Before this review begins let me just start by saying I hadn’t bothered to watch any of the Halloween movies until about a month before today. The slasher genre, in my opinion, has gotten so corroded with over-the-top violence and little purpose other than to shock you with how grotesque the make-up department could get. It took a friend to convince me that the original Halloween was made with very different intent. Oh yeah it had it’s share of blood and female characters that were skimpily dressed there just arouse the male audience members (Pretty sure one girl was just in her underwear and a shirt for most of her screentime).
However, under the direction of John Carpenter, meaning was brought to all this in a way the genre would never do today, centered around the horror icon Michael Myers. A vicious serial killer yes, but who first stabbed his teenage sister to death at the age of 6 while she was nude in her room after having sex. So suddenly all the gratuitous violence and sex had a point moving forward in the narrative. Was Michael a sexually repressed individual who couldn’t process these feelings and instead killed as a way of defense? Did killing his sister first create a trigger point of why he went after young women the most? Was he simply a 6 year old stuck in a man’s body and, combined with serial killer tendencies, was playing his version of a child’s game like tag? You wouldn’t know because it’s never revealed. Instead, wearing an expressionless white mask and bland jumpsuit, a sort of Hitchcockian method was used where the audience makes there own assumptions. But because we never know, the sense of that unknown creates greater suspense. Because nothing is scarier than not knowing something. That USED to be the idea.
There was a time when movies didn’t explain it’s points to the audience. Heck, there was a time when a movie didn’t even need to make a point. It was an experience that allowed the audience to see the seemingly randomness of life play out. It’s perhaps through watching the Halloween movies over two weekends prior to seeing the new film you get to sort of see a rough timeline of how movies have changed. Because as it went on, every filmmaker that took on the character attempts to explain why Michael is a vicious killer. And boy did they hit shots far into left field. Everything from Laurie Strode (The main heroine played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her breakout role) being Michael’s long-lost sister to Michael being possessed since birth by an ancient “Curse of Thorns” that made him want to kill. It got so corroded in it’s own logic that there is technically two continuities to the original franchise (Not including Rob Zombie’s “white trash redneck” films).
So it was probably a blessing when director David Gordon Green took the newest film and retconned everything but the events of the original film, even going as far as saying Laurie being Michael’s sister was just (As a sort of meta-reference) a way for people to feel like they had an explanation and could move on from the tragedy of “The Babysitter Murders” (The in-film headline of Michael’s killing spree in the original film). In fact, because of this, Green is allowed to clear the slate and creates a film that returns the franchise to it’s original mystique and suspense. In the process, a true sequel to the original is crafted with a near perfect storyline only hindered by the inevitable conclusion of the film that more than willingly follows the course of the original’s narrative thread…not that that’s a bad thing at all!
The set-up for 2018’s Halloween is simple. It’s been forty years since the events of 1978’s Halloween. Michael Myers has been in prison since then, seemingly silent and barely reactive. Laurie Strode has become a paranoid woman, a basket-case in her own words. She lives alone in the woods in a highly fortified house, surrounded by gates and cameras. She’s locked and loaded in case Michael ever comes back to finish her (Again, the film embraces it’s inevitable conclusion). In a quick piece of exposition dumping, it’s revealed she’s had two divorces, is not on good terms with her daughter Karen (Played by Judy Greer) or Karen’s family which includes Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Played by Andi Matichak) although Allyson keeps trying to reach out. Why all these characters are introduced is part of the brilliance of this sequel. We know that Laurie and Michael are two forces meant to collide and the rest of the cast of characters are the potential collateral damage. Through them we feel for Laurie’s struggle as the inevitable happens and Michael escapes to come for her.
Serving as polar opposite to Curtis’s intensely, emotional complex return as Laurie, Nick Castle returns 40 years since the original to once again embody Michael with the same cold and emotionless movements. A seemingly soulless bringer of death, “The Shape” as he is so simply referred to in the film. Castle doesn’t need much to remind us why he could simply terrify us with his robotic and almost inhuman march through neighborhoods. No one is safe, people die, all serving as a bloody prologue to what Laurie will face, her family interwoven in these events, dangerously close to this shadow that looms over everyone without care of consequence. It’s a film that used it’s inevitable conclusion as a sort of tether, pulling the audience along as you hope Laurie won’t be among the victims. Curtis helps make you care too.
Curtis naturally develops Laurie as an older, wiser character, stricken with a kind of trauma you can’t get over, especially knowing the source of your pain is so fixated on you. That target on her back reveals Laurie as a gun-totting, but emotionally shattered person. Unlike modern takes on PTSD in film, she shows how people have to live with this kind of thing. As once critic noted, it’s a sad symmetry that Laurie has become as willing to kill Michael as he is to kill her. Laurie Strode, the same socially awkward girl who in the original felt out of place among her partying friends. Curtis doesn’t lose that awkwardness because, like Michael, she is sort of stuck in flux since that night forty years ago.
Yes indeed you’re right Mr. Patton. The rest of the cast does their job well around Curtis and Castle, serving as the fallout of their battle. Greer slowly revealing Karen as one constantly reminded of how her life was affected by Michael’s actions on her mother. Veteran actor Will Patton also adds a nice touch as sheriff’s deputy Frank Hawkins who is trying to prevent history from repeating itself and, as a counter to that, actor Haluk Bilginer plays Dr. Ranbir Sartain who, unlike Donald Pleasance’s original psychiatrist character Dr. Samuel Loomis from the 1978 film, is utterly fascinated with Michael.
Sartain, along with two true-crime British podcaster who start the film off trying to make a story out of the “The Babysitter Murders”, all serve to comment on how modern society has changed since 1978. Whereas Michael was so simply referred to by Loomis as “pure evil”, these three supporting characters want to find out Michael’s motivation. A sort of subtle fourth-wall breaking commentary on modern audience’s fascination with killers because the unknown not only terrifies…it fascinates now. Sometimes I agree with the film’s theme. Nowadays, we’re too smart for our own good, that we can stare into the blackness and it’ll cower to us as we put a light to it. Michael’s return to the cinema in proper form is a reminder that’s just not the case. The unknown is deadly because it’s unpredictable and we think we can find the pattern.
While a pattern no doubt exists in this newest film, borrowing the basic outline of the original film’s narrative, several surprising twists occur, some I didn’t see coming for someone who has all 8 original films fresh in my memory (And, sadly, the Zombie ones are stuck in there for now too). This new film is a reset and no doubt a sequel will occur. However, this time Carpenter and Curtis serve as executive producers, both having been very vocal about how much they disliked the way the franchise went after the original. This time there is a control and desire to make something worth seeing.
Carpenter returns to compose, as he did the original film, and he reignites the music of Halloween with a personal touch of slow-building tension and emotional resonance (With help from his son, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies). Michael Simmonds’ cinematography seems as effortless as how Michael kills. Not to mention Tim Alverson knows when to cut Simmonds’ work and what angles to use to most effectively scare us or keep us hooked, waiting for the next frame to cut to. And while 2018’s Halloween itself cuts off forty years of bad continuity since the 1978 original, you don’t feel like you lose anything in the process. Instead, it’s back to basics…and Michael has never seemed more terrifying than back when he simply killed…and you had no idea why.
Good: Curtis’s performance, editing, Carpenter’s score, cinematography, subtle themes, and some impressive twists.
Bad: Not “bad” per se, but given the film mostly follows the story flow of the original, I couldn’t exactly give it a perfect score could I? Two points off seems fair right?
By the way…: For those expecting Easter eggs…there are A LOT. Enjoy finding them.