Ben (Chris Pentzell) and Julie (Christine Blackburn) are having their annual Halloween Party, and all their friends are invited. This year, however, Ben has hidden cameras throughout the house in an effort to capture the various fun and drama that might take place during the evening. And it works, as different party-goers bring different flavors to the evening. There’s Erin (Elle Newlands), who is trying to dodge her ex-boyfriend Donny (David Banks), and the guy she walked into the party with, Mason (Frank Gangarossa), a real homeless man who she just thought was in a homeless costume; Ben and Julie themselves are working through some drama with their daughter Megan (Brooklyn Palmer); and there’s the fortune teller (Julia Silverman) doling out fortunes and advice, even though Ben never invited her and can never seem to find her. Oh, and there’s folks dressed as classic film directors, crayons, cops, strippers and even one gentleman who decided to go as a breast exam machine (or something). All at the party, all on camera.
While there are stories to be had in Linda Palmer’s feature film Halloween Party, such as Erin and Mason, the bickering pirate couple and Ben and Julie’s problems with their daughter Megan, overall the film felt a bit unfocused for me. Which was perhaps the point; you don’t fill a party with a bunch of different characters and costumes if you don’t want to show them all off to a certain extent. Still, I had trouble finding a connection with any one story, even as Mason’s did find more gravitas, as did Ben, Julie and Megan’s; overall I became lukewarm on all stories, leaving a middle-ground “eh, it’s okay” feeling that, frankly, I’d rather not have.
I mean, I want to connect to a film. And yes, I also like being entertained and not every film needs some deep connection, and that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about engagement, and I never felt engaged by Halloween Party; it all felt very surface to me.
But maybe that’s a by-product of the visual aesthetic and main concept, that what we’re seeing is primarily the footage from all the different cameras that Ben has set up around the party. Just as he was hoping for the voyeur-level entertainment that would come when he watched the footage later, so too did I feel like an outside observer (even though more traditional camera shots existed throughout). Thus, I felt separate from the film, making it seem surface and, as no one story seemed strong enough to pull me in, I never really engaged. Phew, glad I figured that out.
That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have moments. The film geek in me loved the guy, costuming as Cecil B. Demille (Hannes Phinney), that refused to break character, and I really enjoyed the way they set up the communication and relationship with Ben, Julie and Megan (a little reminiscent of Spaced‘s Amber, but that portrayal always worked because it captured the emotional insanity of youth). I also thought that, for the most part, the film was shot well, though I’m primarily speaking to the camera shots that aren’t affected to look like static cameras strung around the house; the more traditional, floating camera-work is what I enjoyed most.
Overall, there’s entertainment to be had with Halloween Party, and maybe you’ll get something out of it that I didn’t. I unfortunately was never able to engage with it beyond arm’s length, and thus it resulted in an experience that wasn’t as intriguing as it otherwise could’ve been. It certainly doesn’t rate being considered one of the worst movies I ever seen (or even seen lately), but I also have trouble characterizing it among the better ones. It was middle for me; I watched it, but I never connected.
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