Mischief Night Review [NYCHFF 2013]
Mischief Night, or Goosey Night as the hip kids call it these days, is one night a year where children run amok and terrorize neighborhoods with toilet paper, eggs, chalk, and any other mark-leaving materials they can get their hands on, and no one bats an eye. Well, that’s what I used to believe – until I grew up and now have to clean up the mess those insufferable little shits create, making a full transition into my “GET OFF MY LAWN YOU DAMN KIDS” phase. What! You try cleaning toilet paper up after it’s rained! I absolutely wanted to get my hands on the punk kids that writer/director Travis Baker starts his movie off with, but was quick to realize some vandalizing adolescents smashing pumpkins wouldn’t be the focus here, and that’s when things got, well, spooky?
On the night before Halloween, young Kaylie (Brooke Anne Smith) is stuck babysitting for a stereotypically wealthy family, keeping watch while hoping the child stays asleep. Being “Mischief Night,” she’s warned by a local (self-appointed) night watchman named Mr. Smiles (Malcolm McDowell) never to answer the door, because nothing good can come of it. Too bad evil doesn’t need a door to take over, because Kaylie starts to believe someone is stalking her around the premises. After a little game of cat and mouse, an assailant gains entry to the house and prepares to murder her – but can he do it? Kaylie isn’t the girl we make her out to be, and apparently our killer isn’t the menace we believe him to be either, and the two start to form a strange, unpredictable bond – then the horror sets in again.
Here’s the inner struggle I’m having right now – part of me wants to write off Mischief Night for a serious lack of scares, but the other part of me wants to praise Baker for making something unique and original. This isn’t a gritty slasher or in-your-face horror film, but instead a character drama about morbid topics. While the brewing power shift is something viewers can predict almost instantly, watching the relationship grow between Kaylie and “The Man” (Marc Valera) is certainly an interesting dynamic. We learn that Kaylie is essentially ready to die, and sickly wants to be The Man’s first victim, but in a juicy twist, the murderer loses all interest in killing and becomes attracted to Kaylie. That’s a right, a killer befriends his victim, forming a sweet, almost innocent bond.
If you approach Mischief Night as a spooky, gory drama, you’ll be fine, but if you expect true, villainous horror, there’s not much here sans a few bloody murders – which don’t really even qualify as scares. The Man tries to generate some jumps, appearing in windows momentarily only to vanish on a second glance, but once he invades, the bumbling nature of his actions takes over, and we realize he’s not cut out to be a true Michael Myers. From here, the jawing starts, Kaylie unmasks the killer, they start becoming friends, and then begins a little Goosey Night montage of silliness. Kaylie and The Man have fun, express their emotions, intimately open up, and develop a true, twisted relationship – uh, what?
A bulk of Mischief Night is spent on the characters, as you now know, and thankfully both Brooke Anne Smith and Marc Valera are able to prevent us from becoming bored with their tainted love. The psychological aspects of Baker’s script are impossible to ignore, and this not only expresses certain hidden layers in Kaylie (only a few steps away from losing it on her own) and The Man (looking for something monumental to shake his life), but it makes a scary comparison between love and death. The Man assaulted Kaylie hoping to feel some sort of rush from gutting her like a fish, but instead he finds that same healing emotion in love. Eerie, scary, and kind of disturbing when you look at it like that.
As long as your expectations are curbed, Mischief Night could be a fantastic watch for the more twist-obsessed fans. Those of you expecting to see The Man go on some murderous rampage, or maybe watch a babysitter get caught in a deadly game of “torment the teenager,” brace yourself for something completely, and surprisingly different. Horror movies usually don’t toy with your emotions, but for a brief few moments, we forget there’s any terror lurking at all, and the whole slasher/victim scenario is forgotten – until one small misstep brings a sinister end to the famed night.
Mischief Night is an uneven and sometimes perplexing watch, but there's something entrancing about the relationship between our killer and his young victim that keeps us hooked.