I figured I should see another Halloween-set film this season, and I knew this one was from director Patrick Lussier (DRACULA 2000) and writer Todd Farmer (JASON X), the team that brought us MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D and DRIVE ANGRY 3D, so I’d been wanting to see it even though it was filmed in a pathetic 2 (two) dimensions.
TRICK is a mystery slasher set not just on Halloween, but on multiple Halloweens from 2015-2019. It begins at a high school party during a game of spin the bottle. Well, spin the knife. The camera focuses on the reactions of Cheryl (Kristina Reyes, Blindspot), who seems uncomfortable with a guy in a pumpkin mask (Thom Niemann, The Deuce) who is not speaking or responding to anyone. When it’s his turn she calls him “Trick,” which does turn out to be his name. He spins and it ends up on a boy and he tries to re-spin but they tease him and tell him he has to kiss the boy. As he leans in to do it, suddenly he grabs the knife and stabs the guy.
(Though this inciting incident implies some sort of homophobia-related motive, that does not turn out to be a theme of the film.)
It turns into a big battle scene where Trick stabs several other partygoers as they attempt to subdue him and grapple with him until finally Cheryl gets him. I personally found the scene uncomfortable in a not-so-preferable way because the emotions of it reminded me a little too much of some murders that happened in Seattle once, or of school shootings, which clashes with it feeling so actiony amped up (especially the music by Michael Wandmacher, MODERN VAMPIRES, NEVER BACK DOWN) that I was halfway convinced it would turn out to be fake – a Halloween prank. (It did not.)
The particular strain of ludicrousness in TRICK seems to me different from the other Lussier/Farmer joints, a little less knowing. But maybe it’s just that some soap opera goofiness feels kinda camp in a polished studio movie like MY BLOODY VALENTINE than it does in a scrappy, run-and-gun type effort like this. That’s not really a problem – I’m only bringing it up to scold the people who didn’t appreciate those movies at the time, and knocked Lussier off the B-list when he was all set to do HALLOWEEN 3D. It’s their fault.
Their movies are never perfect, and I don’t need them to be. However, I must vent about one minor thing that nagged at me, since it’s central to this one: the fact that the killer is named “Trick.” In that party scene I didn’t understand that they knew him already. He seemed like a mysterious intruder with bad intentions. They start calling him Trick and I’m thinking, did someone decide at the party that that was the Halloween nickname for the stranger in the pumpkin mask? Or is that the name of a fictional character he’s supposed to be dressed as? Or are they calling him a “trick” as an insult? No, they know this guy, his name is Trick.
(What kind of a name is Trick? My mama took one.)
Once Trick is incapacitated in the hospital and Detective Mike Denver (Omar Epps, JUICE, SCREAM 2) is trying to understand why he murdered five people, we learn that his given name is Patrick Weaver, and everyone calls him Trick for short. They also say he’s a quiet unassuming person who nobody thought much about and can’t even describe in detail, and he didn’t have social media and no one has pictures of him or knows where he lives or where he came from, none of which seems to fit with everyone knowing him and being comfortable with shortening his name in a weird way that I’ve never encountered in my life despite knowing multiple Patricks. But whatever. My point is, his name is Trick Weaver, and we are about to watch a movie where every character is constantly saying Trick Weaver this, Trick Weaver that, Trick Weaver is dead, no they never found Trick Weaver’s body, it’s Trick, Trick is back, etc. And pretty much every time my brain has to go through “Would they really shorten Patrick to Trick, though?” or “Would they still be calling him by his affectionate nickname after he became an infamous mass murderer?” And of course “Is it really worth all this just so he can have a name that works for the title of a Halloween movie?”
I like Cheryl, and I like that she’s introduced in Halloween makeup and wig (some sort of concept with one half made up differently from the other half), so we initially get used to her in disguise, then see more of her with the wig gone, but makeup still there, then for the rest of the movie have what she normally looks like. Trick’s reveal is much more drawn out – we mostly see him masked or with makeup, and Denver spends years chasing him without even knowing what he looks like, since nobody cleaned the makeup off of him in the hospital.
See, Trick makes a run for it, the cops shoot him, he falls out a window and splats, but when they get down there he’s disappeared into the river. I have no trouble accepting any of that, so the part of the scene that strikes me as fantastical is that Denver asks an ambulance driver if he saw him, he says, “Of course I did, shithead, I had to swerve to miss him!” And I just don’t buy that a cop, even while chasing a murderer, would not stop to get into it with a random citizen who called him a shithead.
Which brings me to my normal rule that horror movies centered on cops don’t work that well. Not for any ACAB reasons, but just because horror stories tend to work better when they’re about a person or group of people who are kinda on their own, stranded somewhere or not taken seriously by others, without the resources of guns and backup and governmental authority. Of course, you can definitely have a supporting cop character (HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, CHILD’S PLAY and SCREAM all do it) and there are exceptions to the rule (30 DAYS OF NIGHT is partly interesting because it’s about the police chief of this town that gets taken over by vampires) but as a general rule I don’t want a horror movie to mainly be about a police investigation. I would rather have more Cheryl and less Denver than we have here.
However, I could be wrong. In this case centering on the investigation, as well as making it take place across five years, are effective at making it feel like a different take on the topic of possibly supernatural Halloween masked slashers. Also, this is not quite that thing where a bunch of actors imitate what they think cops are supposed to be like based on other movies and shows, and try to out macho each other. They seem to have intentionally cast mostly women for the police and FBI roles, and not quite the stereotypical ones. The sheriff (Ellen Adair, Billions) is a woman, the top deputy (Dani Shay) is a lesbian with cool hair, the FBI agent on the case (Vanessa Aspillaga, HUSTLERS) doesn’t have to be shown with a male partner or colleagues she’s trying to fit in with, like they usually do.
New murders happen each subsequent Halloween, always along the same river, without the exact same M.O. they say, but we see that he’s got a Halloween mask with makeup underneath and a knife with “TRICK” carved into it. So Denver seems correct in his belief that it’s Trick Weaver. But nobody believes him, he starts to seem unfit, he’s forced to retire, remains obsessed. It’s all leading to Halloween 2019, when the killer will taunt Denver and be chased to a Halloween maze where coincidentally Cheryl (now in college) will be bringing some kids and another 2015 survivor, unreformed party animal Johnny (Aaron Dalla Villa, CHASING GOLD), will be bringing his drunk friends, and they’ll all run into each other.
There’s kind of a funny detail that Johnny has for years been bragging about stabbing Trick with a fire poker at the party, and finally admits it was a lie after everyone including the police assume Trick is trying to avenge him for it.
Last year I reviewed another modern Halloween-set movie called HAUNT, which I liked quite a bit. I talked in that one about how I didn’t believe people at a haunt would really wear these vintage Ben Cooper style Halloween masks, but it was okay because they’re much more visually appealing than the actual rubber monster shit people choose in real life. Well, this one goes for the actual rubber monster shit people choose in real life. And in fact in that review I specifically pointed out how much less cool the evil clown mask would be in a real haunt, and TRICK does have that exact type of ugly monster clown in a Halloween maze. The monster pumpkin and skeleton ghoul masks Trick wears do legitimately seem like some crap you could buy at any costume shop. So that makes it true to life, which I don’t think is as good as looking cool, but it’s not my movie.
I suppose that’s also the miracle of SCREAM, that they failed to design something cool enough but found an existing consumer mask that was simple and creepy and instantly became iconic. Nobody has really pulled anything off like that since, have they? Anyway, the makeup effects designer is Gary J. Tunnicliffe, who has worked on many classics but is most associated with the HELLRAISER series, having worked on their makeup since part III, then writing four and directing the most recent one (HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT).
As is traditional in Lussier/Farmer joints, both Farmer himself and Tom Atkins have roles, pretty small ones, but bigger than cameos. Farmer is a cop and Atkins is a local diner (and movie theater?) owner who is kind of a beloved curmudgeon everybody in town knows. He’s running a Halloween screening of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD that I found distracting because they gave all the scenes a new, not good keyboard score. He also introduces suspicions that Cheryl’s hospitalized father (Robert M. Jimenez) was injured in a suicide attempt, not a work accident, the significance of which I was never able to ascertain.
Since you will ask about it if you look at the credits on the poster, the answer is yes, Jamie Kennedy is in the movie. He plays a doctor at the hospital, not a main character but in it more than you’d think because so many characters get hospitalized and he seems to be the only doctor ever on duty. I honestly wasn’t sure if he was made up to look different or if that’s just how he looks now (it took me a second to recognize him). He looks like he’s supposed to be a Patch Adams type (Hawaiian shirt and ponytail) but he doesn’t he doesn’t do his usual wisecracking, so it just seems like he thought it would be fun to have a small role as a doctor. He has less of a character than Atkins does, though I’m not sure if he’s in more scenes or not.
MAJOR ENDING TWIST SPOILERS. Okay, I really have to discuss the twist ending because it’s both what makes the movie a little different from other slashers and what makes it totally befuddling. The solution to the mystery is that yes, Trick did survive getting shot and falling out the window, but he’s in a wheelchair. However, he managed to put together sort of a cult or secret gang or something who wear masks and commit murders and pretend to be him. Ultimately Denver figures out that a supporting character and a minor character are involved (it’s hard to completely wash off Halloween makeup and then slip back into your Clark Kent persona, so that’s an easy way to get caught) and saves the day.
AND THEN THERE’S MORE! A few other conspirators get away, and meet at a park to regroup. They’re waiting for one other person, and he comes strutting across the park in the pumpkin mask. Assuming this isn’t a reveal that the reveal that Trick was paralyzed was fake, this can’t be Trick, because he’s walking. So who is it? He gets in the van and pulls off the mask and yes, you guessed it, it’s the doctor. Jamie Kennedy. And it’s a full on USUAL SUSPECTS reveal where they flash back to reveal that, for example, he uncuffed Trick in the beginning so he could escape. (And I assume it was his fault the makeup was never cleaned off.) I guess he’s the evil mastermind, so we get an extreme closeup of his evil face revealing how evil it is. And I’m sure there are people who can get into that and appreciate it as a shock moment, but I was still stuck at him looking like he’s playing a funny character in a sketch, and going from “that’s funny that he’s a character in this for no apparent reason” to “this is the reason he’s a character in this” got a big laugh out of me.
Did they intend to make a sequel where he’s the full on villain? Or did they just think it would be fun to have him do this? I don’t know. I don’t think I was supposed to think it was funny, but at least I got something out of it. And although the movie overall was reasonably entertaining to watch, this ending is the specific aspect that I’m excited to talk about. So I won’t discount it. I’m glad they went for it.
TRICK will not be a new perennial Halloween viewing for me, and I don’t think it’s the best work by this director or writer. But it’s competently constructed, quickly paced, it finds many ways to be different from others of its type, and some of the decisions that seem “bad” to me are at least fun to puzzle over. So it was worth watching once at Halloween time. (It’s available on disc and streaming on Hulu.)