Monday, March 1, 2010

Film Review: TRICK 'R TREAT (2009, Michael Dougherty)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 82 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Dylan Baker (HAPPINESS), Brian Cox (L.I.E.), Brit McKillip (Reggie on DEAD LIKE ME), Christine Willes (Dolores Herbig on DEAD LIKE ME), Anna Paquin (THE PIANO), Leslie Bibb (LINE OF FIRE, IRON MAN). Co-produced by Bryan Singer (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, APT PUPIL).
Tag-line: "Poison, Drowning, Claw, Or Knife. So Many Ways To Take A Life."
Best one-liner: "Always check your candy."

Playing out like some unholy fusion of THE DECALOGUE and CREEPSHOW, TRICK 'R TREAT is a damned entertaining flick, and one which was unjustly confined to the hideous 'direct to DVD' market. Soggy pussied studio execs likely pulled the plug with their hammy, sweaty fingers upon seeing the depiction of kiddies getting murdered, but everything within this film is handled with a light-hearted morbid exuberance- it's no more disturbing than a pile of dusty old EC Comics.

In fact, it's a love letter to Americana Halloween traditions, steeped in 50's nostalgia (from the vintage PSA opening to horn-rimmed costume choices), and peppered with nods toward horror classics (THE THING, THE CHANGELING, etc.).

Taking place in Anywhere, Ohio, we're entreated to four basic, overlapping tales, all of which end with the old 'switcheroo,' a corny (but endlessly fun) hallmark of the genre. Dylan Baker is phenomenal as your friendly neighborhood serial killer, finding the perfect balance between eerie placidity and frenetic slapstick.

Brian Cox rises above the stock 'crotchety old man,' and takes on a miniature attacker with elderly élan, the likes of which I hadn't seen since Agnes Moorehead in the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode, "The Invaders."

Anna Paquin is always a pleasure to watch- her waifish exterior belying the unique and powerful presence which she naturally exudes.

And DEAD LIKE ME fans get an additional treat as well, with Brit McKillip (Reggie) as a snide teen and Christine Willes (Dolores Herbig) as a drunken teacher presiding over a (furry) jamboree. Oddly appropriate.

TRICK 'R TREAT emerges as a passionate defense of Halloween tradition- in the literal, celebratory context, and as an appeal for a return to good, old-fashioned horror storytelling. No character is safe from death, and it's not done in a cynical, post-SCREAM, 'We'll kill off who you think we won't' way, like the FEAST series; but rather a 'goddamn, we're having so much fun spinning this yarn that we just killed off half the cast!' A little sincerity goes a long way. Four stars. In a similar vein, I also recommend MURDER PARTY.

-Sean Gill


Unknown said...

Yeah, this film deserves to become an annual Halloween viewing institution just like John Carpenter's film of the same name. I really dug this one in a big, big way. The script was tight and it was nice how all the characters and their storylines occasionally crossed with others but not in a cutesy, look-how-clever-I-am way. I sure hope this guy cranks out some more films, pronto!

Sean Gill said...

Yeah- you're not expecting much from a straight-to-DVD horror flick, yet I enjoyed it far more than 90% of the horror films that have received a theatrical release in the last ten years. Sincerity counts for a lot, and TRICK 'R TREAT just wanted to have a damn good time, not impress us with postmodern douchery, and I think that's why horror fans have connected with it.