Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Trick 'r Treat (Michael Dougherty, 2009)

I had read some positive things about Trick 'r Treat and while this is no means a masterpiece it is an energetic ride and at times a rollicking good scare. Originally scheduled for release in October 2007, this was shamefully pushed back for a straight-to-DVD release in October 2009. Based on his own short film, this swift moving horror/comedy is written and directed by Michael Dougherty, and tells four interwoven horror tales set during one Halloween evening. At a hyperactive pace Dougherty concocts a potent cocktail that balances some clever comic gags with an abundance of genuinely creepy circumstances for his characters. He must be praised for building a really great atmosphere here with some complex and elaborate set pieces. Utilizing some unique and inventive angling and mobile positioning, Trick 'r Treat also looks stunning and is brilliantly captured. Often featuring a point-of-view shot of Sam lurking near his victims, it is an ode to John Carpenter's Halloween and a bunch of other 80's horror flicks. With it's intention to excite and entertain, and not so much to force the viewer to reel in disgust, this really hits the mark quite well.
The first of the stories features the local school principal, Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker), as he makes the most of the occasion by unleashing his secret ego as a serial killer. He poisons a greedy obese child who is stealing candy from around the neighborhood, and then buries him in his backyard. In later vignettes he appears again, disguised as a vampire, seeking to kill innocent young women. Laurie (Anna Paquin), is a self-conscious 'virgin' who lacks the outgoing confidence of her sister and her friends. At an age beyond the trick-or-treat stage, the girls decide to celebrate Halloween by drinking and partying, and to pick up unsuspecting men along the way. Leaving the others, Laurie wanders off into the woods and runs into a disguised Wilkins, and brings him along to the party, where the girls reveal their true intentions for the evening. In the third story, a group of youngsters visit a rock quarry, the setting of a disturbing Halloween tale from 30 years prior about a bus full of mentally challenged children that was driven off the cliff. The driver, believed to have escaped, has never been heard of since. They catch the lift down into the depths of the quarry, where four of them play a wicked prank on Rhonda, the outsider of the group, which ends up horrifically coming back to haunt them. The final tale is the story of Halloween-hater, Mr Kreeg (Brian Cox), Wilkin's neighbor and as revealed, the driver of bus in the quarry story. Kreeg is terrorized by a tiny youngster named Sam, who tries to kill him for his ignorance of Halloween traditions. Sam is a recurring figure throughout the film, appearing in each of the tales and linking them together through his presence as a punishment for abandoning the values and traditions of the popular holiday. As Kreeg wrestles with Sam, he manages to pull off his mask, revealing a severely disfigured pumpkin head, and shoots Sam in the chest. Sam regenerates, and leaves Kreeg's house, reminding him of the spirits of Halloween, which Kreeg straight away begins to embrace. The film opens with the final events of the night (the rest is told in flashback), which sees a couple return home following the Halloween festivities. The wife declares she wants the decorations that adorn their front yard to be removed that night, despite her husbands pleas that it's against tradition. Choosing to clean up alone, with her husband inside, she is violently murdered by a small figure with a large pumpkin lollipop.
The film is styled to resemble a series of illustrated and interconnected comic book stories, and the opening credits play over a montage of soon-to-be revealed images. The action mirrors these vignettes with the final frame superimposed with the respective illustration. Each story is pretty shallow and ridiculous (especially Laurie's one) and you really must suspend your disbelief. No time is spent on developing the characters because essentially Halloween itself is the central character. Prominent as such a common theme amongst horror filmmakers, it is pleasantly surprising to see Dougherty's examination of Halloween's quirky traditions work so well, enough to make it one of the genre's defining flicks on this celebration. With enough blood, nudity and genuine jump-out-of-your skin moments to please a die-hard B-grade horror buff, and with enough technical precision to somewhat please even a pompous critic, there is much fun to be had with Trick 'r Treat.

My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

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