Wednesday, October 7, 2009

REVIEW: Trick 'R Treat...

I love horror films, and I love Fall even more.

This time of year, we get films that fit in one of two categories.

First, there are films like Saw, Hostel, and films like Prom Night, that I consider to be "pop" horror. While you can't thematically or visually compare the two styles of film, they are both looking for the same audience. Both are hunting for that opening weekend explosion of say, 25$ million, and then they just burn out like a cigarette in the eye of a torture porn loving tween. Both hunt for that hidden demographic that I like to call, "mentally handicapped". These are the people that simply hunt out films that feature either gorgeous 20-somethings (Prom Night por ejemplo), or that will feature scenes that will not frighten you, simply initiate your gag reflex, or Saw and Hostel, and the like.

Then there is everything else, which is a much smaller percentage than that title may hint at. Films like The Orphanage are not only terrifying, but are also fantastic films, that will linger with you for days. These are for people who instead of wanting to imitate the actions they have just finished watching (I personally wanted to put a drill to the back of my brain after Saw III), will be looking behind their back like a guy with an aired out colon who was just let out of Chino.

Trick 'R Treat falls somewhere in the purgatory between these two, and it works the whole time.

Trick 'R Treat follows five interwoven stories that occur on the same block, on the same night. A couple finds what happens when they blow a jack o' lantern out before midnight, a high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer, a college virgin might have met the right guy for her, a group of mean teens play a prank that they take too far, and a hermit is visited by a special trick or treater, all with the idea that, while the holiday may be fun and games, there are also distinct rules to be followed, or else "you will be in a world of hurt."

This is the first feature from screenwriter Michael Dougherty, and I must say, this is both a fantastic kickoff, and one that was completely mishandled by the studio, Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures. Honestly, from a studio like Legendary, that released such films like Watchmen, Observe and Report, and 300 (one of those films can dine in hell for all I care), this is a puzzling mishap on their behalf. Not only is this film fantastic, but it is also one that could easily spark not only a yearly viewing or re release of the film, but a growing franchise.

The film features five separate stories, all of which are beyond compelling, and all of which intertwine in some sort of way, primarily with holding our main character, Sam (or Sack Boy as I like to lovingly call this kid), in every plot line. This is by far the films most iconic character, and one that by the end of the piece, will leave you wondering how this could not be the first film in a fantastic and truly original franchise. There really isn't much acting from the boy, so he doesn't hold the acting weight of the film, but where that weight does lie, it lies on some strong shoulders.

The two biggest hitters in the film are Brian Cox and Dylan Baker, who are beyond fantastic here. Brian Cox gets a bit tedious to watch, especially when it's his story, which caps off the film, but for what he is, he completely works. However, the true star of this film, even though he is only in it for probably 20 solid minutes, is Dylan Baker, as Steven, a murderous school principle. He is so menacing, yet so drop dead perfect and hilarious, that you both want to cringe in tension for his scene (especially the first post credit murder), as well as pick yourself up off the floor where you just fell after laughing. Anna Paquin is also solid, if basically ripping off her character from True Blood, and the group of kids we follow near the middle are both ignorant to the lore that they are preaching, but also so innocent, that they really don't know any better.

More so than a film, Trick 'R Treat is a monument to the holiday that is Halloween. Instead of simply being about a killer who kills on October 31st (although I do LOVE Carpenters Halloween, which is a vastly superior film, by the way), it takes the holiday, and makes it have it's own strong and historic mythology. Halloween may be all fun and games for children, but instead of being just a day of costumes, the day has rules and myths that must be respected, or else you will have a kid in a creepy ass sack mask hunt your candy pumping ass down until he guts you like a chubby kid ripping open a forty year old Twinkies as if it were his last.

The film is also not just a horror film. While there are a few horror style moments, none are too scary (if at all), but the film is also intensely comedic. Featuring dozens of scenes that will have you guffawing for days, this film is one of the most enjoyable that I've had a chance to see in a while. It also looked really beautiful, especially when knowing that it came from a first time director. The colors and hues that he throws on the screen not only amp up the emotion in the film, but really set you in the mood for fall and Halloween. That may be this films ultimate triumph. After viewing this piece I personally wanted to run out and throw a huge costume party in honor of the holiday, something I haven't felt since my higschool days.

However, the film did have some stark flaws.

The films major flaw is in it's use of horror. Along with a film like Jennifer's Body, there is some sort of movement of directors dishing out horror that is oddly muted. While there are a few scares, there is nothing that will leave you creeped out for longer than the second it takes you to discover that you are stupid for thinking that. Nothing will stay with you for longer than the length of the film, unlike other films like The Orphanage, and that is ultimately the films biggest sin. While it does do Halloween great justice in giving it a deep mythology, it negates that point by ultimately making it a comedic event, more than a frightening one. The only thing that I will remember is Sack Boy, which makes the first point I made, about the studios mishandling this film, even more depressing and all around shocking. The film also drags heavily down into the mud, particularly during the second story, involving Anna Paquin's character. There is no real connection to the overall plot, and it doesn't do anything more than add a supernatural element to the film. While fun to watch, it's incoherent, and completely out of place in this otherwise dark, yet realistic in a way, horror/comedy.

All in all, Trick 'R Treat is destined to become a cult classic, and I hope it does. While it's not the best film out there, it is one that any horror fanatic needs to hunt out. It's a great dark horror/comedy, that, albeit flawed, is an original take on horror and Halloween, and one you should check out.

TRICK 'R TREAT - 7.5/10

Go see something good!

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