Monday, October 05, 2009

Trick 'r Treat (2009)

It's a strange feeling to be in a theater full of people who are having a different experience than yours. The best example of this feeling in my lifetime was when I went to see Eyes Wide Shut on opening weekend, and when the audience of mainstream movie-goers expecting a Basic Instinct-style erotic thriller actually got a lengthy dream-fugue on sexual morality, the audience's emotional strain (even, distress) was palpable, while I was grinning ear-to-ear at Kubrick's posthumous audacity.

It was a less extreme feeling when I went to see Michael Dougherty's Trick 'r Treat at the New Beverly on Sunday night, but I still had that feeling while the audience was going crazy about the film around me. Really? You guys are really that into this? Let me emphasize, Trick 'r Treat is not a bad movie, and it's clearly a labor of love. But it's not a great movie, and the reaction I was feeling was the reaction to a much better movie than the one I saw.

Trick 'r Treat was written and directed by Michael Dougherty, screenwriter on X2 and Superman Returns, and it's become famous for how long its release has been delayed - originally slated to come out in October 2007, it's only now getting a few token releases in advance of its dump to DVD. Such is Hollywood (and the foul effects of the Saw franchise). And then along the line, it became some kind of cause celebre among the world of horror movie bloggers. And I'm all in favor of movie bloggers championing disrespected movies...but there's still some weird disconnect here.

Trick 'r Treat is an anthology movie, and individual sequences within it are pretty terrific, especially the climactic sequence pitting Brian Cox against 'Sam', an enigmatic trick-or-treater/demon (he's that cute little guy in the picture up top). Well and good, but then other sequences, especially one involving Anna Paquin as a meek Red Riding Hood in search of a man, just fall flat - and Paquin's sequence got the biggest cheers and applause from the New Beverly crowd. Wha happa? Somehow, some crucial element of the the scene passed me by, because what I saw was a confusingly-shot, blandly-written episode with a predictable twist.

In fact, the movie as a whole, in general, suffers from confusing direction and misguided writing. Dougherty made the good decision to try and integrate his episodes into each other (unlike most anthology movies, like Creepshow, which stand separate), but the ways Dougherty chooses to interweave his stories don't really lead to anything. Dylan Baker, as a creepy school principal, is good within his own story, but it doesn't really add anything, or even make sense, for him to pop up within the Anna Paquin story. Brian Cox's presence as a character in two separate stories is established through a totally gratuitous photograph that appears very late in the movie - that's bad screenwriting, from a guy who's made hundreds of thousands as a Hollywood screenwriter. And so on.

Let me reiterate, I loved specific moments within this movie - Brian Cox fighting a junior pumpkinhead is up there with Karen Black vs. the Zuni fetish doll; Dylan Baker's performance is awesome as always; and the storyline involving a busload of special needs kids who die in a bus crash (see above) is nicely creepy and has a great payoff. But the movie as a whole? I hate to be a Halloween grinch, but it's only okay, not amazing, and hardly a modern classic. I really feel bad saying it - I want to encourage people to see this movie, but also not to have too-high expectations.



Joel E said...

Yeah, I just watched this one on DVD and you're dead on with your commentary. I thought the costume design, casting, and production design were by far the best parts of this. As much as I liked Dylan Baker's creepy principal, his story is erratic and has a completely silly payoff but when he showed up in the Paquin story it only lines up to one throwaway piece of dialogue and otherwise makes no sense. And I can guess why the crowd went ape for that Paquin sequence. God knows fan boys have a knee jerk reaction to Cosplay, stripping, and genre so throw all three pointlessly together and you get T&A for the cheap seats.

I liked Cox but felt his sequence didn't really live up to the Trilogy of Terror homage it was attempting to be. The film is filled with so many cheap scares and cliche horror movie moments that by the time we finally resolved Cox's fate, I was pretty bored.

Oh well. I should learn to avoid the fanboy horror recommendations. None of them have paid off the last few years.

Jeff McMahon said...

I'm sure you're right, I was basically feeling puzzled and confused and wondering what was wrong with me for not liking it, but every other person I know who's seen this movie has agreed that it's pretty much a mess, so I don't feel bad at all about not getting into gratuitous girl werewolf cosplay (ick, I hate even typing the words).

At least I hope you agree that it's more fun to watch Brian Cox in a movie than Karen Black doing basically the same stuff, all things being equal.

Joel E said...

I will always take Brian Cox over Karen Black, certainly, but the original Trilogy of Terror scared the bejesus out of me and this hit some wonderful notes but never gave me the sense of cat-and-mouse it was trying so hard to imply. Of course, I saw the original Trilogy of Terror when it aired, so I was like 5 or 6 at the time and the story of me sneaking out to see it is one of my Mother's faves. It scarred me so deeply it's still embedded in my memory. I'm sure it will never hold up to that recollection of it now.

Anyway, I like your comment that this is clearly a labor of love and it is, but it does have some serious problems. On the DVD is an animated short Dougherty did back in the late 90's showing the Sam character in an early form, sort of a Halloween animated card in the same vein as the original South Park Spirit of Christmas short. Dougherty has had a lot of time to think about this, so the narrative issues are doubly disappointing.

Heh heh, great intro with the EWS story. I had the exact same experience in a Seattle multiplex.