Everyone’s favorite costume shop becomes an unexpected gateway horror treat.

Entertainment, Theater, On-Demand, Review, Spirit Halloween: The Movie

Spirit Halloween will be in limited theaters starting on Sept. 30 and will release on On Demand Oct. 11.

Spirit Halloween sounds asinine on paper — turn America's favorite seasonal costume shop into a horror movie, because what, Party City passed? Welp, fret not! ​​David Poag's feature debut would fit snugly into Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween programming as the show-stopping headliner, providing a freakish but not too frightening gateway horror tale with sugar-high festive energies. As an independent genre bridge with only an abandoned department store at its core, Spirit Halloween (the movie) is far from a corporate cash-in. Dare this review deem Spirit Halloween a noteworthy new entry into family-friendly Halloween flick rotations?

Screenwriter Billie Bates approaches Spirit Halloween from coming-of-age fringes without pressuring viewers into truly traumatizing terrors like Trick' r Treat. Christopher Lloyd lends his pedigree as Alex Windsor, who drives orphanage workers and inhabitants of Sacred Hearts Home For Wayward Children off their land for business purposes — well before it becomes another Spirit Halloween establishment. In modern times, Jake (Donovan Colan) is facing that pivotal diversion between middle school and high school where he still wants to collect candy door to door, but too-cool Carson (Dylan Martin Frankel) and go-along Bo (Jaiden J. Smith) decline on account of kiddie behavior. Jake is desperate to keep their Halloween traditions alive, so he suggests spending the night in their local Spirit Halloween popup — where they get trapped by the cursed unresting spirit of Mr. Windsor.

Extreme horror fans shouldn't expect something like Blood Fest or other splatterhouse pictures where haunts come alive. Poag and Bates dedicate their Halloween spookfest to beginner audiences who find themselves on the cusp of growing too old for “uncool” practices. It's genuine gateway horror that deals in emotional currency as adolescents discover themselves throughout the process, learning the power of individuality versus choosing to follow social cues. Friendship comes first as Jake reconciles his Halloween obsession with his horror-loving father's death, complete with messy internal quarrels between a trio of locked-down besties fighting against overstocked forces.

In terms of horror, Bates is clever in the way she conjures Spirit Halloween demons. It's nothing revolutionary — storytelling is by-the-books about youngster characters confronting their impending maturity. Spirit Halloween becomes a continual chase as Lloyd voices a hovering blue orb that possesses random decorations and costumes throughout the Halloween shop. Practical effects are smartly restricted to whatever would exist within a Spirit Halloween storefront, from ten-foot-tall Grim Reaper meanies to lumberjack clowns with saw-hands that look as expectedly fake as you'd see in model window scenes. There's a tremendous sense of enjoyment as Jake's clan flees from spider-walking skeletal monsters crawling on all fours that look torn from your neighbor's lawn, especially with Lloyd's voice billowing from separated jawbones. Hokiness is written into the screenplay instead of trying to pass lawn ornaments as threatening entities. Spirit Halloween knows the game, and astutely dances around budgetary restraints.

Those who can't appreciate juvenile productions will find Spirit Halloween more frustrating.“

However, Poag sometimes fails to balance more childish material with an elevated level of parental intrigue. Bless Bo's lactose intolerance, which becomes a fart gag that reveals their position in a critical moment — those who can't appreciate juvenile productions will find Spirit Halloween more frustrating. Even in its current state, plenty of formulaic fallbacks aim directly at horror audiences who've yet to investigate the genre's vast reaches. Scenes hinge on Carson's “military grade” Nerf gun arsenal, Bo's forced ankle injury to spur a close encounter, and Jake's early-in-life depressions as a pre-teen who's not ready to grow older. Some aspects work; others hit as soft as the film's possessed teddy bear. Save this for movie night whether you're an older sibling, elder relative, or cool-as-heck babysitter.

That's the ultimate struggle of Spirit Halloween, an introductory horror story that's nowhere near as scary as other PG-13 horror titles. Rachael Leigh Cook plays a rather plain mother figure who stays on Jake's case, while Marissa Reyes shines as Carson's older sister, whose gymnastic attacks fend off Windsor's creepshow army. There's an overarching story about Jake, Carson, and Bo needing to sacrifice meaningful mementos to drive away Windsor's spirit, only as a paint-by-numbers haunted blueprint. Spirit Halloween unleashes a factory-assembled array of enemies, from ominous fortune teller games to chattery wind-up minions, while elsewhere tropes are as apparent as Bo's Grandma G (Marla Gibbs) reanimating from her porch-rocking state to rant about mythical legends. It's proficient as an age-appropriate thriller, as long as you're in the mood.

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