Directed by Richard Schenkman
While October 31st is known for tricks, treats, and dressing up in revealing costumes, the night before is when children and teens around the country are given free reign to play pranks, such as egging and toilet papering houses, smashing Jack O’Lanterns, setting fires, and just generally being giant assholes. It’s basically an excuse for teens to revel in wickedness while excusing it due to a geographically sporadic tradition. Such is the premise of Richard Schenkman’s Mischief Night, except replace “teens playing pranks” with “mask-wearing murderer.”
The film follows Emily Walton, a young girl suffering from psychosomatic blindness following the death of her mother in a car accident nine years prior. It’s the night before Halloween and her dad, pressured by Emily to get back in the dating scene, departs for the evening on a date, leaving her home alone. Her peaceful night at home is quickly interrupted by a man wearing a mask and donning a yellow rain slicker, who slowly stalks and taunts her as she must rely on her other senses to survive Mischief Night.
Everything is set-up with a throwaway introduction that finds Jerry O’Connell’s brother Charlie, who I totally thought was Jerry O’Connell, and Erica Leerhsen, engaging in a bit of amorous infidelity before our yellow-clad and axe-wielding antagonist breaks in and slaughters them both. You might remember this tactic from You’re Next, only without the cheesy one-liners, horror movie cliches, and poor acting on the part of the girl you could have sworn you’ve seen in something else.
We then move on to what is ostensibly a The Strangers rehash, replete with similar motives and set-ups. The killer appears in the background, moving silently from room to room and stalking Emily, who is none the wiser. It allows for some mildly interesting moments, but unlike The Strangers, they’re never utilized in a way that’s actually frightening. Whereas The Strangers was a predictable yet exceptionally creepy film, Mischief Night takes an eerie setting (an isolated house) with an interesting premise (girl is blind) and manages to make it repetitive and tedious. It’s home invasion ennui at its finest, with tension being waylaid by uninspire direction and slow pacing.
The film’s performances are a mixed bag, but star Noell Coet proving her meddle as the blind but not helpless protagonist. The rest of the cast flies under the radar, but that’s okay. The movie is about Emily, not the others, and while there are some eye-rolling moments courtesy of the lackluster script, she does admirable work with what she’s given. The film’s climax proves to be the most interesting part of the story, with Emily using her heightened senses to finally fight back, rather than run away and cry and constantly try and call for help. It gives us the film’s bloodiest moments, though as a whole they’re few and far between. The premise is rife for a Home Alone-esque scenario, but it’s never truly capitalized on until it’s too late. Even then, it’s still never played to its full potential; it’s suitably gory and violent at times, but for those looking to experience a modicum of genuine tension, you’d do best to look elsewhere.
2 1/2 out of 5