Although its unoriginal title may suggest otherwise, Mischief Night attempts to be different. The latest film released under the After Dark Originals banner deserves credit for thinking outside the box, although the end result is a mixed bag.

The first act of Mischief Night fools the viewer in believing it’s a typical slasher flick. Kaylie (Brooke Anne Smith, Awkward) is a teenage babysitting in a suburban neighborhood on the night before Halloween. An anonymous, masked man (Marc Valera) with a knife stalks and attempts to kill Kaylie. The segment owes a good deal of gratitude to Halloween, although its sleek and flashy style feels like something that would have come out of the post-Scream slasher boom of the late ’90s.

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The plot then take an unexpected turn (whether it’s for the better or worse is debatable). The inexperienced killer – credited only as The Man – loses his mask in the scuffle with Kaylie. Despite him attempting to kill her mere minutes prior, the two begin to bond. In a scene that resembles a quirky indie rom-com, they go out and wreak minor havoc in celebration of Mischief Night. The lighthearted tone doesn’t last either, however; it shifts to dark and dramatic for several scenes in the fallout of Kayle and The Man opening up to one another. Finally, the mood shifts back to horror for the final 15 minutes, leading to a predictable conclusion.

As its title suggests, Mischief Night takes place on October 30th, a pseudo-holiday during which youths play pranks and cause, well, mischief. Like most horror fans, I love seeing movies set around Halloween. Films like the Halloween franchise, Trick ‘r Treat and Night of the Demons perfectly capture the season’s spooky-yet-fun atmosphere. Unfortunately, Mischief Night barely attempts to get in the Halloween spirit, aside from one key scene (hint: jack-o-lantern). Otherwise, the date is a moot point. The fact that the movie is being released in May proves that distributor Lionsgate agrees.

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Smith is a decent actress, but her erratic (and often dumb) decisions and pretentious attitude make her character unfortunately unlikable. Valera, in his first lead role, gives a solid performance. He tackles a difficult monologue in one particular scene that could come off as cheesy in the wrong hands, but he brings the necessary emotion and complexities to the role. Malcolm McDowell (Rob Zombie’s Halloween) plays a small but effective part as a creepy neighborhood watch man. Despite only appearing in a couple of scenes, his limited screen time shows why he is a master of the craft.

Travis Baker makes his debut as writer and director on Mischief Night, which shows promise for the young filmmaker. (Interestingly, his past credits include researcher on Hostel and assistant to producers on 2001 Maniacs.) The film is well shot and well directed with strong production value for a low budget effort of this nature. Baker and his crew admirably pull off an intriguing premise while taking a few risks, but it’s this uniqueness that ultimately creates Mischief Night’s biggest downfall: its uneven tone, story and pacing.

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