Halloween (2018) – Movie Review
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride & David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer & Nick Castle
Music: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter & Daniel Davies
Release Date: October 19th 2018
The “Halloween” franchise may have been the mainstream progenitor of the “Slasher” Genre when the original, low-budget film was released back in 1978, but as a franchise, it doesn’t seem to have had much-staying power or comparable iconography as its imitators. While the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchises have equally endured, they’ve had some level of consistency with their quality whilst “Halloween” has a couple of solid instalments, but an incredibly poor string of unimaginative sequels which have turned the once terrifying Michael Myers serial killer into just some guy in a mask who might have a druid curse depending which “Halloween” timeline you think is canon (of which there are…4, maybe 5…over the course of 10 movies).
Now, 40 years later, the random creative team behind films such as ‘Pineapple Express‘ are stripping the franchise back to its basics, removing all films from the continuity with the exception of the 1978 John Carpenter original (Carpenter returning to oversee the project and create the film’s score). Jamie Lee Curtis is reprising her role as Laurie Strode (again after ‘Halloween H20: 20 Years Later‘) and even the original “The Shape”; Nick Castle, is returning for the first time in 40 years. Can this supposed “true” sequel finally give fans an effective continuation of the beloved-kinda-sorta franchise or is it a misshapen mess like one of Michael Myers’ baby-sitter victims?
It’s been 40 years since the “Haddonfield Murders” in which 4 people were killed by Michael Myers (Castle) leaving Laurie Strode (Curtis) as a traumatised survivor who has dedicated her life to preparing for the day Michael would escape custody. On Halloween Night, Michael does indeed escape after causing a prison bus to crash letting him loose in Haddonfield leaving Laurie’s daughter Karen (Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Matichak) as potential targets. It’s up to Laurie to defeat Michael and stop him from wreaking havoc on the quiet town once again.
It’s a simple set-up for a “many-years-later” sequel, though (the awkwardly titled) ‘Halloween‘ (2018) does get off to a rather shaky start as we are introduced to Michael through a duo of true-crime podcasters wanting to speak to Michael before he’s transferred to a new facility. It does a good job of framing what’s happened in the past 40 years, with Michael having not said a word, study of him passing onto Dr Ranbir Sartain played by Haluk Bilginer after the death of Dr Loomis (played by the late, great Donald Pleasence in the original films), Laurie’s troubled relationship with her estranged daughter etc. However, the opening scenes are awkwardly staged and come across more funny and awkward than creepy and off-kilter which I feel was the actual intention.
But, once we meet the hard-bitten Laurie Strode and get introduced to her troubled family dynamic (having lost custody of her daughter when she was 12) through the lens of these podcasters/”investigative-journalists” do we see what ‘Halloween‘ (2018) is going for; a depiction of survival trauma. Laurie Strode’s life was forever changed by her encounter with the “boogie-man” (who is NOT her brother in this new sequel/reboot) and she is living her life in the shadow of Michael Myers. He may have been locked up, but that relationship with Michael has now forever-defined how she has been seen by the public. Doctor’s show more interest in Michael Myers than the well-being of his victims and their families, the podcasters want to learn more about Michael over Laurie and this seems like a fair commentary on how true-crime can be seen as a spectator-sport by many people.
In many film franchises like “Friday the 13th” and “The Nightmare on Elm Street”, while there are heroes of those films the main characters are the iconic killers Jason and Freddy respectively. But with ‘Halloween‘ (2018) the main character is Laurie Strode and Michael Myers is the antagonist; a villain who is just an evil killer and that’s all there is to him, which makes Laurie wonder why people are so fascinated with trying to find any hidden depths to him. This could be Jamie Lee Curtis’ best performance of her career, certainly the best of this franchise as she completely sells this new version of Laurie who is strong and ready to take-up-arms but is still very fragile and mentally fractured. She really has embraced the film’s subtext of people who idolise the criminal and neglect those who have actually been hurt or affected (this could be described as a “#MeToo Slasher Film”). It’s certainly the most deconstructionist mainstream slasher film since ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare‘ in 1994 though it’s not remotely as meta or on-the-nose.
Judy Greer and Andi Matichak are great as Laurie’s daughter and granddaughter respectively but the film is wise to not try and re-frame either of them as “the new Laurie”. They have their own lives and their own struggles separate from Laurie and deal with Michael Myers in different ways over the course of the film. And while Dr Ranbir Sartain is described by Laurie as “the new Loomis” (direct quote), as the film progresses we learn that is far from the truth. The character dynamics, from those who were there that night in 1978, including Sheriff Deputy Frank Hawkins played by Will Patton, and those who only know it by reputation, draw a distinct line between people who understand what Michael Myers is like and those who do not.
Speaking of Michael Myers, this is easily the first time since 1981 (in ‘Halloween 2‘) that he’s actually come across as “the Shape”. He’s an immovable silhouette who cannot be over-powered and this is depicted in some horrific kills. They’re not even particularly innovative, or gruesome, but the way they’re shot and portrayed makes them feel so grounded and harrowing. Shout-out to a really freaky scene in a gas-station bathroom and a series of hauntingly long-takes of Michael Myers just walking from the street into someone’s house and killing them with their own utensils. ‘Halloween‘ (2018) feels like a true-and-honest depiction of a “slasher” ideal because it shows just how easily some random guy can walk into a supposed safe-place and kill someone if they had the inclination.
The obviously-gonna-happen-so-it’s-not-really-a-spoiler final confrontation between Michael and Laurie is one of the stand-out horror set-pieces in recent memory as it puts Laurie on the defensive despite her 40 years of preparation. There’s a real sense of dread as Laurie could still easily be killed by Michael if something goes wrong or he takes her by surprise. This isn’t like ‘Halloween H20: 20 Years Later‘ when you almost feel sorry for Michael because he’s getting beaten up so much (though the catharsis in that movie is part of its appeal). This time, it feels much more balanced and frightening as a result.
An additional shout-out has to be given to young actor Jibrail Nantambu who plays a young kid that one of Allyson’s friends is babysitting who might give the comedic break-out performance of 2018. He’s also an indicator of how ‘Halloween‘ (2018) isn’t just a dour horror film but also has some comedic edge to it, like some down-to-earth humour to help humanise members of the supporting cast and also give the audience some release after a scary segment. While not quite on the level of ‘Get Out‘, directed by Jordan Peele, it does help demonstrate that some of the best people working in the horror genre also have a strong understanding of comedy.
But in the end, it all comes back the relationship between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers which gives ‘Halloween‘ (2018) some real edge and pathos to it. The story-decision to give Laurie and daughter and a grand-daughter as opposed to sons also can’t have been a coincidence. One of Michael Myers’ first on-screen kills in this movie takes place in a bathroom against a woman with her skirt down and some of the imagery is steeped in uncomfortable sexual-assault parallels. No, it’s not explicit and attention isn’t drawn to it, but the imagery seems very deliberately chosen and that is what allows ‘Halloween‘ (2018) and its decision to be a direct sequel as opposed to a standalone reboot to feel current and relevant in a way that it hasn’t since John Carpenter last had a direct involvement in the franchise.
It also helps that Carpenter and Co. have been given the vast-yet-limited resources of Producer Jason Blum from Blumhouse Productions. While ‘Halloween‘ (2018) is one of their larger-budget endeavours ($15M production budget), the limited resources do wonders for the film’s feel. While the film was shot digitally, the way its lit and the way the sets are dressed does help give the movie a timeless “filmic” quality (my pretentiousness is showing, I do apologise) and making it feel like it still exists in the Universe that the 1978 original created. The gore and blood are effectively splattered (watch out for a fun one-scene cameo from make-up artist Christopher Nelson), the handheld cinematography is effective and creepy and John Carpenter’s music is….*mwah*.
Coming from someone who is a big fan of the 1978 original but mainly views it as a great 1st and 2nd act to be paid off with ‘Halloween 2‘ acting as an extended 3rd act (I mainly watch the two as a double-feature), ‘Halloween‘ (2018) could very well be the best movie of this franchise. The original is iconic and a great showcase of suspense and atmosphere but Jamie Lee Curtis and the great trio of screenwriters really showed up to deliver something special here. There’s a lot going on under the surface of ‘Halloween‘ (2018) that makes the kills hit audiences harder and breathes life into these characters in a franchise that thrived off of stock archetypes. It may get off to an awkward start, but once Michael Myers puts on the mask and becomes “The Shape”, this new, 40-years-in-the-making sequel holds you by the throat and doesn’t let go delivering a high-bar for the slasher genre.
For so many years the “Halloween” franchise was trying to play catch-up and making desperate grabs for relevancy. Now, the knife is in the other hand and other franchises have to step up and compete in Michael Myers’ dominating shadow.
I give ‘Halloween‘ (2018) 4 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 21st Oct 18