3 STARS OUT OF 5.
First of all, I promise that the Quad Film Department will at some point review a movie which is not a gory horror-comedy. For now, however, ’tis the season for scares, and director Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat has finally been made available to the general public.
For those unfamiliar with this film’s backstory, Trick ‘r Treat is a Pulp Fiction-style horror anthology that jumps back and forth through time to weave together several story threads, all of which take place over the course of one Halloween night in the fictional (but Salem-like) small town of Warren Valley, Ohio. It was originally supposed to hit theaters in 2007, but was continually pushed back for reasons that remain unclear. (One possibility is that Warner Bros. was afraid of competing with the Saw sequels, which is just sad.) It made the rounds at various film festivals, receiving overwhelmingly positive online buzz, and was finally released directly to DVD this month. Dougherty probably isn’t too happy about this rocky distribution history, but it has at least provided some controversy-based publicity, since every review has to implicitly side with either the film geeks or the studio suits.
I’m with the geeks, myself, but it should come as no surprise that the movie doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by its internet advocates. This is, after all, a film that pretty much wants to be the end-all, be-all Halloween flick, and while that’s a commendable goal, it’s also a hard one to achieve. (As far as I’m concerned, John Carpenter’s Halloween, which is subtly referenced a few times, still holds the title.)
However, Trick ‘r Treat‘s cinematography and production design bring it close to greatness. Every frame is drenched in spooky, autumnal atmosphere: Leaves rustle, fog swirls, blood splatters. Hundreds of jack-o-lanterns grin ominously. Orange and black dominate the color palette. The cast–which includes Brian Cox, Anna Paquin and Dylan Baker–also does a good job.
The problems lie in the underdevelopment of the stories, which depict such things as a school principal who moonlights as a serial killer and a rock quarry haunted by the ghosts of mentally challenged children. These are twisted, perverse concepts, and I mean that in a good way, but they either go by so quickly or are presented so confusingly that they don’t hit as hard as they should. For example, Dougherty, a protégé of Bryan Singer, has said that Brian Cox’s character is supposed to be the “Scrooge [of] Halloween”; that’s a cool idea, but when you have a kid in a “This Is My Costume” T-shirt walking around knocking over pumpkins, as well a woman who literally states, “I hate Halloween,” Cox doesn’t come off as all that extreme. With a lean running time of 82 minutes, the film could have and should have spent more time fleshing out its characters and plot.
Still, Halloween fanatics looking for a seasonal chill will be better served by this than by Saw VI. (Unless, of course, the Saw series suddenly gets a lot better. Wanna place bets?) If you clicked on the link I included earlier you know that Dougherty is already planning a Trick ‘r Treat 2. If he wants that one to get into theaters, he’d do well to take a critical look at his original.