Decent work here, man, I enjoyed the read and was engaged throughout. I love your unfussy, streamlined writing style. You don’t get bogged down in leaden prose or speechifying dialogue. Even the didactic Mr. Jackson is kept to a minimum and doesn’t overdo to as he could’ve easily had.
I think there needs to be more time in the set up of the other characters, even if it’s just a brief introduction as to how they ended up in the forest (think Sorcerer or Down By Law) particularly Kyle who we never really find out enough about and he’s an important character.
Having said that, I dug the smash cut from the city to the forest.
I liked how you balanced the humour with genuine pathos and nasty kills. You blended tones well, not an easy feat to pull off. There was some nice moments of levity, real moments of bonding and it got mean when it needed to.
The ending (epilogue really) is a little too neat and feels hastily thrown together. You can keep the general outline of it; Cops (and us the audience) making stereotypical judgements before finding out Dante is reformed, just the mechanics of it didn’t seem believable. I’d suggest giving it more thought.
I reckon some people will have a hard time with Dante as he is not immediately the most likeable person, he’s a bit of a thug, stubborn and combative but I like how you went all the way with him and didn’t try to compromise who he was too much, pandering to the reader in order to make him more likeable“.
To me, there is nothing worse, and more phony, when a film is clearly trying to garner your sympathies for their “edgy”, “flawed” main character by showing them to be actually decent at every turn.
It’s very much a “having your cake and eating it” scenario I feel. They want the unpredictability and audaciousness of an anti-hero while still trying to appease those who need their protagonists to be good people...which unfortunately is most viewers.
Without digressing too much, a prime example of this is Fruitvale Station. A film with a clear agenda about a real life story of the last 24 hours of a black guy who was shot by a police officer on New Year’s eve...The problem (for the film's morally righteous compass) is he was a drug dealer. Hence, it spends every possible opportunity reinforcing the idea that the guy was a solid dude so your heartstrings will be tugged to the max when he gets, albeit wrongly, shot. It feels so contrived and manipulative, especially since it’s supposed to be a true story. Yet many of his good deeds depicted throughout that day are evidently fabricated because they were no witnesses...I’m talking about you cradling-a-dying-dog-in-his-arms scene.
Anyway, here thankfully, you show Dante in an unflattering light and don’t shirk away from it. The guy is a scumbag but that’s why he’s in the forest in the first place, right? It’s a program for delinquents.
Not only do you show why he is the way he is via flashbacks but we witness his personal growth, not straight away but gradually, and not without some setbacks and regressions along the way, due to the ordeal he endures in the forest. It felt believable and true to your convictions which is even more a testament to your characterisation since he had to evolve from such a polar opposite.
You’ll see in my page by page notes that I had some narrative issues, some logical discrepancies, a few decisions made that didn’t make sense but I believe they can be remedied without too much trouble.
Overall this was impressive work, a solid effort.
p.s.: If this should ever be picked up, find out the name(s) of the person(s) who did the bear scene in The Revenant. Demand the studio hires them!