Review: Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon Green

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Will Patton, Andi Matichak

One of the creepiest things about Halloween (2018), right out of the gate, is the appearance of the Miramax logo, which hasn’t been seen in many a year, and certainly not since the expulsion of the Weinsteins. Ballsy/deluded of someone to hold on to that tarnished brand. But it’s fitting too, in a strange way, as in its finale this flick comes to briefly feel like the slasher movie equivalent of #TimesUp…

Forty years after he first terrorised cinema audiences, an icon returns to the big screen. This unlikely horror sequel boasts John Carpenter’s approval and swiftly – brutally, even – negates any of the original’s many, many follow-ups and reboots. That means cutting back to the basics. No cults, no supernatural abilities, no family connections. Just cold-blooded Michael Myers facing off against Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Haddonfield’s leafy autumnal neighbourhoods, all these years later.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride seem unlikely shepherds for this muscular slasher flick, but its clear from the movie they’ve produced that they hold a lot of reverence for the title. Indeed, Halloween circa 2018 is splattered with subtle (and not so subtle) references to films past, and most keenly the one entry they’ve chosen to recognise as canon.

In the years since her attack, Strode has grown embittered and prepared, seeing Michael’s escape from incarceration and their bloody reunion as inevitable. This has taken its toll on her family relationships, and she is more or less estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer). Just as Laurie predicted (hoped?), Michael gets loose the day before Halloween and makes a beeline for Haddonfield.

Three generations of Strodes are presented, as the grown-ups share focus with teenage Allyson (Andi Matichak), yet the split narrative (which also includes Michael’s journey) means that Halloween doesn’t quite achieve the same single-minded leanness of its forbearer. The best slasher movies do their work in 90 minutes or less. This one runs to a shifty 105. Still, Green does a good job of keeping the motor running under the disparate strands, meaning that the structure of the film has more in common with Carpenter’s own follow-up; 1980’s The Fog.

Myers (played here by the original Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) has much of the same lethal presence as before; that cragged old William Shatner mask giving him an eerie passivity, while his acts of violence speak of chilling untold strength.

The Loomis-esque Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilgnier) ponders the roles that both killer and would-be victim have come to use to identify themselves, and the film carries this question throughout. It is as though both have come to feel imprisoned by their iconic archetypes and are controlled by destiny, or else are manifesting the beats of a story that needs to be (re)told. A dark smudge of the idea found in Moorhead and Benson’s (better) debut Resolution.

Trouble is, with so many sequels and so many indebted slashers that have appeared in the intervening years, Halloween (2018) struggles to stalk new ground, and even raises the question of whether ‘new’ is something audiences even want from a slasher movie. At the midway point in the film, it threatens to take a sharp turn into the unpredictable, and this duly throws up mixed emotions. When the film swiftly course-corrects to business-as-usual, relief kicks in.

Curtis’ Strode may have become emotionally complex, resilient yet wounded, but she’s not so likable. Greer’s Karen Strode isn’t pleasant company either for the most part, and young Allyson similarly lacks warmth. The beating emotional heart of the film goes to the now-marginalised babysitter role (Virginia Gardner). This character, Vicky, has the most traditional slasher-movie story line within the film, playing like a tight mini-movie within the bigger picture. It’s simple and effective and tellingly much more memorable than most of what surrounds it.

Two utterly unbearable English ‘investigators’ and some head-scratching character choices aside, Halloween (2018) isn’t ever that bad, especially given some of the heinous lapses in judgement to have dogged prior installments (the less said about the Rob Zombie films the better). It’s functional, appropriately brutal, and occasionally it even displays a brand of humour that announces Danny McBride’s role in the writer’s room.

But it also feels like a curio rather than a firebrand return. The font and music (which features an astonishing new interpretation that kicks like a siren) are direct throwbacks to Carpenter’s original, and therefore the overall feel is not that of a movie of 2018, even in spite of the aforementioned hashtag. Nor does it feel knowingly nostalgic (like, say, Stranger Things). Green’s film is an anomaly, fallen out of time. It is rigidly sincere, and one can’t quite picture the rest of the modern horror map reshaping itself around it. Imagine if the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse project had taken itself very seriously and you’re some of the way to how curiously offbeat this Halloween feels with the genre in the present day.

I recently had the opportunity to see Carpenter’s original Halloween on the big screen, having only previously encountered it on poor quality DVD. It was a picture reborn. Its art became apparent to me. Carpenter’s use of the frame. The disquieting glide of the then-new Steadicam technology. The paranoia of it.

Green’s film has flickers of these qualities but remains somewhat in the shadows. Still, it is, at the very least, the fourth best Halloween picture (I still have much love for the first two sequels). That might not be the hardest won achievement, but it means this late return does what it needs to, for the most part.

Score:  3

 

 

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