If director Bruce McDonald proved anything with acclaimed genre darling Pontypool, it’s that he’s not afraid to think way outside of the box when it comes to deconstructing old tropes.  So while the premise may sound familiar, in which a pregnant teenager must survive an attack by a horde of creepy trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, the end result is anything but typical.  That alone would have sufficed in setting up a perfectly serviceable thriller, but McDonald opts to really delve into the psychological horror of giving birth.

Our lead, seventeen year old Dora (Chloe Rose), learned the unwelcome news on Halloween day that she’s pregnant by her stoner boyfriend.  Shell shocked, she makes her way home in a daze and no longer feels up to reveling in the holiday.  Home alone, it doesn’t take long for the arrival of trick-or-treaters.  Of course, these trick-or-treaters behave with poor manners and menace, and they keep multiplying.  These strange kids aren’t interested in candy, however; they demand her unborn child.  This marks the turning point in which things go from bad to downright bizarre as a sudden wind storm tears through the house.

When the gale settles, Dora finds herself and her surroundings completely washed in fetal pink and lavender.  It feels straight out of a nightmare; logic, time, and rationality no longer exist in this strange pink haze.  As the madness escalates, so does the bizarre imagery. Dora’s visions of her unborn baby begin small then crescendos into downright warped, and often contain blood.  The trick-or-treaters have evolved from terrifying pranksters to murderous.

McDonald’s vision seems to parallel Dorothy’s journey to the Land of Oz, though this version is more like to a bad acid trip. From the remorseless wind that transports our lead to a different reality down to the trick-or-treaters themselves.  The most vicious of Dora’s pursuers seem to resemble demented versions of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and even the Lion.

McDonald honed in on the auditory with Pontypool, whereas he launches into a full blown sensory assault here.  The kaleidoscopic shots, the hazy pink filter, the reoccuring pagan theme, visions of demon babies, and the disconcerting soundtrack complete with creepy kid vocals work so well in creating chaos that neither Dora nor the viewer can trust what’s on screen.  Even when Officer Corman, played by Robert Patrick, shows up to offer much needed exposition and assistance, there’s both relief and skepticism under the surface.

In working so hard to create an unsettled feeling, McDonald succeeds.  However, the viewer spends too long in the weird pink haze that the effect eventually wears off and the desire for answers kicks in.  Character and plot development take a backseat to the visual style.  While Chloe Rose is effective as terrified Dora, it doesn’t feel earned when she suddenly kicks into tough, final girl mode.  Rose lends her character likeability and empathy despite a script that doesn’t give you much reason to root for her.  The discovery of a unique weapon against the trick-or-treaters goes largely underutilized and unexplained as well.  The talented Robert Patrick is also underutilized here.

McDonald takes a simple premise and elevates it by giving viewers sensory overload while he explores the fear involved in pregnancy and birth.  The hallucinatory style invokes insanity in unrelenting fashion that ultimately leads to confusion as the screenplay offers little in the way of character development or answers.    Though explanation and character development may be lacking, a strong lead performance and unexpected direction makes this a thrilling ride, if a bit disjointed.Hellions Poster