Bret Easton Ellis’ novel “The Shards” will become an HBO series
Ellis’ 600+ page novel about a serial killer stalking 1981 Los Angeles is basically an unedited transcript of his Patreon series. Can you survive a series of treatments?
Bret Easton Ellis’ latest novel, “The Shards,” goes where only Bret Easton Ellis could go: back to 1981 Los Angeles with a 600-page, largely unedited book that’s mostly about himself.
That’s partly because the main character is named Bret, a nihilistic 17-year-old bisexual San Fernando Valley preschool kid who’s writing a book called “Less Than Zero.” Yes, this is literary-horror autofiction from the aforementioned author of the aforementioned 1985 debut and shocking postmodern novels like “American Psycho.”
“The Shards” is also more or less a direct copy of the Patreon Ellis series that launched in late 2020, and its heaviness means it’s well-suited to a long-form, flashy series adaptation at HBO. As IndieWire has confirmed, “The Shards” is now in production at the premium cabler, with Ellis as the sole writer while executive producing with Nick Young (Emmy-winning executive producer of “The White Lotus”) and Brian Young (executive producer). in the 2008 film adaptation of Ellis’s “The Informers”).
But first, you might need some serious editing. “The Shards” is a sprawling novel detailing the gruesome murders of The Trawler (as the killer is known; the plots are preferred to be called “alterations”) and Bret’s many sexual exploits with male and female classmates, including the mysterious newbie Robert. Mallory. There are also Manson’s cult Horsemen of the Afterlife, who mutilate animals and terrorize Los Angeles’ most privileged. The Trawler and the cult and Mallory are loosely connected in a way that “The Shards” doesn’t quite click into place. Plus, there are literal grammatical errors, passages that repeat and don’t, and narrative anachronisms that suggest Knopf gave “The Shards” a cursory once-over before publishing it in January and pushing it out the door.
All it says is that this solid gender horror should work beautifully as a series. Ellis demonstrates his pop culture literacy with references to movies like “American Gigolo” and “The Shining” (the latter providing a richly disturbing sequence in which Bret may or may not have met Mallory for the first time in a movie theater). The pervasive, sexually charged atmosphere is reminiscent of Ellis’ 2002 indie flop “The Rules of Attraction,” directed by Quentin Tarantino scribe Roger Avary. “The Shards” also features a killer dark-pop synth-pop soundtrack (nicely put together by an Ellis fan Spotify playlist), from Ultravox to The Clash. The series’ creative team already has plenty to work on.
The book’s massive cast of characters all intertwine—from Bret’s clueless, coke-drinking girlfriend Debbie to his best friend Thom, whom Bret sexually fantasizes about, to Bret’s best friend Susan, who dates Thom. Plenty of raunchy violence, spectacular sex, and drugging to suggest another series in the form of “Euphoria” or, unseen, the upcoming “The Idol,” Sam Levinson’s two series on HBO with plenty of slapstick, violence. , sex and drugs.
©Courtesy of IFC Films/Everett Collection
Ellis has achieved moderate success as a writer for film and television. His 2016 web series “The Deleted” came and went on social platform Fullscreen (which also came and went) and featured similarly risqué youths engaging in raw, rough sex while haunted by the memories of a cult behind the industry. Ellis previously wrote the screenplay for Paul Schrader’s cynical 2013 feature effort, “The Canyons,” also about the cruel mind games of beautiful young people with beautiful problems in a broken Hollywood (here starring Lindsay Lohan).
His novels have met with mixed success in their adaptations, with Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” being the most successful. The satirical slasher, starring then-breakout Christian Bale as murderous yuppie Patrick Bateman, remains a cult hit, while other Ellis adaptations such as “Rules of Attraction” sold out. Ellis is prickly and possessive about his material. (And toward press opportunities these days. He declined IndieWire’s request to be interviewed about the novel earlier this year.)
So who better adapts “The Shards”? After all, it is beat too many books, bitten 1980s industrial satire (there’s a darkly hilarious subplot about a closeted producer who takes Bret under his wing in his Beverly Hills hotel room), mixed with slasher and even vaguely supernatural horror elements mixed in with newcomers. comes of age, and Ellis navel-gazes at the actual sordid details of his own very real teenage sex life.
A millennial director paying attention to nihilism and existential emptiness could create a great series out of the confusion. Brian Young was a producer on Brady Corbet’s “Vox Lux” so I just threw that name out there. Or even any of the creators of Prime Video’s “Swarm,” as Adamma Ebo in a pair of highly disturbing episodes that make you care about a murderous superfan with no soul. Jane Schoenbrun, director of the menacing film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, finds the humanity and horror in Gen Z social isolation, and whether you’re an Ellis fan or not, you can make the material magical.
“The Shards” is an ambitious disaster — which means it’s much more likely to make sense as a series than as a book. If nothing else, Ellis’s prose is so disturbing that any reader has already seen the TV show in their head.
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