Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Horror: Trick ’r Treat

Happy Halloween. Sam is here to make sure you are in the spirit. Trick 'r Treat.
In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing has brought readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we made our way to Halloween. Well, today is the day. Happy Halloween, all. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and if you have made it this far, thanks for checking out the site.

Day 31: Trick ’r Treat (2007)

Halloween is probably the easiest day of the year to separate your neighborhood into two groups: the good-natured folks and the grumps. I would put it ahead of even Christmas in this category because people have myriad reasons for not enjoying Christmas beyond general grouchiness. On the other hand, even for those not so inclined to the festivities, Halloween requires minimal effort. How hard is it to buy some candy and turn on the porch light?

The best part of Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat is its commitment to the holiday spirit. The film is even based on a short animation by Dougherty called Seasons Greetings. The movie’s would-be mascot, Sam, is the spirit of Halloween incarnate, named after the Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain, which is from where many of our modern traditions around the holiday are derived.

Set over the course of one Halloween night, the film tells the interlocking stories of five very different groups of people with, shall we say, differing opinions on the spirit of the holiday. Some of the stories cross over into others, and some just occur simultaneously in the background, but lurking throughout them all is Sam. We will learn more about Sam as the night goes on, but his presence permeates every second of the film, creating a lingering sense of doubt, dread, and fear for whatever may be around the next corner.

The night begins at the end for one couple returning home from a party. The husband is a Halloween fanatic. The wife, not so much, and she wants to begin taking down the decorations before the clock has even struck midnight. This will prove to be a big no-no on Sam’s watch.

Down the street, Dylan Baker plays a neighborhood teacher who has a couple secrets to hide and one major problem to handle. Next door to him is an old curmudgeon played by Brian Cox. Of all the characters, Cox’s Mr. Kreeg is the one least in the spirit of the evening, but he may have to find it, whether he likes it or not.

In town for the festivities is a group of 20-something girls trying to help their virginal friend, played by Anna Paquin, let loose. Then, in the movie’s least-connected vignette, several teenagers decide to play a prank on the nerdy girl in their class, and things do not go as planned.

It would be hard to nail down any one of these vignettes as the best. Mr. Kreeg’s story is definitely the scariest of the bunch, while Baker is an absolute riot in all of his scenes. I am partial to the tale of the teenagers and its ultimate anti-bullying message, though Paquin is a ton of fun over the course of her character arch, and the husband-and-wife story that opens the proceedings sets the perfect tone for the events that follow.

This is Dougherty’s only feature film, though he reportedly has two projects in development, including a sequel to this movie. Despite the writer-director’s inexperience, there is an easy artfulness to the way Dougherty’s camera moves across the town, finding little details and building a world out of the specificity of his creation. In the same way, Robert Ivison bounces around among the five stories with grace and precision, and while the film is comprised of several smaller components, the whole thing feels of a piece.

There is humor, horror, and real pathos in the stories of all these characters, and taken all together, the film is a loving and razor-sharp tribute to Halloween and a knowing recreation of what it is like to spend the holiday just kicking around town with your friends. So if you find your spirit waning and your energy running low, pop this in the DVD player and try to find the joy in the season. If you cannot, do not be surprised if you get a visit from old Sam. That ought to do the trick. Happy Halloween.

Tomorrow is the first day of November. Take a break from the television and go outside to watch the leaves change if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with real fall weather. Thanks again for joining me for Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror.

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