Directed By: David Gordon Green
Release Date: October 19, 2018
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle
Ask me what my favorite horror films of all time are and John Carpenter's Halloween will be one of my answers, if not the very first. Aside from the fact that it's just a perfect little engine of a movie, Michael Myers is, as an icon, my favorite face of the slasher genre. I love the franchise Carpenter's film spawned, as you can see in my recent defenses of Halloween II and the Myers-less Halloween III, save for entries like 2002's disastrous Halloween: Resurrection and Rob Zombie's two reboot films, and it would be an understatement to say that I've merely been looking forward to Michael's return to the big screen with David Gordon Green's Halloween.
It's also not bold to say that the legacy of the franchise, as much as I love it, is kind of a mess. Halloween II was meant to serve as an end for Michael, which opened the door for the standalone Halloween III to move the franchise into anthology territory. The poor reception to that film at the time of its release in 1982, however, put a stopper in that plan, and Michael returned in 1988's Halloween 4, a film that spawned two further sequels in 1989 and 1995. In 1998, Halloween H20 brought Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode back to the franchise for the first time since Halloween II, wiping away the continuity of the previous three films in order to Laurie and Michael against each other one last time.
Of course, that didn't stick, and Michael was back four years after that with the aforementioned Resurrection, the outright failure of which sent the franchise into a coma until Rob Zombie attempted to reboot it all in 2007 and 2009, something that also didn't stick in the long run. And now here we are in 2018, nearly a decade since audiences last saw any version of Michael Myers, with a new film that has chosen to do away with all of the franchise's baggage, including Halloween II and the revelation that Michael and Laurie were siblings, to serve as a direct sequel exclusively to Carpenter's original film, with Carpenter himself returning to the franchise for the first time since Halloween III in order to produce and score the sequel.
In the new film, which Green co-wrote with Danny McBride, Michael (Nick Castle, reprising his role from the original film, in conjunction with James Jude Courtney) has been incarcerated ever since that fateful night back in 1978, having been captured shortly after the original Halloween ended. Though so much time has passed, Laurie Strode – now both a mother and grandmother – remains haunted by her encounter with Michael and the unspeakable horror he brought to the quiet town of Haddonfield, Illinois, on perpetual alert that one day he will escape. She's become a survivalist to the extreme, to the point that her seeming paranoia has ruined past marriages and cost her a healthy relationship with her daughter, but when Michael finally escapes from a prison transfer bus and returns to doing what he does best, all of Laurie's planning is put to the test as she finally decides to confront her trauma head on and put Michael down for good.
When I broke down 1981's Halloween II, I discussed how the original film was an exploration of evil finding a way to take advantage of complacency and innocence. Michael was inexplicably evil through and through, like a merciless force of nature, one that could take multiple shots to the chest and plummet from a balcony only to escape into the night. Four decades on, Halloween takes that idea and reexamines it through a modern lens, exploring the obsessions that such evil can spawn.
As one character points out in the film, Michael only killed a few people with a knife back in 1978, even pondering what the big deal is when the world has seen far worse ever since. On one hand, said character has a point, particularly in our very real world where mass shootings seem to occur on a far-too-frequent basis. On the other, however, it's the outright, incomprehensible horror of what Michael did that allows that night to linger on in history. There's no rhyme or reason to his murders. He never utters a word to gloat about what he's done or verbalize some sort of manifesto born from some twisted logic in an attempt to get the world's attention. He simply stalks and kills, as if it's the only thing he knows how to do, and it's the obsession with answering the potentially unanswerable question of why that makes that Halloween night in 1978 such a big deal for some of the people who live in the world of the film, a mystery that also serves to fuel much of the ongoing appeal of Carpenter’s classic itself.
Laurie has become consumed by her paranoia surrounding Michael, who has left a mark on her that she'll never truly begin to recover from unless he's dead. Michael's psychiatrist, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), is obsessed with understanding a patient who offers nothing to understand in his silence and stony patience. A pair of true crime podcasters played by Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees travel across the world to try and talk with Michael in the hopes that they can get similar answers to a mystery that many remain fascinated by. Even Laurie's granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), is driven by a desire to have a relationship with her grandmother, kept at a distance by the wedge that exists between them in the form of her mother Karen (Judy Greer), who can't forgive Laurie for letting her obsession with Michael ruin her childhood.
All of these obsessions, big and small, stem from Michael, whose only obsession is killing, and Halloween digs its heels into exploring all of it, in some ways successful and in others not. Dr. Sartain's storyline in particular is my least favorite aspect of the movie, with a contrived revelation that's a bit too jarring, and it hasn't sat well with me several days on from seeing the film. Even Allyson, who shoulders a heavy narrative focus in the first half of the film, winds up having any sort of arc she may have had undermined by the fact that she stands as a non-player by the end, as though everyone involved forgot to find her a real place in the final act, which only serves to retroactively make most of her early scenes feel like filler that slows down the pace and keeps us from what we're all truly here to see: Michael and Laurie.
And make no mistake, this is truly their movie. Jamie Lee Curtis is stellar here, seizing the opportunity to play a victim of trauma in a way that her appearance in H20 never really allowed her to. The sweet, innocent girl she was back in 1978 has been buried under a layer of concrete that only cracks now and again to expose the original Laurie like a raw nerve. Like Michael longed to kill Laurie once upon a time, Laurie seems to long for a relationship with her granddaughter that she can't fully grasp, watching from a distance, getting close only to cry at a birthday dinner or having to meet up with Allyson in an impromptu way without her mother around. Curtis puts in great work in her portrayal of a woman forever shaped and scarred by violence, the loss of her youthful innocence having robbed her of a lifetime of optimism, all of which underlines the idea that Michael's brand of evil can ruin a life without ever actually taking it.
As for Michael, he's absolutely monstrous here, more so than ever before, and the film restores a true sense of terror to the character that some of the later films in the franchise took away. A tracking sequence that follows Michael as he begins his nightly killing spree, moving from house to house in search of victims, is breathtaking in the best of ways. A clever scene involving a motion sensor light had my audience screaming. He makes a jack-o-lantern out of a victim's head. A character wanders into a gas station and speaks with a clerk, all while we see Michael in the background killing a garage mechanic, something that leads up to an incredibly suspenseful scene wherein Michael terrorizes her in the bathroom. There's even a kill early on in the film that subverted all expectations, shocking my audience (and myself) simply because it demonstrated just how evil Michael truly is and how absolutely no one is off-limits this time around.
Even further, Michael's face is never fully shown. He spends an early portion of the film without his mask on, both before (obviously) and after he's on the loose, but we only ever see him out of focus, or with only brief pieces of his face exposed for us to glimpse, like the scarred-over left eye Laurie poked out in 1978. It's not until he's reunited with his mask in a moment that had my audience dead silent – and gave me goosebumps – that we see him in full from the neck up, evil finally made whole again, the mask and all it represents being the true face of Michael Myers, an expressionless, remorseless malevolence coursing through this world, and it’s all that we ever need to see.
Filmmaking decisions like that demonstrate that Green and McBride get the lasting appeal of Carpenter's Halloween, as well as Michael and Laurie as characters, and even if they stumble with aspects of the film like Sartain's presence in it or Allyson's decreasing lack of importance, the clear passion that brought this film to life is evident on screen. Even better, they don't completely shy away from giving nods to the other films in the franchise that have now been scrubbed away without ever veering too far into fan service territory, like the fun appearance of the Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III, and some of the most crowd-pleasing moments recall iconography of the past, such as a scene late in the movie involving Michael and Laurie that mirrors the original film's closing moments and caused my audience to burst out in applause.
And that applause is, ultimately, representative of what this movie is striving to achieve. It never feels truly groundbreaking, but it doesn't necessarily need to be, and certainly there's an argument to be made that the franchise didn't really need another film. At the end of the day, though, Halloween is too iconic to stay buried forever, and we're lucky to have people who are genuinely passionate about what they're making behind this revival over those in it to cash in on the series' name for a quick buck. From Carpenter's awesome score – which he composed alongside his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies – to the lavish attention to detail and so on, there's a palpable energy to the film that's hard to dismiss.
At the end of the day, it's not without its issues. As I mentioned earlier, it has some pacing issues in relation to both Allyson's presence in the film and the fact that several seemingly prominent characters are introduced throughout the film only to disappear altogether, raising the question of why we spent time with them in the first place. Several otherwise solid actors, like Greer and Will Patton, feel relatively wasted here, as though they could've been subbed in by anyone else. And certainly there will be many who can and will nitpick the finer details of the plot, which relies heavily on convenience. But when all the film is setting out to do is entertain and throw back to the simplicity of a horror subgenre we don't see given this much care on the big screen of late, it's easy to put aside the faults of some of its parts when that aforementioned energy has blown off the cobwebs of this storied franchise, pumping through the film's veins in service of a larger whole that stands as an enjoyable reminder of why we all still love Halloween.
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