Halloween (2018)

“Say something!”

A review for the new Halloween. Just in time for Christmas. I know. Weird.

I should just preface this review by stating that the original Halloween was one of the first scary movies I ever saw, and is still one of my favorites. It was probably the impetus of my love for horror movies as a kid, and I watched it and its various sequels on a regular basis. I’ve even seen the oddball Rob Zombie “reimagining” and its abysmal sequel. Now we have another reimagining, this time from the minds of indie filmmaker David Gordon Green and comedy actor Danny McBride (well-known for collaborating on the stoner-action-comedy Pineapple Express). I was more than intrigued at the notion of these two taking the reins of the Halloween franchise, although, I was also somewhat skeptical of how they decided to go about it.

That is, I wasn’t sure about their choice to negate every other entry in the series past the first film and remove the long-held brother-sister dynamic between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.

I only recently discovered that this is something that has polarized fans of this franchise ever since the first sequel, but it always made sense to me. The filmmakers’ attempt to ret-con that detail in the context of this movie is what ended up polarizing my own opinion.

But anyway, let’s talk about the plot.

40 years after his first killing spree, Michael Myers escapes from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium a second time. However, his one surviving victim Laurie Strode has been preparing for this inevitability ever since that fateful Halloween night. Stricken with trauma, she has remained in Haddonfield and become a reclusive survivalist. Her daughter Karen also lives in town with her husband and daughter Allyson. Karen is estranged from Laurie after a dysfunctional childhood, while Allyson simply pities her grandmother’s neuroses.

Laurie’s paranoia is vindicated, though, when a couple of true-crime podcasters begin picking at old wounds and seemingly rekindle Michael’s wrath. He breaks free, dons the classic mechanic overalls and ghostly William Shatner mask, and returns to stalk the streets of his hometown just in time for Halloween. And Laurie goes on the defensive to protect her family.

Beyond any of its scares, the film’s biggest strength lies in its characterization of Laurie and Michael.

A lot of people were pleased with Laurie’s transformation into a survival expert in the vein of Sarah Conner as a response to her lingering trauma, but this — like several other aspects of the film — felt redundant to me since Halloween: H20 did something similar years ago. And more believably, in my opinion.

What I found more unique is the way the movie frames Laurie with its imagery. I believe it was John Carpenter who described the original film’s hero, Dr. Sam Loomis, as an Ahab type figure, obsessively pursuing his enemy. This movie takes it a step further with Laurie, though. Many iconic shots of Michael in the original are recreated, but with Laurie in the role of The Shape. It’s an interesting way of showing that she and Michael are not so different, even with the absence of the sibling angle.

But the movie’s handling of Michael is what I really enjoyed. While always a stand-out slasher villain, he got further and further away from his original appeal with every passing sequel. After awhile it became similar to Jason Voorhees, where you’re watching the movies just to see what messed up kills he comes up with next. So I really appreciated that the writers put more emphasis on the pure evil, force of nature aspect of his character. That’s the real benefit of getting rid of the sibling thing and the convoluted cult storyline. He’s back to being just a monster in the form of a masked man, inhuman and unknowable. While it’s clear that he recognizes Laurie from their first encounter, there’s never any indication that revenge against her ever factors into his motivation. He’s just doing what he does. The lack of explanation for this silent, implacable killer is more frightening than any twisted reason the other movies provide.

As for the actual scares, there are a few bits which really work. The most notable is the one shot sequence of Michael going from house to house murdering people. That’s the real fear of the first film, showing the visceral horror of a random stranger slipping into your suburban home and killing you for absolutely no reason. There's a rather brutal scene in a public restroom as well. Michael's first onscreen victim was surprising, even for this series. And a couple of scenes make fantastic use of light and darkness to earn their scares.

Since this is co-written by Danny McBride, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover it is one of the funnier Halloween movies. A lot of humor is used to humanize several characters, and even provide moments of levity before gruesome death scenes. This also harkened back to the first film, as opposed to some of the over the top hamminess of its sequels. One of the best scenes in the movie involves a teenager mistaking Michael for a normal guy in a costume and trying to strike up a conversation with him.

There's a lot here that I liked, but there's also several things I had issues with.

After awhile, discarding all the other movies felt a bit disingenuous when so many bits and pieces from previous Halloween movies have been sprinkled throughout this one. This film owes a lot to H20, in particular.

While I enjoyed a lot of the disposable side characters, there were a few that felt as if they were included merely to serve as plot contrivances. The English podcasters and Dr. Sartain are the most obvious examples.

And although the film really tries to recapture the feel of the original, it does end up falling back on sheer bloody gore in many of the kill scenes.

But the biggest problem I had with it, as I alluded to earlier, is the way its premise fails to hold up. On multiple levels. For one thing, having the story go that Michael was simply caught by the police and sent back to the mental institution completely deflates the mystique of the first film’s brilliant ending. And while reducing Michael’s body count and notoriety to that one night might excuse the fixation other characters in the film have for him, it doesn’t account for the outrageous measures Laurie takes in this film; she’s reacting to Michael as if all the other movies did take place. Additionally, the film seems to completely justify her extremist mentality, and only barely examines the collateral damage that comes as a result of her desire to face her demon. Ultimately, the movie felt less about the return of evil and was more of a strange take on female empowerment.

Despite its flaws, though, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t one of the better sequels. Because it totally is. And it's certainly the highest quality Halloween film since the original.

Bits and pieces:

* The opening credits and how the movie segues into them was awesome.

* There’s a random scene involving a motorcycle in a garage that I’m not sure had any real point to it.

* Oddly, the most obnoxious character in the movie does not end up a victim or even find himself in danger. Although, considering who the character is supposed to be, this might be another homage to the original film.

* This movie probably features Michael without his mask more than any other. His real face is onscreen quite a bit, but the camera never gives it much focus. Obviously, because his true face is that blank death mask he loves so much.

* Although I wasn’t 100% on board with this portrayal, Jamie Lee Curtis once again brought her A-game as Laurie. It kind of reminded me of Mark Hamill coming back to play Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. And Curtis proves that she can still command the screen in a lead role, which I haven’t seen her do in a long time.

* Speaking of modern Star Wars, I feel like this movie's subtitle should be Halloween: The Shape Awakens, considering how much it draws from that first film; sorry, I have to keep mentioning the parallels. This might've been less confusing than just calling it Halloween. There are now three movies in this franchise simply called Halloween. I'm sure that won't be confusing for anyone in the future.

* The other actors in the movie are great as well. I love Judy Greer and Will Patton in just about anything they star in, and this is no exception. And newcomer Andi Matichak as Allyson Strode does a good job filling the sort of role that Jamie Lee herself once shined in all those years ago.

Quotes:

Dr. Sartain: He can speak. He just chooses not to.

Laurie: Michael Myers slaughtered five people, and he’s a human being we need to understand. I’m twice divorced, and I’m a basket case.

Julian: There was a fucked up face watching me from the dark!

Laurie: I have prayed every night that he would escape.
Hawkins: Why would you do a thing like that?
Laurie: So I could kill him.
Hawkins: Well, that was a stupid thing to pray for.
Uh, yeah!

Well, there’s my review. While it was a mixed Halloween bag, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a Halloween film in theaters again and hearing John Carpenter's classic score at least one more time. Three out of five butcher knives.

5 comments:

An Honest Fangirl said...

I really, really loved this movie. Granted, I only saw the first movie once years ago, so I don't have the background of all the other movies. I didn't care that the retconned everything because I wasn't invested in it. If anything, I thought that it was a really good idea, considering how muddled some of it can be.

I was annoyed by the boyfriend. I wanted him to be brutally killed, but I think he just ended up disappearing instead. There were a few characters that disappeared that annoyed me. But that was my only real complaint with the movie. I thought that it was really good, scary, I loved the ending with Karen taking on the mantle that her mother wanted her to have her entire life. And Laurie's killer-proof cabin was a treat. I thought that it was very clever.

Logan Cox said...

Well, having only seen the first one, you are probably this film's intended audience.

(SPOILERS BELOW)

The boyfriend is the obnoxious character I was alluding to. And yeah, I was also mad that he kind of just disappeared. The characters who just pop in and out at the plot's convenience was another flaw that I overlooked. But overall, it's an enjoyable horror movie.

While it was cool seeing Judy Greer get the drop on Michael Myers, I just wasn't a fan of Laurie's screwed up parenting and lifestyle being totally vindicated. The killer-proof house, while a neat new addition to the Halloween mythos, felt really unnecessary when earlier in the film Will Patton almost puts an end to Michael just by running him down with his car as soon as he sees. It goes along with my criticism of the film's premise: treating Michael like he's just an impossibly durable killer in a mask instead of evil incarnate feels kind of weak when everyone that knows who (or what) he is reacts to him as if he were evil incarnate.

Overall, though, it's a fun movie. I'm always down for Halloween.

TheShadowKnows said...

"There are now three movies in this franchise simply called Halloween. I'm sure that won't be confusing for anyone in the future."

If they burn all copies of Rob Zombie's version, along with the rest of his cinematic output - a measure I heartily endorse - it will at least reduce the confusion somewhat. ;op

Logan Cox said...

I'm willing to give The Devil's Rejects a pass due to how wickedly entertaining it was, but the rest of it? Yeah, doesn't seem to be a whole lot worthwhile there. It's a shame, because there are many aspects of his Halloween (the first one, that is; I don't know what he was thinking with the second) that could have worked if he had a good co-writer or knew how to reign himself in at all.

CoramDeo said...

It's absolutely true that the best horror movie villains aren't characters, they're just near-unstoppable forces of nature. In a good horror movie, the threat doesn't have a personality, it doesn't have expressions or talk. It just comes after you and doesn't stop until you are dead or they are. I would say that if the villain has a character, it's probably more of a thriller than a horror.