands over the body, plastic bags on her hands, holding the fishing knife.

She looks away as she tries to sever the twine binding his hands.

There’s a lot of blood. She can’t get the knife close without cutting his skin.

She hears a car coming.

She panics, realising how it must look, holding the knife.

She stands between the car and its view of the body.

There’s blood all over the new bags and the knife now. She puts her hands behind her back.

The car slows. It’s a European vehicle, black, with tinted windows.

As it crawls past her, she fixes her face in a tense smile. Sweat runs down her neck.

The passenger-side window slides down. The glazed face of a young woman greets her. From the shadows of the car’s interior comes an older male voice.

You all right, love?

Her voice comes out wrong, raw and flat.

No… Yes, yes. Yes. … Fine. Thankyou.

Car troubles?

No. No, just… resting.

Right, then. No phones up here. No service. I could give you a lift.

The young woman giggles.

No-no no.

Plenty of room.

The young woman tries to look around GENEVIEVE. She can see the body’s one bare foot.

She turns to the driver, whispers.


No. No. Not actually. Just… resting.

Right then.

The car crawls forward. GENEVIEVE continues to smile at it.

The car stops again, parallel with the Landrover. GENEVIEVE smiles and doesn’t move.

GENEVIEVE hears laughter from inside the car, fading as the window slides up.

It moves forward, gathers speed, and drives away.


GENEVIEVE’s head has dropped forward on her shoulders: she stares at the knife. It drips with blood.

She starts to shake.

She removes the bags, wrapping one in the other, with the knife inside, shaking.

She stashes the bundle of plastic in the bucket, in the boot. She closes the boot.


GENEVIEVE sits in the driver’s seat, clutching the steering wheel, pale and shaking.

Her teeth chatter. She bites her lip hard enough to make it bleed.


GENEVIEVE turns the key in the ignition. She revs the engine a couple of times.

She feels inside her mouth with her tongue. She swivels the rear-view mirror. She bares her teeth: she’s bitten her lip. Her mouth fills with blood.

She swallows, swivels the mirror back and takes her clutch bag from the passenger seat.

She empties its contents onto the passenger seat, finds the lipstick and, with shaking hand and regardless of the blood, reapplies her lipstick.

She faces forward, rubs her lips together, hesitates.

She looks back over her shoulder. She puts the Landrover into reverse.


The tyres skid, throwing up gravel as the Landrover judders and lurches back in a series of hops.

The Landrover stops suddenly, pulling sharply to the right, away from the body at the last minute.

The driver’s door flies open. GENEVIEVE runs to the side of the road and vomits.


The shadows have lengthened into evening.

The body is as she left it. Now, however, the Landrover is between it and the road.

The driver’s door is open. Music plays from inside.

GENEVIEVE stands contemplating the body.

She goes to the Landrover and throws open all the doors. It’s dark enough that the interior light can be seen from outside.

She gets the remaining plastic bags from the boot. They shine whitely in the dusk.


She spreads the plastic bags over the back seat.

She is halfway through the job, when she catches up with herself and realises the absurdity of what she’s doing.

She grimly finishes the task and proceeds to lay out an old newspaper and the anorak on the back seat as well.

She lies down on the back seat, pulling her legs in, covering her eyes with her arm.

Music plays.

She stays like that for a minute or so, removes her arm from her face and stares at the interior light. Insects are starting to swarm around it.

She gets up.


From the boot, she retrieves the tow-rope.

She loops the tow-rope around his ankles and pulls it taut.

She takes the rope and pulls him around, bit by bit, until his feet point towards the open back door of the Landrover.

With each pull on the rope, his face grates in the metal.


The rope goes in one side of the Landrover and out the other, passing over the back seat.

It moves a fraction, then stops. Moves again. Stops. Its progress is unbearably slow.


The interior lights of the Landrover are on. Insects swarm in the lights.

A body hangs halfway out of the rear passenger door, face down, jerking further in, as if being eaten, every time GENEVIEVE on the far side of the vehicle pulls the rope.


GENEVIEVE is on the back seat straining to pull the body into the Landrover with the rope.

She braces her foot against one of the front seats and drags him further in. She pants and groans.

His lower body is in the vehicle, as far as his thighs, his whole upper body outside, hanging down. He is caught on the lintel.

She unloops the rope from his feet.

She gives him a push. He is stuck and doesn’t fall out.


GENEVIEVE looks to see how much of him is hanging out, the tow-rope coiled in her hand.

She stashes the rope in the boot.

She gets the anorak from the back seat and returns.

She puts it on and pulls the hood up over her head, zips it up. She ties the hood strings. She tucks her hands back into the sleeves. It’s far too big for her; her husband’s, it hangs down almost to her knees.

She bends down to inspect the man’s body. His face presses against the ground. The wound in his back has opened and blood drips down him, making his hair glisten, jet.

She gets under his upper body, dropping to her hands and knees and pushing him up from below.

Straining against him, she loses the balance on her hands.

Her arms fold under the weight of the body and she collapses, face first into the gravel.

She picks herself up, taking up the burden of the man’s body once more. Tears well in her eyes.

She pauses, the body on her back, blood dripping over the anorak. She blinks and tries to sniff back the tears.

She eventually manages to bring her legs forward and, pushing upwards from a crouch, raises him. His legs remain anchored, caught on the lintel. She grunts and cries with effort.

Once past the tilting point, the body rotates clear and into the back seat. It flops over, the legs springing out.

She pushes them in with her arms, her hands covered and shuts the back door, pressing her back against it, to wedge them in.

She slides down the door, crying without reserve.


GENEVIEVE unzips the anorak, undoes the bow under the hood.

Her face is grazed and has blood on it, either hers or, despite her efforts, his and is wet from crying and her nose runs.

She rolls up the anorak, putting it in the bucket. She closes the boot, lacking the strength to slam it.


She gets into the driver’s seat, pulling the door to behind her.

She reaches over the passenger seat, gets a tissue, wipes her nose and pulls that door shut. The interior light stays on.

She rests her head against the steering wheel.

A minute goes by.

An on-coming car passes, headlights blazing.

She lifts her head, startled.

The car disappears behind her.

She stares out the windscreen for several minutes.

She turns on her own headlights. The lights-on warning-tone rings.

She is a mess, dirty and bloody. Her hair falls in bedraggled strands over her face.

She closes her eyes, resting her head against the steering wheel.

She sits up with a start, having nodded off for a split second, despite the ringing.

Her hand goes out automatically to the passenger seat, hanging in the air a second.

She gathers up the contents of her clutch bag and replaces it inside, zipping it closed. She picks up the cellphone, reinstating it in its holder on the dash.

She turns the ignition, starts the engine and drives off.


The Landrover heads off up the road.

It brakes and pulls over one hundred metres on. It executes a U-turn and comes back on the other side of the road.

Another U-turn and it pulls up, onto the shoulder of the road where she first discovered the body.

The lights stay on.

The driver-side door opens. The interior light goes on. The lights-on warning rings.

The music plays.