Thursday, October 8, 2009
I've been hearing about this TRICK 'R' TREAT movie for a couple of years now, I think it was supposed to originally come in 2007, and then kept getting pushed back for some reason. Actually, now that I've seen it, I'm guessing that it got pushed back because it isn't very good. In a way, the delayed release was probably kind of a blessing for this film. It didn't wind up getting a theatrical release, but it did wind up getting lots of word of mouth and internet attention, most of it not really having anything to do with the quality of the movie, just that it was a horror film that existed and hadn't been released. And I think people are going to be kinder to TRICK 'R' TREAT because of that, because the delays make it seem like the little movie that could, even though in reality, it's more like the medium-sized film that sort of couldn't.
The problem with TRICK 'R' TREAT is that it's almost totally incoherent. There are about six narrative threads running through the film, and writer-director Michael Dougherty only makes the most marginal effort to tie them all together. The opening credits sequence uses horror comic book imagery, but it doesn't really relate to anything that goes in the movie, there's no comic book-styled framing device that ties things together, no Crypt Keeper-like narrator to introduce each story. Actually, the opening credits images only relate to horror comics insomuch as they portray the film as being a horror comic, they don't relate in any way to anything recognizable from the history of horror comics, it's basically just, "look, here's a comic book with characters from this movie in it." It doesn't really make any sense, and it makes even less sense because it doesn't appear anywhere else in the movie.
The stories themselves are kind of like the throwaway material you might find in a stronger horror anthology film, like maybe CREEPSHOW, if CREEPSHOW had any extraneous material, which it doesn't, because CREEPSHOW is awesome. As is to be expected, a couple of the stories are based around delivering would-be ghastly punchlines, twists or comeuppances. These sequences are poorly paced. In one, Dylan Baker, who is quite good, plays a serial killing high school principal, and the ending of the sequence is pretty predictable early on. The ending of another sequence (with Anna Paquin) about werewolves (or werewolf vampires, possibly, it wasn't totally clear), comes completely out of nowhere. The only story that sort of works features a group of children tormenting an autistic girl and then getting killed by the zombies of a bunch of other autistic children who were drowned in a bus accident. Having written that, though, I realize how absolutely fucking grim this section of the film was, and how out-of-step with the supposedly "fun" atmosphere that film is supposed to have. The characterization of autism is fairly exploitative as well. I guess this section works best when you don't really think about it too hard (the filmmakers haven't).
Other sections of the film are just kind of arbitrary. In the opening scene, a young woman is killed for blowing out a jack-o-lantern before midnight. That's the whole story. In a later sequence, an old man (Brian Cox, a great actor who isn't given a lot to do here) is tormented and nearly murdered for taking candy away from kids, except then he isn't killed, except then he is killed for something else he did a long time ago. Both of these scenes involve a killer child made out of pumpkins called Sam, who I guess goes around brutally murdering people for minor Halloween-related infractions. This idea killed whatever sense of fun the rest of the movie had for me, already pretty tenuous, with the idea that Halloween is built upon a steadfast set of rules that need to be stringently obeyed, and which need to be avenged by a supernatural killer of some sort. I mean, aside from "get candy," does Halloween really need any rules? The anarchic quality of the holiday is a big part of the fun. And do people who break whatever rules the film seems to think there are really need to be killed? Wouldn't it make more sense just to scare the shit out of them?
The Sam character is also just a blatant attempt to squeeze some merchandising value out of TRICK 'R' TREAT. He's a little bit Chucky from CHILD'S PLAY and a little bit MICHAEL MEYERS from HALLOWEEN, and he's got a cute kind of grungy aesthetic that calls to mind THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (a movie I've never liked, but that's neither here nor there). Being a mishmash of unoriginal ideas, it's no wonder this character doesn't make a lot of sense. He appears in most of the stories, but for the most part, he just appears, is seen, and does nothing. When he does appear, his actions just don't seem justified. The woman is killed for blowing out the jack-o-lantern, but the Brian Cox character is spared- wouldn't stealing kids' candy be a much worse offense?- because he accidentally gives Sam a candy bar. Actually, he doesn't even accidentally give it to him, Sam just finds it on him and takes it, and lets him live. There's like a dozen small points like this one could pick over in the film, and they pretty much add up to one thing- bad writing.
So, yeah, TRICK 'R' TREAT is a mess. It's too dedicated to this idea of enforcing arbitrary rules with grim violence to be fun, and it's too goofy and stupid to be serious. It's just really kind of poorly written, poorly thought out, all over the place, taking itself too seriously while asking to be treated as light entertainment, and it's got this sort of soulless, commercial aspect in the contrived character of Sam. It depresses me that this one got a release, even after two years, while the far superior horror film ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE has been in limbo for three years now. Oh well, it's their world, we're just living in it...