Back to expectations...What happens when you go into a film with very high hopes? Say a film that's an anthology of stories all based on Halloween legends (and you're already a big fan of anthology films - in particular those old Amicus horror ones)? And it just happens to have a 9.2 rating on IMDB and easily sold out its advanced tickets early on? Sure sounds like a good time at the theatre, doesn't it? Now what happens when you realize that the film not only has pre-built-in fans (none of whom have seen it) who not only dress as characters from the movie, but also know all sorts of trivia about them? And then mix in a smarmy director who kicks things off by making fun of other movies? Well the buzz starts to wear off pretty quick. Even worse is when you're about 10 minutes into the movie and you realize you're just not having very much fun...
I'm actually quite glad that the 2009 Toronto After Dark Film Festival snagged "Trick R Treat" for its lineup this year. This is a film that has been kinda lying in distribution purgatory for about a year and a half (or even longer) and managed to generate some pretty big excitement leading up to its Thursday evening Toronto premiere. At the very least, it pulled in fans who may not have attended After Dark and now may consider coming back again next year (you could tell by the crowd response that there were many who had not been at previous screenings during the week). To give it credit, there are some fine moments in the film - some story elements, a couple of performances (Dylan Baker continues to play questionable parental role models), several clever lines of dialog and an effect or two were standouts. The colours and lighting were vibrant and the image looked quite fantastic on the screen. And Sam - the character who simply wants something good to eat and people to follow Halloween traditions - is a pretty damn solid creation. So the film is not terrible...
But I just don't get it...The glowing praise I've read in articles and comments not to mention what I heard during the Q&A after the film just doesn't match what I saw on screen. Scary? Halloween classic? Amazing music? Is that the film everybody saw or was that the film everybody wanted to see? Or did I just psych myself out because of the high expectations?
So what were my problems with the film? Let's see if I can lay them out:
- It's not scary. Several folks told me afterwards that it isn't really meant to be since it's supposed to be fun or because it is aimed at a younger audience. I don't buy it - they had some quality ideas in their stories that were absolutely set up to be at least creepy if not downright jump-out-of-your-seat frightening. The tempo of the stories and the editing just never worked towards a single scare though. OK, except for a few totally not earned attempts at false jump scares with loud jarring music. Ugh. And scary IS fun. Just not here.
- The music. Marilyn Manson doing "Sweet Dreams"? Really? That alone is enough to knock it down several notches, but the score and incidental music didn't add much to the proceedings either and never felt like they contributed to building tension or creating anxiety. It felt generic.
- The script. Character development is not lame put downs of your friends or dull exposition of your state of mind.
- The characters. Aside from Sam, none of them evoked much feeling at all. The fat, selfish, candy grabbing boy that elicits taunts from the audience was there. So was the supremely bitchy girl who commanded her troops as she tried to play a joke on the mousey-looking girl. Don't forget the sluts, the cranky old man or the dweeb at the cash register. I found the film to actually be more mean-spirited than the Grindhouse inspired Someone's Knocking At The Door.
- The structure. Many praised the 4 intertwining stories and how everything comes together in the end. There's something to that since each story does take place on the same Halloween evening in the same town and does cross over with the others (director Dougherty even pointed out a few things in the background I missed first time through). But each time it does that it somehow takes the wind out of its own sails. It's messy, doesn't flow and those tie-ins to each other don't actually amount to anything - the characters from one story just happen to bump into or see characters from another.
- The comic strip framing device. The cool opening titles with the look of an anthology comic book are, except for pointless on screen titles several times during the movie stating "Earlier..." or "Later...", never referred to again as the entire concept is abandoned.
Perhaps it's all due to my unrealistric expectations and that mood change I had just before the film started. That's certainly bound to affect my feelings towards it and I'll admit that. However, the film didn't do a damn thing to help alter that feeling either.