Kiddie Horror Movie Doesn’t Give Its Child Actors Enough To Do

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You have to suspend a large amount of disbelief to enjoy the kiddy horror pic “Spirit Halloween: The Movie” since, yes, it’s a feature-length ad for the Spirit Halloween chain of stores. This mildly sympathetic action-adventure commercial picks up stereotypical story beats that its filmmakers have drawn from a variety of acclaimed influences, including Amblin productions like “Gremlins” and “The Goonies.”

You might also think of Robert Zemeckis’ two Amblin films, ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, given the presence of Christopher Lloyd, who makes a brief appearance as a vengeful ghost who hopes possess a new human body. (Lloyd otherwise delivers his lines off-camera as a voice actor.)

Unfortunately, screenwriter Billie Bates and first-time director David Poag lack the knack for snappy dialogue or a general susceptibility to childish and/or amateur play, which inadvertently puts far too much pressure on the young performers of the film. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with setting up a haunted house-style chase movie for all ages in a nerdy bulk retail store. The main thing holding back “Spirit Halloween: The Movie” is that its young stars never manage to act convincingly at their age.

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Lloyd steals the film’s fairly good opening scene and also sets the bar a bit too high for the film that follows. Luckily (for his co-stars), Lloyd has the good grace to disappear right after this introductory flashback, as his character, Alec Windsor, is cursed by the unnamed caretaker (Michelle Civile) of the Sacred Hearts Home for Wayward Children, who casts some sort of spell on Windsor after he attempts to repossess his orphanage.

Fast forward to the present day: Sulky middle schooler Jake (Donovan Colan) struggles to get into the Halloween mood after his best friend Carson (Dylan Martin Frankel, “Life & Beth”) warned that he preferred not to be mistaken. -or-treat this year. Carson has just been touched with love at puberty – there’s a recurring joke about his “peach fuzz” facial hair – and seems ready to put the childish things aside. But Halloween means a lot to Jake, being a holiday he used to celebrate with his late father.

Time flies too fast for Jake now that he lives with his worried mother Sue (Rachael Leigh Cook), princess-loving sister Joanie (Billie Roy) and worried stepfather Frank (Brad Carter, “Ozark”). Yes, Virginia, there are sort of characters with stories in “Spirit Halloween: The Movie.”

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To appease his newly mature pal, Jake throws an unforgettable Halloween party for himself, Carson, and their underdeveloped mutual friend Bo (Jaiden J. Smith): they’re going to spend the night at their local Spirit Halloween store. They play with plastic toy swords, have fun with NERF-style foam dart guns and also awaken the grumpy spirit of Alec Windsor. To stop Windsor, Jake and his friends must gather their courage and team up with Kate (Marissa Reyes, “Raven’s Home”), Carson’s older sister and Jake’s puppy crush. They bicker among themselves and get chased by Windsor, whose spirit (lord help me) inhabits various chintzy-looking long suits: a clown, a bear, a skeleton, and the like.

Really, if you watch “Spirit Halloween: The Movie,” you probably aren’t expecting a deeply involving storyline or expensive special effects. In this regard, you will not be disappointed. However, you might feel strangely disappointed with the performance of the ensemble cast. A few actors struggle to animate admittedly half-baked placeholder dialogue, such as when Bo yells, “Let go of me, you demon bear!” Lloyd leads by example by varying the pace and intonation of his dialogue, which is very helpful when you need to read dramatic lines like, “Just so we’re all clear on the rules: I can’t leave from here.” here without a body. ”

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The children are not doing so well, despite their best efforts. Most of them are promising, like when Roy nails his character’s cute widow schtick and begs his big brother for tricks or treats. Or when Bo farts and Smith hisses, “I told you I’m lactose intolerant!” Not exactly iambic pentameter, but these kids are valiantly trying to meet this handy material at its intended level.

Unfortunately, the film’s young actors seem to be crippled by poor direction since, in many scenes, the main thing stopping them from hitting their lines is a slower pace or more playful approach. It’s hard to imagine anyone selling the balder lines of Colan or Smiths, but they both have Lloyd-worthy flashes of inspiration.

That said, Bates and Poag generally don’t seem to know how to capture an Amblin vibe on a budget. Their lackluster premise (or location, really) certainly doesn’t help, but nothing really could if you didn’t treat your movie’s child performers as if they were the main draw of a film for and putting featuring children. ‘Spirit Halloween: The Movie’ would have been much better if it was a more thoughtful showcase of what these kids can do when they’re not trying to sell us dweeby costumes and a retail franchise desperate.

“Spirit Halloween: The Movie” opens September 30 in US theaters and on demand October 11 via Strike Back Studios.

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