Sunday, October 31, 2010

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #13: Trick 'r Treat

Michael Dougherty’s ‘Trick ’r Treat’, clocking in at just 79 minutes but packing them with effective chills, gallows humour and some unexpected twists, is a terrific little anthology movie. Rather than adopt, say, the Amicus approach to the portmanteau structure – contrived framing device, several totally separate stories – Dougherty goes for something more akin to ‘Short Cuts’ or ‘Magnolia’. His tales of terror are interconnected. He cuts between story strands; juggles linearity (although each story is linear, the overall structure is something of an ouroborus); has fun with alternative POVs; and weaves a cobweb of sly cross-references.

Individually, the stories present exactly the kind of scenarios you’d expect of a film set on Halloween: a serial killer uses the spooky celebrations as a cover for his visceral activities; a girl eager for her first time encounters a man who has entirely different plans for her; an elaborate prank by a group of teens backfires; and an old man with something to hide is terrorized by an unlikely aggressor.

Likewise, the imagery is entirely apposite – scary costumes for the guys, sexy costumes for the gals, creepy kids, masks floating spectrally in moonlit lakes, wickedly sharp knives, puddles of blood, and fuckloads of pumpkins (seriously, ‘Trick ’r Treat’ boasts more pumpkins per square inch than any other movie I can think of) – while the urban legend aspects of the script include dark secrets from the past and a nasty fate for a group of kids on a schoolbus.

Just to sweeten the deal that little bit more, Dougherty throws in a handful of John Carpenter homages: there’s a nifty deconstruction of the opening sequence of ‘Halloween’; the recycling of the classic “you gotta be fucking kidding me” line from ‘The Thing’; and a gleeful appropriation of the waterlogged-zombies-back-from-the-depths-for-one-last-act-of-vengeance coda from ‘The Fog’. Dougherty handles these borrowings with enough panache that they retain their amusement factor without being distracting or annoying.

The two big names in the cast – Anna Paquin in a delightfully twisted take on ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and Brian Cox as the crotchety old guy who quite definitely gets the “trick” end of ‘Trick ’r Treat’ – do sterling work. Other excellent turns come from Dylan Baker as a high school principal whose extra-curricular activities wouldn’t go over too well with the PTA (a scene involving a hole dug in the backyard, a nosy neighbour and the constant interruptions from his young son build to a comedy of embarrassments painted in the darkest hue), Britt McMillip as the ringleader of the teens whose prank has unforeseen consequences and Samm Todd as the intended butt of their joke.

Glen MacPherson’s cinematography nails the Halloween atmosphere perfectly (his lighting is superb, particularly in the multiplicity of scenes involving candlelit pumpkins). Dougherty’s script is good and the final scene, bringing things full circle, ties everything together with a dark little bow. His direction is pacy and he keeps things atmospheric at all times. With its short running time, ‘Trick ’r Treat’ never threatens to outstay its welcome. It’s the kind of cynically pleasurable little movie that lends itself perfectly to a double-bill with Carpenter’s classic.

Happy Halloween, everyone.


J.D. said...

This film deserves to become staple watching on Halloween. So well done. Can't wait to see what this filmmaker does next!

Neil Fulwood said...

As far as I can gather, his most recent work has been scripting. I hope it's not too long before he has a chance to get behind the camera again. 'Trick 'r Treat' shows real talent and an innate knowledge of his craft.