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Review: Trick 'r Treat

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Trick 'r Treat

Not one but five tales of horror interweave in the most frightening night of the year. It's Halloween, and it's up to you to survive it.

by Iñaki González Simón
November 14, 2009

Trick 'r Treat Movie Still

It’s Halloween night and a couple come back from their town's Halloween celebration. She's worn out, but he expects a little action. She wants to blow out their Jack-o'-lantern by the entrance, but he warns her, “You can’t blow that out until after Halloween. There are rules.” She ignores his warning, blows it out anyway and quickly learns that on Halloween night, there are always consequences for breaking the rules.

That's the opening scene of “Trick 'r Treat”, a film that came close to never being released but, fortunately, found it’s way to DVD and iTunes. Finally, we have the perfect movie (aside from "The Nightmare Before Christmas") to watch on All’s Hallow Eve. Directed by Michael Dougherty (writer of "Superman Returns" and "X-Men 2"), this movie is a an excellent example of horror in its most classic and purest style. Right from the surprising opening, “Trick 'r Treat” immerses us in the stories that take place in an unknown town of the United States. And I advise you to take a deep breath just before the dive, because this film won't let you come back up for air.

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From the very beginning (in which we can see pieces of the movie in comic book fashion) we can appreciate the tone and style that the movie sets, with an undeniable influence of classics such as "Tales From the Crypt" or "The Vault of Horror". At a dizzying speed, the tales of horror unfold before our eyes, sharing the same time and space and with the characters of each making quick, blink-of-the-eye cameos in each others’ tales. As a result, what could have been a group of independent tales instead become intertwined in a night of terror where nothing is what it seems to be.

The film follows five separate tales: A sadistic principal, a grumpy neighbor who doesn’t want to give out candy, a group of girls looking for a night of fun on the town, four kids with a cruel secret mission and, of course, the couple in the opening scene who are coming back home from the annual Halloween bash. And in the eye of the storm we meet Sam, a new Halloween icon created by the director, who made his debut in the short film "Season's Greetings". This petite character dressed up as a trick-or-treater is (in the most literal sense) the heart and soul of Halloween and, by extension, of the whole film. From his short height he keeps an eye on everyone and seems to be wherever terror gets loose. He is the zealous guardian of traditions: Always check your candy, never blow out a Jack-o'-lantern before midnight, wear a costume and hand out sweets to trick-or-treaters. Because if you don’t, he might get angry (and this is one little ghoul you certainly don’t want to irritate).

What makes this film perfect to watch on Halloween night (or any night for that matter) can be summed up in one phrase: It oozes fear. But not the kind of fear we are used to lately. It doesn't seek gimmicky gotcha scares like cats jumping from closets, but instead sets an uneasiness and dread accomplished through atmosphere: sets, lighting and music. All of these are perfectly orchestrated to keep our attention on the action and keep us unnerved throughout the entire film. Of course, the fact that it is divided into different stories is its strongest point. We get the proper pace in the rhythm this film needs, removing the exposition scenes de rigueur that deepen the personalities and background of the characters. We don't need a hero. Here, the people that populate this world are flat; a deliberate move from the director who acknowledges they are just mere instruments for the true main characters - the stories. Although some of the stories are a bit longer and more original than the others, they all come together to form a diverse mix of slasher horror, conventional monsters and human evil, with each of them resonating in us at different levels. One unfortunate aspect of the film is that it sometimes can't help but fall into clichés, but in general the story balances out enough to prevent suffering from the "I've seen this before" syndrome. This is achieved mostly thanks a couple of well-placed plot twists, its lack of indulgence, and the willingness of the director to trespass some limits.

All-in-all Dougherty shows us that you can fill us with fear without too much complication and restores my faith in classic horror films. He invokes our primeval fear: that little voice in the back of our heads that tells us that the unknown, at any moment, could crawl into our peaceful little universe and is always just one small step away from that lighted street or that college party and is waiting for us, in the darkness, to let down our guard. This movie takes us back to a time when we believed that monsters wandered freely in the dark of night and the only thing that kept you safe was pure luck. It's our childhood and its whispered legends come true. It’s the harsh bedtime stories with their rigid morals, the most important of which, of course, is to never break the rules.