Halloween (2018)

2018 | rated R | starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Toby Huss, Andi Matichak, Will Patton | directed by David Gordon Green | 1 hr 46 mins |

Halloween Horrorfest Finale # 16

If you asked me 20 years ago if we needed another Halloween, I would have said no, but 20 years, one Busta Rhymes fight and one overwritten Rob Zombie remake later has made the prospect of returning to a fierce, mysterious Michael Myers welcome and exciting. Halloween 2018, a sequel to the original that just ignores all the previous sequels because – whatever, why not – is a surprisingly well made and faithfully executed Halloween movie. It may be so well made that it butts up against the limits of how far this franchise can go. As a fan of this franchise and Carpenter’s original take on suspense over blood, the new Halloween isn’t bad and isn’t great. The answer of how essential it is, is probably unsatisfyingly – it’s complicated.

So presumably, after Michael Myers disappeared into the night in 1978 he just wound up in prison and sat there for 40 years in silence. Psychologists want to dissect his psyche and true crime podcasters want to get his story on tape. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has spent the last 40 years traumatized, raising a militant family and then loosing custody of her now grown daughter (Judy Greer) and kept away from her granddaughter (Andi Matichak) who is now coincidentally in high school walking the Haddonfield streets with her horned-up friends and boyfriend. This Halloween a prison transfer bus goes off the road freeing The Shape to move like an unstoppable shark from house to house butchering people all over town, while Strode prepares for the fight of her life.

Director David Gordon Green (and co-writer Danny McBride) shows a love for the first film. They understand Michael Myers and what makes him menacing better than most of the sequels. They’ve also made the most visually interesting Halloween movie since Carpenter. The movie’s liberal use of unbroken tracking shots, blinking traffic and motion lights fits the Halloween décor perfectly. But talking about the new Halloween is like an Economist’s joke – on one hand, on the other hand. On the other hand, it’s very faithful, until it’s not. Green has made probably the goriest series film here, ditching Carpenter’s atmospheric suspense for slicing necks and stomping heads. On one hand the body count is nice and high, on the other hand the kills aren’t particularly creative. On one hand many of the characters are dumb teenagers who make dumb decisions, on the other hand how far do you get away from that before the movie isn’t recognizably Halloween.

I was surprised about how much fan service is built in here. Some of it is really clever and appreciated. Some of it is self referential – Laurie meets Michael’s new psychologist and flat-out calls him “the new Loomis” in probably the most memorable line in the film. I also felt like it leans too heavy into homage territory instead of doing the more difficult thing and building something new. That’s ultimately where this fine movie stops being exciting. It’s very much in the lines and by the numbers, particularly in the third act when the momentum slows and it’s overtaken by gender-swap parallels.

Green approaches this film as if he’s making an immediate spiritual bookend to the first film, filling the movie with call-backs and circular themes that wrap both of them together and leaning into Strode as a woman whose life was destroyed by Michael Myers PTSD. But again, because Green’s Halloween has retconed Laurie and Michael’s sibling relationship out of existence it’ s less clear why Michael nurses a feud with her and why she has spent her entire life seemingly preparing for his return. Curtis is good here, most of the cast is good, but she isn’t given a lot to work with. The movie is relying a lot on the gravitas of her presence alone.

Two movies linger over this one. The first is Halloween: H20 the 20th anniversary sequel Miramax released to catch the wave of the self-referential post-Scream 90s. Because of that trendiness, H20 has not held up well, but it offers the first time we got a big blow-out fight between Michael and Laurie and for all of that movie’s flaws, it’s last 15 or so minutes is incredibly satisfying. Blumehouse’s Halloween here builds to the same final fight climax, but Green doesn’t have the same urgency with it. Replacing scrappy table-turning empowerment with Strode armed to the teeth, Straw Dog-ing her way around a booby trapped house.

The second movie – and this is where I’m going to lose everyone – is Rob Zombie’s 2009 sequel Halloween II. A movie pretty much universally hated, that arguably killed the franchise for a decade – and yet, one I kind of love for it’s complete and utter commitment to bat s**t craziness. It’s ferociousness, it’s bizarre pretentious symbolism and the way it does something different with the franchise, going all the way with the idea that Laurie and Michael are more alike than not (an idea this movie teases) was one of the most ballsy takes and the furthest I’ve ever seen this franchise stretched. Everyone hated it. We didn’t know what we wanted in an authentic Halloween sequel but we knew it wasn’t that. But was it? Was it actually exactly where this series needed to go? David Gordon Green’s Halloween is a very well made classy slasher movie with style, suspense, appropriate violence and an absolutely killer new score from John Carpenter himself – that score maybe the highlight of the film.

In a time when remakes and reboots and reboots disguised as sequels are clogging the multiplexes, each finding new head-slapping ways to completely botch a beloved franchise, it shouldn’t be underplayed how much Halloween gets right here. Weirdly, its almost good enough to expose how limiting turning the perfectly simple concept behind Halloween into a franchise is. The goal of Blumehouse’s movie here was probably to jumpstart a new Halloween series, but I came away from this one feeling I’ve seen all the series has to offer and the book can now be closed on Michael Myers. Not because it’s a satisfying finale – it isn’t – but because we’ve seen all it has to offer.

 

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