Trick r Treat

Trick r Treat

 

It amazes me how the essence of one thing can be distilled down into another, smaller and simpler thing.  A fair example of this would be my mother’s wretched sugar cookies, the taste and texture of which captures Christmas for me.  It’s one very big multilayered experience made concise.  Movies do this too, and most of them are probably taste better than my mother’s baking.

I think that for a lot of people, movies such as A Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life capture the essence of Christmas much in the same way as a mother’s baking do for me.  I don’t feel that Halloween is a holiday that has a movie like that –  until now.  Let’s Trick r Treat.

 

Trick r Treat is a lovely little movie consisting of several overlapping Halloween stories. The opening story features a young couple returning home from a large Halloween party held on the town’s main street which bleeds into the tale of a school principal, who is  having a hard time getting his Halloween preparations ready.   From there the film cuts into a story about four party girls who have arrived in town to join the festivities.  Next, we follow a group of trick or treaters gathering jack o’ lanterns for a solemn Halloween rite honoring the long dead victims of the town’s legendary “School Bus” massacre.   Finally, we meet a sick old man who learns the true meaning of Halloween.

Trick r Treat is not your standard portmanteau anthology, which are separated into self-contained mini movies.  The stories in Trick r Treat bleed into one another.  A thread that runs through the movie is the presence of Sam, a lone pint-sized trick r treater with an over-sized burlap jack o’ lantern mask and orange footie pajamas, who wanders in and out of the stories largely unnoticed by the other characters.

Usually at this point I’d be wading waist-deep in the set-up of the movie’s plot, but the way Trick r Treat is structured makes that impossible to do without spoiling it.  So rather than talking about specific plot points we’ll move into broader themes and influences.  Trick r Treat owes quite a bit to the anthology films that came before and also a heavy debt to the EC horror comic books, with whom this movie shares a great deal.  Disrespect for the dead, disregarding ancient traditions, committing crimes, and treating others with cruelty are all behaviors that are roundly punished in horrible ways.  There are also a number of fun plot twists that echo the same sources.

The characters are cut from the same cloth as the plot, there is the socially awkward girl trying to fit in, a bully, a local legend that haunts the town, children playing with the forces of darkness.   Trick ‘r Treat is not played straight for horror, again harking back to comics of EC, there is an appropriate level of campy humor threaded throughout, which underlines, rather than undermines, the horror.  This is all deftly handled by writer / director Michael Dougherty who clearly has an innate feel for the material and brings it off perfectly.

The cast is extremely impressive for a smaller budget film; Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker.  There really aren’t any weak links here.  Even the child actors (and I usually detest child actors) gave good performances.

I especially enjoyed Dylan Baker as Steven Wilkins, the school principal.  Near the beginning of the movie, Baker delivers with great relish, a lovely piece of exposition that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.  He’s sitting on his porch with Charlie, a bad boy who has been out bag snatching and kicking in jack o’ lanterns.  Baker delivers an eerie  homily about how taking other children’s candy and smashing jack o’ lanterns makes light of the true meaning of Halloween, all the while ominously wielding a large carving knife, cutting pumpkins into jack o’ lanterns.   “Halloween is about respecting the dead.  Halloween is the one night where the dead and other things roam free.”   With that, Baker pulls the knife from the pumpkin.  Schwing! The boy nearly leaps out of his skin.  It’s great stuff and it only gets better.

The special effects and sets are great.   I also like the small town setting.  I’m not sure if Michael Dougherty did this deliberately, but the Halloween party held on the main street of the town in the movie reminds me a bit of the annual Halloween party held on Court Street in Athens, Ohio.  It’s a ghost from my Halloween Past.   Dougherty is from Ohio, so he would be most likely aware of Halloween on Court Street.  It’s kind of a big deal.

At the end of the day, I’m left wondering why I had to get Trick r Treat through Netflix.  Why didn’t it come to my local multiplex?  I would have loved to have seen this on the big screen.  How did this gem of a movie get caught up in distribution limbo ending only in an ignominious direct to DVD release?   I dunno.  I’ve read that the executives at Warner Bros were scared that because some children come to a bitter end in this movie there would be some backlash.  That sounds like baloney to me.  I can’t imagine that a major studio would green light a project without reading the screenplay first.  Maybe executives at the big media companies can’t read?

Starring:
Brian Cox
Anna Paquin
Dylan Baker

Screenplay:
Michael Dougherty

Director:
Michael Dougherty

Four and a half Vincents out of Five

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