Halloween (2018): Big Screen Review

(Fair warning: This movie may venture into minor SPOILER territory. Do with that what you will)

Forty years have passed since the deranged and psychotic killer Michael Myers stalked the picturesque suburbs of Haddonfield, IL, terrorizing Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and by extension, the countless audiences who turned up the witness his monstrosity. In the intervening four decades we have had countless filmmakers grossly misunderstand the primal fear that Myers inspires and have instead sought to flesh out his mythology in an increasingly bad string of sequel so that with every piece of information unveiled his power over us diminishes. Now like Myers himself, David Gordon Green excises decades of pointless sequels with ruthless efficiency and wipes the slate clean by giving us a direct sequel to Halloween that will undoubtedly please fans even if by the end it might not be clear why a sequel needed to be made in the first place.

We catch up with Myers and Strode seemingly in emotional stasis from the night of the “babysitter killings” thanks to two obnoxious “true-crime” podcasters who, in a wonderful nod to the over-explaining nature of the Halloween sequels, seek to find the man behind the monster. Myers, stuck in a sanitarium and without speaking a word since being captured, proves a fruitless interviewee. Meanwhile Laurie Strode is a half-crazed hermit, estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and grand-daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and armed to the teeth. She dispatches the sanctimonious podcasters who fortunately are permanently disposed off by Myers soon enough. Their inevitable collision course is set.

It is a good thing that Michael Myers and Laurie Strode take centre stage because anything involving them tends to work in this movie, while everything else that surrounds them generally is a bit of a mess. It seems that David Gordon Green and his writing team (consisting of himself, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley) do not fully grasp the fundamental reason that John Carpenter’s original Halloween works so well, namely that it takes its cues from its singular-minded killer in being hyper-focused in its plot.

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© Universal Pictures

This is unfortunately not true with Gordon Green’s sequel. Along with the aforementioned podcasters this movie gives us an extended introduction to Laurie’s family sans Laurie including a mini-arc involving Allyson and her boyfriend that goes nowhere and is promptly dumped the moment mayhem begins (the boyfriend literally disappears never to appear again). Meanwhile there are several other scenes involving Allyson and her friends that are put there strictly in a bid to want us to connect with these people, but the movie infuriatingly spends too little time in developing these characters to make us care while wasting too much time on them anyway when they do end up being throwaway characters. And so it goes with the rest of the film. There are characters who are introduced who look like they might have a hand in the plot who are then dropped, as if they were a part of earlier drafts of the film and they simply forgot to cut them in the rewrite. Themes are picked up and dropped in a moment’s notice; the ending of the movie is a pretty clear allegory for the #MeToo movement, but the presumed power of this moment is dulled by the fact that the movie hasn’t spent any time developing this theme up to that point.

The movie is also a mish-mash of tones as it cannot decide if it is going to play it straight like the original movie did or bring more comedy into the proceedings. The problem is that within the individual scenes, the movie is successful at playing one or the other. There are moments of pure terror that echo John Carpenter’s taut and unnerving terror, while other scenes had me laughing in my seat. The problem is that these tonal shifts happen scene-to-scene, creating an emotional whiplash that took me out of the movie right when it was requiring me to be fully immersed in it. Similarly the movie is caught in the classic trap of trying to be a faithful homage to the past while striving to find its own path, and ends up doing neither.

However the most egregious error the Halloween makes is one that I thought a director with the caliber of David Gordon Green might be more savvy to. He makes the classic mistake of assuming that a sequel has to be bigger. Where the original movie has a meager five deaths, here Myers’ death count numbers at least a dozen (which means a ratio of one death about every nine minutes) . The violence of the movie has also been amped up to reflect audience expectations for violence in 2018, with Myers propensity for murder reaching some truly creative levels. And where the original Halloween had Mike Myers hiding in the shadows and showing up out of nowhere, here we are granted numerous scenes from Myers’ point-of-view (including an impressive-looking long tracking shot that shows Myers terrorize several households). The movie promises more deaths, in more gruesome ways, with more Mike Myers than before. And yet providing us more gore still does not make it nearly as scary as the original – the more we see the monster do his thing the less power he seems to have.

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© Universal Pictures

Now while there are many problems with this movie, it is still the best Halloween sequel. Part of that has to do with the low, low bar it had to leap over to claim that title. But for all the things this sequel does wrong, it still manages to get the most important aspects right; Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. That they also happen to be the two through lines to John Carpenter’s original movie is not coincidental (along with Carpenter’s score which is at its minimalistic and creepy best). Every time Jamie Lee Curtis shows up onscreen the movie’s energy ratchets up a notch and it is a genuine thrill to see her so comfortable reprising the role that launched her career. She plays Strode with the believable air of fear and world weariness that comes with carrying forty years of unresolved trauma and the fact that this movie gives Laurie Strode her own “Sarah Connor” moment ala Terminator 2 justifies this movie’s existence; seeing her journey from helpless teen to fierce and wise warrior is just so narratively satisfying. Meanwhile Myers is rightfully a paragon of brutal simplicity who, through his slow and unstoppable stalking power, reminds us why he is the archetypical slasher.

The movie mostly consists of getting all the moving pieces together to set up the clash between these two arch-enemies. Fortunately their confrontation does not disappoint, even if it infuriating that they filled the movie with so much fluff to get them together. Long-time fans of the series will no doubt be happy that the movie is miles better than the tire-fire that represents most of the sequels. However, this movie could have and should be better; it suffers from providing us a slew of missed opportunities. In some ways that seems worse than being an outright disaster.

Rating: ★★★½

Runtime: 106 minutes
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andy Matichak, James Judy Courtney, Nick Castle, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Toby Huss

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