Slasher films typically live or die on the power of their killers and kills — other aspects can help or hinder, but an interesting murderer and/or some thrilling, gory, unique murders can turn an otherwise generic horror film into something far more memorable. A smart script and sharp direction are ideal ingredients too, but in lieu of those accomplishments genre fans can still be won over with the cool and grisly goods. Sometimes, though, a slasher comes along that tries desperately to make its mark but fails miserably every single step of the way.
It’s 2015, and a group of high school seniors are celebrating Halloween 2015 with a game of “spin the knife” — it’s the kissing game you know and love, but you know, with a knife — but when Patrick’s spin lands on another boy he decides to stab the kid instead of kiss him. His rage continues as he kills a few more of his classmates before finally being pierced through with a fireplace poker, and the nightmare culminates with his escape from the hospital later that night after murdering several more people, being shot several times, and falling out of a third-story window. He disappears, but a year later he’s back leaving more bodies in his wake, and the year after that, and the year after that…
Trick moves fairly quickly through those first few years, and both director/co-writer Patrick Lussier and co-writer Todd Farmer use that narrative time to highlight three things. First, the killer, nicknamed Trick, is both a ninja and a genius. Second, he’s become a mythical figure online with a growing fan base. And third, everyone in town, including Special Agent Mike Denver (Omar Epps) and Sheriff Lisa Jayne (Ellen Adair), are complete goddamn idiots.
The film opens strong with the first attack, an incident that at a cursory glance appears motivated by homophobia, but rather than be an inciting act that’s followed up on the film makes two subsequent choices suggesting a cavalier insincerity on the topic. One character effectively “comes out” to a friend and is then immediately killed, and a later line of dialogue feels like a flippant comment on the ongoing conversation regarding personal gender pronouns. There’s no agenda at play across the three seemingly unrelated beats, but taken collectively they feel like odd choices.
That first attack, though, is a vicious and bloody assault that for a couple minutes anyway creates a thrillingly frenzied atmosphere. Unfortunately, it and the hospital scene that follows also set the pattern for the rest of the film — Trick is a masterful knife fighter and parkour practitioner, he’s apparently invincible, and pretty much no one even attempts to fight back. The film’s kills are undeniably bloody, and a handful of gore beats wet the screen too in the form of disembowelments and a beheading, but they’re made incredibly dull by the lack of suspense in the filmmaking and absence of resistance on the part of the soon-to-be victims. The idea is that his abilities and the carnage that follows build a societal fear of the boogeyman while also exciting online fans, but the credit really belongs just as much to the inept authorities who continually make him look so good.
Lussier and Farmer have collaborated before, most notably and relevantly on 2009’s terrifically fun My Bloody Valentine remake, but where that film is entertaining and engaging in its slasher antics this one is dead on arrival. The script teases its hand far too soon and leaves viewers wholly disinterested in its useless protagonists and obnoxious killer. Everyone but Trick is an incompetent idiot — Denver and Jayne have multiple opportunities to kill him but choose instead to stumble and fumble all over themselves. It’s embarrassing to watch.
Epps seems fairly bored here, Jamie Kennedy appears as a character who may as well be wearing a sign screaming “I’m probably an accomplice,” and while Tom Atkins is always a joy his role is a minor one. It’s Kristina Reyes who shows promise and enthusiasm as the young woman who stopped Trick the first time, but she’s fighting an uphill battle against a script that’s not doing anyone any favors as it tries to build a mythos of sorts around its killer.
Trick is clearly the focus here — the film bears his name after all — but by the time the credits roll viewers are left with a character devoid of substance, history, or interesting characteristics. He’s nothing more than an idea, a one-note idea at that, and the weight given to him by the film feels far, far out of whack with the effect of the film itself. His kills are as uninteresting as his motivation, but at least the latter gets spelled out in a truly hilarious third act. It’s played seriously, of course, but if you can keep from laughing during Trick‘s final thirty minutes then you have impressively strong facial muscles.