This happened on October 15th, 2009. There’s still no joy in it for me.
Trick ‘R Treat is a movie that has developed a large internet and word-of-mouth following among a certain kind of film fan, the kind that loves to find a little-known movie worthy of attention in order to champion its merits to the world. Trick ‘R Treat was originally slated for a 2007 release and was never released widely; it finally made it to DVD last week. Having heard scattered but rapturous praise in advance, and always on the lookout for an original horror film that could use a defender, I made watching it a priority.
The verdict: Disappointing.
It’s not good. It’s not. In fact, a half an hour into the movie I realized that it was actually bad, and it wasn’t going to stop being that way. And sure enough, it didn’t. It’s twice as disappointing because I know that there are plenty of smart people that love this movie, and good for them, but they’re not right on this one. There’s some nice cinematography in Trick ‘R Treat, and some occasionally inspired imagery, but a new and original Halloween classic? No. Really, it isn’t. Not hardly.
Trick ‘R Treat is an anthology horror movie, meant in the spirit of Creepshow (George A. Romero & Stephen King) or Twilight Zone: The Movie (John Landis & Joe Dante & Steven Spielberg & George Miller), and the five individual stories are meant to overlap seamlessly in the spirit of Pulp Fiction. (Stepping into big shoes can make it real easy to trip up…) The five stories – or four with an introductory sequence – all take place on the same Halloween night, and all are haunted by a scarecrow-mask-wearing trick-or-treater in orange pajamas, kind of a silent Crypt-Keeper figure. That character is by far the most memorable thing about the movie, and he features into the final and most straightforward story, the only one that is ultimately worth watching in the least.
Here’s the lead-off problem: Trick ‘R Treat is operating on the premise that Halloween has a series of traditions, and that bad things can happen if you violate those traditions. The movie mistakenly assumes that every viewer is acquainted with the traditions featured in each story. It certainly does not lay out the traditions clearly at the outset, and even after watching all of the stories, I wasn’t clear what principle they were referring to.
Let’s look at each segment in these general terms:
The prologue features a young couple returning from a Halloween parade. The young woman (Talladega Nights’ Leslie Bibb) snuffs out all the jack-o’-lantern candles in the yard, against her boyfriend’s warning. In an extended “homage” to the opening sequence of John Carpenter’s Halloween, she is stalked and killed. The tradition broken here: Don’t take down the Halloween decorations until the night is over? Okay, this one I get, although it hardly seems like the punishment fits the crime. (After all, how else can she make room for the Christmas lights?)
The first full story features a school principal (Spider-Man’s Dylan Baker), a single parent with a young son, who confronts a sloppy brute of a child (Bad Santa’s Brett Kelly) who has been smashing pumpkins and stealing candy. The principal calmly poisons the kid, then spends the rest of the episode trying to nervously hide the body from the neighbors and his son. The tradition broken here is: Always check your candy. That one I get, because it’s the only time in the movie that a tradition is clearly stated. The crippling problem with this story is character-based: Why does this guy kill a kid on his front steps, totally out in the open, and then all of the sudden get shy about it?
In the second story, a group of adolescents plays a scary prank on an autistic girl, but in doing so, they invoke an old supernatural menace. Tradition broken: Don’t play pranks lest they happen for real? I’m not sure. This was a pretty convoluted segment, with plenty of character and plot inconsistencies. My more empathetic tendencies also lead me to take issue with the concept of the mentally-challenged undead. If you are the type of person who is excited by the prospect of retarded zombies, go ahead with it I guess.
In the next story, a virginal college student (True Blood’s Anna Paquin) is stalked by a cloaked, fanged man, but she and her mega-hot friends turn the tables on him. Tradition broken: Don’t take anyone’s Halloween costume too literally? I really can’t say. This segment is an utter mess, and it pains me to say it because it culminates in the appearance of my favorite movie monster. But the story makes no sense, it is confusingly intercut with the previous stories, it features the abrupt and not-well-explained reintroduction of a character from an earlier story, and it features the worst acting of the entire film. You can distract me with amazing cleavage, but only temporarily.
In the last story, a wheezing old bastard (awesomeness’s Brian Cox) is besieged by that scarecrow kid who’s been appearing throughout the movie. Tradition broken: Be kind to trick-or-treaters lest they be unkind to you. I guess. This isn’t fully clear, but it almost doesn’t matter this time around. I called this one the best segment earlier because it has the most interesting filmmaking – it has the movie’s best actor playing against a legitimately decent monster design, and it’s just an extended chase sequence that doesn’t waste time on poor dialogue or cute twists. The pumpkinbaby’s motivations are still mighty unclear, but at least I wrung some entertainment out of the movie’s final moments.
The one thing that fans of Trick ‘R Treat and I can agree on is the mystery behind its delayed and unceremonious release. Not that I believe that this movie is good enough for anyone but the most optimistic and desperate horror fans, because it’s not; but because I literally see a worse movie than this dumped into theaters every single week. Trick ‘R Treat doesn’t hang together right, but it’s less ugly and sadistic than the Saw movies, more energetic than (for example) Surrogates, and more ambitious than just about any Sandra Bullock movie. Trick ‘R Treat fails, but at least it tried. It’s sad that I consider that praise, but I’d rather give a chance to a movie that wants to be original than a movie that is cynical and lazy.
But yeah, probably skip this one anyway.
Am I wrong? All I know for sure is that I’m on Twitter: @jonnyabomb