Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Candy is Dandy But Killing is More Thrilling

Spoiled Candy Alert:

99% of horror anthology films rely on a twist ending. Trick ‘r Treat is no exception, as two of its four tales feature a major surprise and the other two finish with, well, less surprising surprises. Still, in discussing such a film, it’s a challenge to go into any real detail without spilling or slightly splashing the secrets or worse, tiptoeing around plot turns with less grace than an elephant in high heels. Or me in high heels (I'm not an elephant; just incredibly clumsy.) Despite all good intentions, you end up revealing far too much to those who haven’t seen the movie in question, while those who have get a reading experience that’s coyer than the president of the school celibacy club.
Hence, in respect to my limited secretive writing skills, this review is reserved for those who have seen this film. All others are encouraged to rent it (SPOILER ALERT! I just revealed the ending of my own review. I’m so meta) and come back later. Think of it as half priced candy corn purchased in November, but without the cavity inducing stickiness.


Quick Plot:
It’s Halloween in North America’s coolest town, a suburban paradise that seems to mandate every house carve a jack-o-lantern and attractive person attend an outdoor kegger. After a ho-hum prologue about a tired couple low in holiday spirit, the action kicks in with four stories loosely connected by place, character, and candy.

Our first tale stars the secret thespian weapon that is Dylan Baker as a suit-wearing Ned Flandersish citizen who doesn’t approve of fat kids stealing chocolate. Director Michael Dougherty builds a wickedly macabre tone that toes a licorice-thin line between black comedy and mean-spirited horror. Especially effective is the slow reveal of Baker’s character. We know as soon as he approaches the tubby pumpkin smasher that he means bad news, but it’s jarring to hear him called “Principal” and even more frightening to discover his moppet son. Wilkins, however, proves himself a fine father by not only spending quality time bonding over arts & crafts, but also insisting the little redhead get his fill of It’s the It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! It’s a promising start that ends with a perfectly played bang.

Meanwhile, a round of townspeople and tourists are introduced throughout and in between each tale, later to pop up as major characters in their own stories. It’s an innovative method to plot an anthology and wisely helps Trick R Treat avoid the inevitable one-story-drags-the-rest-down formula of most others in the genre. Most importantly, it confines the action to one specific location with what I assume must be competing with Sunnydale for lowest real estate rates in the Western world.
Story 2 follows a group of trouble raising trick-or-treaters who plan to prank the local idiot savant/pumpkin Picasso by digging up an urban (or suburban) legend in an abandoned rock quarry. The setup is brilliant and it’s in the story-within-a-story that Trick R Treat shines. Everything from the costume choices to the actual theme of parents discarding their deformed children was truly upsetting. Unfortunately, the surrounding tale simply doesn’t live up to its interior potential...especially since the nighttime lack of lighting lets us barely see the return of the school bus victims.

Next, we move to the big bash to focus on a few deceptively dense Halloween sluts, the kind who manage to annually piss me off by putting whorish spins on random costumes not meant for sexiness (seriously: who wants to fantasize about female Freddy Krueger? Guys who dig female child molesters in fedoras?). Virginal Anna Paquin pops her cherry with a bloody bite of Baker’s principal, revealing herself and her sisters to be hot werewolves. The twist was juicy enough to justify the tale, but I personally was a tad underwhelmed, proving once again that I’m insanely immune to lycanthropy. Still, the segment works to balance out Trick 'r Treat by including a perfect dose of sensuality and surprise. It's fun in a Tales From the Darkside spirit, which is pretty perfect for the overall tone of the film.

Finally, we follow the sack masked little boy who had been slipping in and out of the earlier three stories. Sam, as he’s known outside the film, is a wonderfully haunting creature that will deservedly find himself on t-shirts and action figures. He couldn't ask for a worthier a foe than the original Hannibal Lector himself, Brian Cox. There's something about the interior chase that goes on a tad too long to completely deliver on its early suspense, but the payoff is rewarding, even if the second turn is hardly a surprise.

So, which camp of Trick 'r Treat viewers do I fall into, those who have dubbed it the next coming of fear or the ones who found it as innovative as dressing like a witch on Halloween? Well, I liked the movie. Normally, if I’m planning on reviewing a film, I’ll keep my computer on and jot down stray thoughts. That never happened this time because I was totally involved in the onscreen action for the full runtime. There was no so-bad-I-have-to-remember these lines moments and anything I liked was strong enought that I knew it wouldn’t be forgotten by the time I sat down to write out my thoughts. It’s possibly the tightest anthology I’ve ever seen.
But is it great, wonderful, amzaing, the best horror film in years? I’d say not. It has its moments--bus crash, Sam's strolls--it has its power tools--Baker, Cox--and it’s tied together both by impressive scripting and a polished horror look. Had I seen this film a month before it was dipped in gold by the genre community, I’d be signing its praise to anone with a wallet and DVD player. After the early October reviews, however, I can’t help but feel a tad underwhelmed or rather, just not overwhelmed. It’s not to say I didn’t genuinely enjoy Trick'r Treat and won’t watch it again. I did and I will. But I’m just quite ready to make babies with the DVD case.

High Points
The dynamic score can be a tad overbearing at times, but ultimately pays off for every moment that it's needed

While I'm not always a big fan of comic book place panels onscreen, the opening credits are a great mood setter, especially since they bring me back to my own days of trick-or-treating long enough to receive the occasional religious booklet that read like an E.C. Comics take on the rapture

You have to admire the tightness of the intertwined action. It never feels forced, nor does it call attention to itself. Maybe you'd notice that the clown trick-or-treaters scared by Cox's bull terrier were the same kids who ran away at the sight of Emma's undercover slashing. Maybe you wouldn't. It doesn't take anything away, but catching the little connections certainly does add a nice layer of frosting to a nice cupcake of a film

Low Points
The aforementioned physical darkness of some of the segments blurs the action here and there, leaving someone sans Blu Ray or an HD TV squinting to catch all the action

As much as I love the bus massacre scene, it left one glaring question that took something away from the tale: what was the bus driver going to do with the bus and its children? I imagine he was set to crash it and hop out in time, and essentially, that happened. So what actually went wrong with the plan?
Lessons Learned
All pumpkin abusers will be slaughtered
A lollipop is not a toy... unless your playtime involves murder, at which point it's both useful and tasty

Suggesting your girlfriend dress like a boxy robot will make her feel inadequate and bitchy
Werewolf turn-ons include fake vampire teeth and elf ears

Considering the surprising lack of Halloween-themed films, Trick 'r Treat is probably a solid investment for an annual pumpkin fix. Unfortunately, all the extras seem to have been reserved exclusively for the Blu Ray edition. My Netflix DVD’s sole special feature was the wonderful animated short that inspired the film’s full length flesh out. This isn’t the best film you’ll see all year, but it’s a damn fine ride (perhaps even more fun than a hay ride, and certainly less itchy) by a director worth watching. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a similarly spirited sequel that retains its style but finds an even fresher approach to the stories it tells.


  1. I liked it more than you did, but you still seem to have enjoyed it enough. I wouldn't go as far to say the film is scary, but it does have some creepy moments here and there. I think I just enjoyed it as a straight up Halloween movie instead of a horror film and went into it with that mind set. This is a movie that I knew everyone wouldn't be wowed by, but if expectations are in check, it is a whole lotta fun.

    That fucking DVD is so weak as you extras at all outside of the animated short and the commentary that comes with it. That short is a 10 out of 10 in awesome Halloween coolness, but it doesn't make up for there not being a commentary track, or any sort of behind the scenes videos. Someone was smart enough to know that a lot of fans will double dip for this one...that's how they get us!

    Great review, as always!

  2. I did enjoy it, and I hate that I find myself underselling the film simply because so many others have oversold it. Your review is actually quite spot on: it's a supremely fun film balanced out with the perfect tone.

    The extras pissed me off. I don't have a Blu Ray player. Does that make me less of a person? One who doesn't deserve a few words from the production team and extended scenes that were cut anyway? I find this offensive and discriminatory.

    We must rise up!

  3. Hey Em, It's MONICA (woooo!!!). Just finished watching the movie. Thought it was cool, in that it actually looked at the traditions behind Halloween, and I really liked the scenery of the film!! It really wasn't scary, which was a bit disappointing, but I liked the way the story was told (all inside out and crazy-like).

    And I totally LOL'ed at your comment: "Suggesting your girlfriend dress like a boxy robot will make her feel inadequate and bitchy."

    HAHAHAHAHA!!! Thanks for the review! :)

  4. Whoot whoot Monica! Glad you enjoyed it. I too loved the overly holiday spirit in Trick r Treat.

    Speaking of, I expect you have your Halloween costume ready for whatever scheduled adventures planned on that day?

    Same goes for you Matt. TIck tock tick tock...

  5. Very good chance that with a new job at a restaurant that wasn't allowing anyone to request Halloween off (?!) and it just so happens to be on a Saturday - I will be working. Wicked shitball, but hopefully I will get out early enough to do something. As far as a costume goes...not exactly sure yet. I bought a red wig and thought about going as Maliki from Children of the Corn! Outlander!

    Also, I think the lack of extras are a ploy to cause us to double dip, or to buy Blue Ray players to help with sales and make them more successful...cause they aren't. I'm not buying into the format yet, I think it will be overtaken by something bigger and better along the lines of digital downloading. But this is a rant I shall end before it becomes epic!
    What are you going as for Halloween?! Or do I know and forgot?

  6. You probably know and forgot, as I'm so excited about it that I've told everyone nine times: Since I'm attending a wedding with two other female friends, we're going as the ladies from Clue. Naturally, for hair and personality reasons, I will playing the part of Mrs. Peacock.

    I would try to claim Halloween as a religious holiday for yourself. If you can't get away with it the honest way (because really, it IS religious for people like ourselves) then claim to be super duper Christian in need of praying all All Hallows Eve for the souls of those cavorting with the devil.

    And ugh Blu Ray. I'm in the same boat of waiting--look what happened to those who chose the side of HD back in those rivalry days.