All trick but no treat in slasher fare that misunderstands the joys of genre

Grayson Lazarus on Patrick Lussier’s ‘Trick’ (2019)

Following an October 31st killing spree committed by now-deceased teenage murderer Trick Weaver  — who may be competing with Harry Hole of The Snowman (2017) for the most ridiculous name in a murder serial — obsessed detective Mike Denver (Omar Epps) pursues a string of annual Halloween killings inspired by the original slasher, all the while trying to protect the sole survivor of the original event. With Trick, director Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry, 2011) stands flailing between two exhausted sub-genres — slasher and police procedural — but it never congeals as a work that non-discerning mass consumers of either genre could be satiated with. Aside from its aesthetic posturing — blood-drenched hallways with screaming teens, cops prattling in stations and cars — it shows a disarming disinterest in the thrills associated with following through on what meagre joys can be found in genre filmmaking, circa 2020.

As a procedural, the film may focus on cops and chase sequences, but the drama never relates to the processing of the case, or how it progresses some greater interiority. Detective Denver may be obsessed with finding Trick Weaver (who may not be dead, after all), but it never relates back to a character’s held struggle. No drinking obsession, gambling, adulterating, or basic marital issues. These may be trite shorthands, but its absence pervades when replaced by a void of narrative. The closest the film comes towards characterization is stillborn and thoughtless commentary delivered through a community-theatre level group soliloquy on the importance of small-town America’s need to believe in something greater than itself. Are Trick’s antics meant to be met on the level of a tragic villain with a point? Does he share the limelight of the antagonist in Saw (2004) — who tortured in the name of faux-humanism?

Denver intuits the further presence and dastardliness of Trick à la Dr Loomis in Halloween (1978) — an obvious structural inspiration — but with no apparent change at the level of desperation in Epps’ performance. As such, the rudimentary thrill of a procedural — that is, the pleasure that comes from attention to procedure and escalation of tension — is forgone. Discussions on how to find the killer last mere seconds as the film glosses over the scenes in which the investigators fumble around trying to rationalise when or where Trick may strike, removing any sense of puzzle-solving. What’s left of the cop’s portion of the story is a gaggle of sequences where the only thing more frustrating than the shoddiness of the editing is the frequency with which they appear in all their visually dim and dismal glory. Trick appears out of thin air, tempts Denver from afar, and an extended chase culminating in the death of a fellow officer ensues. Rinse and repeat nearly half a dozen times.

For all the gallons and reams of ink and paper spent on dissection of the 1980s craze, slasher films attempted to hold the viewer with baited breath; when would the killer get her? Instead of his aged generic grandfather (Jason Voorhees) the presumably teenage Trick Weaver immediately sprints up to his victims and pounces with an efficiency that mimics a trained marine. The presentation of the gore is slipshod, as quick-cut editing reduces unengaging setpieces and kills to flashes of light and flailing arms. What gorehound could enjoy so little visible viscera? As a slasher, Trick jettisons some of the more reductive stereotypes of the genre — bankrupt portrayals of women as little more than short-short objects and reductive stereotypes of THC drenched hippies — but what remains is devoid of a personality, crude or otherwise.

The bluntness of the violence and the disinterest in building tension of any garb eventually becomes comically endearing, despite the film’s tone-deaf disinterest in having the slightest shred of humour. Unfortunately, Trick believes in itself. To Lussier, Trick Weaver is intimidating despite his ridiculous appearance — the face paint equivalent of an adolescent’s first success at colouring within the lines. When Trick uses a crane to hurl a tombstone through a police car to decapitate an officer — one of two discordant moments where a set piece is bombastic enough to be indulged in by its target audience — I’m meant to wince. I chortled.

Between the film’s use of unnecessary, poorly rendered CGI — a knife kicked up off the floor — and mockable dialogue (“I was dressed up as the hero. Little did I know that you have to become the hero by the end of the night”), Lussier’s overly-serious approach becomes more tragic than anything the content of his film could have produced.

Trick is available for digital download now.

Grayson Lazarus

By Grayson Lazarus

Grayson Lazarus is a graduate of Literature and Cinema Studies from the State University of New York at Purchase. He has written for Before The Cyborgs and The Purchase Beat.