Sunday, 27 April 2014

Trick 'r Treat

Trick 'r TreatTagline.jpg Recommended.jpg

I always remember being very underwhelmed by Halloween as a child. Trick or treating felt a bit awkward, I was never rebellious enough for chucking eggs and I was always disappointed by the lack of horror on late night TV. Maybe it’s the English approach to Halloween coupled with the influence of American culture or maybe I was just a more macabre child than I realised, but I found all the childish ghost stories a bit dull. There was always an anticipation which was never lived up to.

Michael Dougherty obviously had no such problems though and as a result dreamed up a town which plays host to five interweaving tales of candy and jack-o-lantern fueled madness. We are intermittently hauled from one side of town to the other as a stream of trick or treaters and party goers parade their fancy dress efforts. Children playing pranks, slutty Disney princesses, a twisted father and son relationship and a crotchety old shut-in are the focuses of the main four stories alongside a young couple who provide the opening prologue.

It feels right to start off by mentioning that this definitely feels like it’s aimed at a younger horror audience. Trick 'r Treat is rated 15 by the BBFC for strong gore and nudity but the actual content is very tame. This isn't a bad thing but kind of shows that it has ambitions to be something more grown up than it really is. It may well be a case that the more mature rating helps its credibility as a horror film but I know when I was fifteen I would have been pretty unimpressed.

This may be exaggerated by Trick 'r Treat’s sense of humour, particularly in the story based around the school principal Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker). The script is wonderfully dark and playful, flippantly throwing around some really pitch black quips at the expense of Steven’s son Billy (Connor Levins). He is a perfect parody of the archetypal 1950’s Hollywood child star, complete with ginger curls and over wrought American accent. It feels like a story that wouldn't be out of place in a SimpsonsTreehouse of Horror episode and the rest of the film isn't far off the same.
^What that says^

At times almost moving into Goosebumps territory the whole thing feels quite televisual, only exaggerated by the very loose weaving of the individual episodes. The colours are bright, the lighting is strong and the gore is inoffensive and cartoonish. Part Eerie Indiana part Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a tiny touch of The League of Gentlemen, the microcosm of a universe Dougherty creates within the town is playful and mischievous. It sums up the childlike excitement for the atmosphere of Halloween where blood and guts are ceremonially on display but real fear is ultimately kept at arm’s length.

All this might sound pretty negative but as long as you aren't expecting anything extreme this is a good film. Maybe even a great film. The acting is solid and the cast is great, Brain Cox sinks his teeth into the scenery and seems to be having a ball. Anna Paquin also puts in a great performance in a role which is along a very similar line to the ‘Amateur Night’ section of V/H/S with both leading ladies toying with an innocent fa├žade which hides a predatory monster underneath. The child acting is consistently great with Samm Todd standing out as a supposedly autistic savant character who’s part in the Scooby Doo-esque children’s adventure even includes some Velma style lost glasses. I was surprised to learn that all the stories were written and directed by one person and Michael Dougherty deserves credit for his diversity and variety. He tackles a multitude of horror staples with originality and flair. The quality across the board is high with the only exception being some pretty crappy looking puppetry which would have Jim Henson turning in his felt lined grave.
Little Big Plant Sackperson

If there is anything that doesn't work it is the way the stories are tied together. It was obviously a conscious choice to not simply work episodically and instead try to create a feeling of unity throughout the whole film. All the stories occur on the same night, in the same town, in a world where anything spooky goes. The problem is that it feels like the stories have been written completely separately from each other, then connected post-hoc to create one film. The cross-overs are in some cases no more than a single line or a briefly reoccurring character or visual motif. It jumps around in time and location somewhat jarringly and as a result what is supposed to be clever story structure is incoherent if looked at any deeper. One character that looks like a cross between a Little Big Planet Sack Person and a diminutive Jack Skellington is an obvious attempt to create a Freddy Kreuger-esque horror icon and makes brief appearances in most of the stories, bringing some visual markers along with him. He is however the main focus of only one story, and even then his appearance seems to have no relation to the final conclusion. Also the film's prologue seems to have been tacked on to give the timeline a circular form, but again doesn't fit in an coherent sense if really thought about.

The blue footed Boobie.jpg
This is a perfect early teen Halloween party movie. A good gateway to horror for younger viewers, containing just enough adult content (you get to see a boob!) to feel like you shouldn't be watching it, but there is nothing here that can really freak anyone out. The fifteen certificate feels misread but would enhance the feeling of daring for viewers younger than that. I struggle to imagine an older audience not finding this fairly tame but still pretty fun.
P.S. For anyone worried about the welfare of my children fear not, my future plans contain nothing more paternally challenging than a puppy.

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