Film Review – Halloween (2018)
Director David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) is the best entry in the long running series featuring the masked killer known as Michael Myers. It has a great admiration for John Carpenter’s classic original, while doing just enough to stand on its own legs. The franchise has had its ups and downs (mostly downs), but here Green (with co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) understands what made the first entry so special, and have successfully translated that approach for the millennial age. It’s not without its fair share of bumps and missteps, but when it works it horrifies and entertains on equal level.
What Green and his team get right – so very right – is erasing all of the sequels and spin-offs from memory, making this a direct follow up to the 1978 film. Gone are the druid curses, reality show gimmicks, and Paul Rudd. Most importantly, it negates the ridiculous thought that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney/Nick Castle) are siblings. This idea was conjured up in Halloween 2 (1981), written by Carpenter who admitted that he took the assignment strictly for the money. When Laurie and Michael were connected in this fashion, it threw away the notion of Michael being “The Boogeyman,” out to kill anyone, anytime, anywhere. Instead, giving him the motivation to simply go after Laurie removed his danger. Rather than killing people at random like a psychopath, Michael’s rage was relegated to a family affair.
In this Halloween, Laurie and Michael being siblings is brushed off merely as an urban legend, and thus Michael is returned back to his rightful place as the embodiment of pure evil. And oh, is he nasty in this one. Not since the first film has Michael been this scary, and even at an old age – we get glimpses of a balding head and a graying beard – Michael remains as ruthless and unstoppable as ever. In fact, the advanced age might contribute to his character, at least now we can understand why he walks so slowly.
It’s been forty years since Michael terrorized the citizens of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night. Since then, Michael had been locked away in a mental institution under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), following in the footsteps of Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence). However, while being transported to another facility, Michael’s bus mysteriously crashes, letting loose the madman to once again hunt unsuspecting victims.
Green’s direction does a superb job of recreating the mood and atmosphere that Carpenter brought with the first film. Michael Simmonds’ cinematography makes use of Carpenter’s trademark visual style, incorporating a wide-angle lens to allow Michael to creep his way around corners and within the shadows. In one instance, a character looks off into the night, sensing someone near. The camerawork does a good job of making us peer into the dark as well, trying to see if we can catch Michael coming towards the camera. There is some clever use of light. Another scene takes advantage of a motion sensor to track Michael movements, shining a light on him as he gets closer and closer to his next target. The kill scenes are bloody, visceral, and in your face. The special effects have an old school feel, but look convincing. And the famous score – this time handled by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies – has all the recognizable rhythms and cues, but with an added layer of menace to make it sound all the more menacing. Once Michael’s killing spree is discovered, the score comes bursting in, injecting a bolt of energy into the narrative.
The scare scenes work incredible well, mixing in a nice balance of suspense with well-orchestrated jump scares. When the story is meant to be scary, it’s pretty unnerving. But a nice surprise comes in how funny this all is. There are plenty of laughs to be had. Halloween (1978) was the birth of the modern slasher genre, and a whole lot of time has passed since then. The production allows for some comedic bits where normal horror tropes are lampooned. Yes, when characters hear a sound, they go towards it instead of away from it. When someone sees Michael coming towards them, they suddenly lose the ability to run without tripping over themselves. All these are common in a slasher, and Gordon pokes fun of them whenever opportunity knocks.
The spotlight definitely goes to Jamie Lee Curtis, reprising her iconic role of Laurie. I appreciate how Curtis – who is arguably the definitive “Scream Queen” – has embraced her status in horror. Where many other actors or actresses would use horror roles as a stepping stone to other things, Curtis has not shied away from returning to her roots. Her performance here may even outshine her work in the original. Laurie may have survived Michael’s massacre forty years ago, but that event has ruined her life. She has spent all that time being constantly paranoid, barricading herself in her home, surrounded by weaponry, police radios, and booby traps all in anticipation of Michael coming back. Her constant fear has distanced herself from her daughter (Judy Greer) and placed a wedge between her and her teenage grand-daughter (Andi Matichak). It’s an interesting exploration of victimization, and how living beyond a traumatizing experience may not be “living” at all. Curtis really brings it with her performance – her hardened outer shell hides the vulnerability so well that it no longer allows her to have normal relationships with other people.
The plotting does have some hiccups. The means of how Michael Myers returns and his eventual run in with Laurie feels a little too convenient. There are also a number of characters that don’t really add much to the narrative. Two journalists (Rhian Rees/Jefferson Hall) are introduced early on but don’t have much influence on the plot. Dr. Sartain’s character arc might be the worst aspect going on here. The choices he makes are completely arbitrary. We aren’t given enough of his background to be convinced that he would take the direction that he did. There simply isn’t enough time to get to know all of these people, and thus their presence doesn’t feel that important to the proceedings.
I don’t know if this will be the last time we see of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, but if it is, they went out on a high note. Hardcore fans will notice all of the callbacks to the original, all of which are used to strengthen this plot. One familiar visual callback was so well received in my screening that the audience cheered out loud. Halloween (2018) is an exciting take on a familiar story, revitalizing a franchise that seemingly ran out of gas. This was such a fun watch, all I want to do is go back into the theater and see it again.