Trick 'r Treat
Trick ‘r Treat (2007, dir. Michael Dougherty) Screw Christmas. Halloween is by far my favorite holiday. I’m not great at coming up with costumes, and I haven’t been to a haunted house in years, but Halloween is the most perfect combination of some of my favorite things: candy corn, fall, and all things scary. There is nothing better than turning on the TV and finding that at least five channels are showing horror films ranging from the classics to camp, and if you happen to come across a little flick called Trick ‘r Treat, I think you should give it a whirl.
Don’t be put off by the fact that this one went straight to DVD; it opened in a few festivals to solid acclaim, but languished in development hell and was rushed to the video store shelves (we still had those in 2007, remember), only to become a growing cult favorite. I’m still stunned that this one never made it to the theaters; there are very few horror movies that have come out in the last 6 years that I would prefer to this one (and many of them are foreign and never made it to US theaters anyway), and much the enjoyment is due to the way that the plot line is structured.
One of the biggest problems plaguing horror films today (other than weak-sauce remakes) is how to maintain a sense of fear and dread on the thinnest of stories. Many films over-explain and lose any sense of magic and horror in exposition that largely doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, while others avoid any sense of character development or complexity in favor of jump scares—admittedly this is a balancing act that makes those films that manage to pull it off seem that much more impressive. Trick ‘r Treat smartly avoids these pitfalls by breaking the plot into four interconnected stories, all of which take place in a small Ohio town obsessed with Halloween and upholding its traditions. By showcasing four smaller stories over the 82-minute run-time, the viewer doesn’t need a ton of explanation to follow along, and a weak plot isn’t stretched to capacity. Instead, these gems, and all the little clues that bind them together, are able to shine on their own gory merit.
We meet a middle school principal (Dylan Baker) with a nasty hobby, a group of “slutty” Disney princesses out to get their virginal Red Riding Hood (Anna Paquin) laid for the first time, a group of kids set on playing a prank on one of the school’s outcasts (involving a gruesome story from the town’s past—this is by far my favorite segment), and a curmudgeon (Brian Cox) who insists on terrorizing all of the kids who stop by his home—until he is visited by a shadowy figure who wants to teach him the consequences of breaking Halloween traditions. But the best part about these intertwined vignettes is the ways that they play with our ingrained expectations of where these stories should go, and of which things we should be afraid. As the pieces move back and forth, tying the stories together by both the characters and temporality, the story gets more complex to a truly chilling effect. The ending gets me every time.
The music is great, the acting is solid throughout, and for a film with a relatively low budget, the special effects are, well, effective. But it is the creativity—that willingness to use all of those things that are wonderful about Halloween as the basis for a story, rather than just the setting, as well as the refreshing take on some worn out tropes—that push Trick ‘r Treat to the top of your recommended Halloween horror viewing.