There’s a certain magic in the air around the Halloween season; the falling leaves, the gentle chill in the air…it hearkens back to memories of my childhood, back when trick-or-treating was an all-night affair (well, all night to me back then was from dark until nine or ten o’clock). We didn’t start when it was still daylight like they do now, and we’d move from neighborhood to neighborhood, filling our pillowcases or paper grocery bags to bursting with goodies…you know, back when the stories of razorblades in apples and broken glass on gumdrops were by and large just legends. The beauty of that aforementioned magic was the underlying feeling of something unseen, perhaps even a little sinister; after all, here we all were, dressed up as monsters…there were scary movies on all three channels (yeah, I’m that old)…and we (at least in my case) saw that our parents had a kind of spooky reverence for the evening.
Something was definitely in the air, our ancestral memory prickling up the hairs on our necks without us even consciously realizing why…something that might not be entirely friendly…something powerful…something old…
Although I have a very long list of favorite flicks for this time of year, there’s one in particular that for me really captures both the feel of those childhood memories and the dark underpinnings of the origins of the holiday; Michael Dougherty’s 2007 film, Trick ‘r Treat.
A small American town, much like one you may live in, or at least know of, is gearing up for Halloween; the capper for the evening will be a huge parade and block party celebrating the last night that all spirits are free to walk. Depending on who they are, the denizens of this community make their preparations differently; small kids are anxious to carve their jack o’ lanterns…teen girls seek the sexiest costumes…adults gather for their costume parties, inhibitions giving way to the flow of alcohol and good times. On the other end of the spectrum, a group of bullying youths plan a cruel prank upon one who dares challenge the pecking order, using a skeleton in the town’s closet to forment fear and aid in their joke…an old man who’s had done with the silliness of childish holidays bitterly laments in his spooky old home, his only joy this evening frightening away troublesome “trick-or-treaters”…and a young couple disagree over the minutiae of observing the traditions of the holiday.
Worst of all, there are darker shades of humanity that seek release on this sinister night, sharpening their blades and poisoning the treats they’re to hand out, almost gleeful in their anticipation of the suffering they are to cause. All of these, oblivious to one another, will find that on this particular All Hallows Eve, there is a force greater than they could imagine amongst them, older than time and relentless in it’s desire for respect on this most preternatural of all nights, and none of their lives will ever be the same…
An anthology of sorts, Trick ‘r Treat is nonetheless a very cohesive feature; although it details several distinct tales, each crosses paths with the other as the events all transpire in one small town one fateful Halloween, grounding the film in a living environment that is both believeable and familiar. The use of the concurrent, overlapping timeline is very well done, and I give all kudos to Dougherty for his scripting.
The stylistic manner of his direction also shows a strong love of the genre, as well as a firm grasp of how to use his framing and depth of field to elicit the dread and ominous vibe that he was aiming for. The whole film combines elements of classic horror, as well as nods to more modern techniques and tropes; it rolls all of this together into a very enjoyable and effortless narrative that left me wanting more.
The ensemble cast obviously put a lot of passion into their performances; Dylan Baker brings a surprising mix of creepiness and likeability to his character…Anna Paquin showcases her ability to show strength through a sheen of vulnerability, and Brian Cox is his usual pristine self in his role of the rankled curmudgeon Mr. Kreeg, that “crazy old man” that every town seems to have. Aside from these bigger names, everyone else brings much more than passing performances to the table, again enforcing the reality of the small town, making the overall feel of the film deeper and more convincing; it makes the suspension of disbelief much easier…you can accept the injection of unreality to this very real-seeming place. Although there’s not an overt amount of blood and gore, the effects of the film are very impressive; using these sparingly with the well-shot and nuanced directorial methods along with the clever script creates an effective and at times very chilling atmosphere.
Finally, I have to mention Sam; although he’s never named in the course of the film, once you meet him early on, his presence is felt in nearly every frame. I won’t spoil anything by detailing who he is or what he represents, but I’ll say that he’s the thread that binds this tightly-woven tale of tales together. If Halloween is to have an icon that represents all the aspects of what it means to me, then Sam is it; he’s the Easter Bunny of All Hallows Eve as far as I’m concerned.
This movie is a love letter to everything I hold dear about Halloween; it may not be the scariest flick I’ve ever seen, but there’s something about it that just screams Halloween. The incorporation of so many legends and traditions that we all grew up with blends together with the inclusion of the ideas and idioms of the ancient pagan beliefs that started it all; this forms an atmospheric tale that makes your skin crawl in all the right ways. For my part, it took me back in time to that eight-year-old kid in the cheap plastic costume and the vaccu-formed mask (with the rubber band pulling my hair in the back), excited and giddy about traipsing about for candy, but with a respect, awe, and even the inevitable touch of fear for what may have been milling about those darkened streets with me, just out of the circle of the light from the streetlamps.
I can see where some folks may not dig it; the comic-book styling and the fact that it’s not a gore-fest will turn off a certain demographic of you Fellow Fans, and it’s not a film that will keep you lying awake the night after you watch it…but if you’re like me, it will definitely stir something in your subconscious, something that you stored back there in the dust with the fear of the dark and old episodes of The Night Stalker, thinking you’d outgrown all of that…
…but it’s never really left you.
My two cents? Required Halloween watching.
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