Halloween (2018)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-10-20 07:14

Written by: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, & Jeff Fradley (screenplay), John Carpenter & Debra Hill (characters)
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, and Andi Matichak

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“You don't believe in the Boogeyman? You should."

For Michael Myers to live, the Halloween series has had to die a few times now. Various sequels and entire timelines have been sacrificed at the altar of spin-offs, ret-cons, and Rob Zombie’s vision to varying success (hence the multiple attempts), but it’s always been in the service of preserving, restoring, or completely reimagining the mystique of Myers himself. Initially envisioned as a complete enigma, Myers is inherently resistant to a convoluted mythology, which didn’t keep various filmmakers—including John Carpenter himself—from embellishing new twists and turns that eventually had to be hacked away like vestigial organs in an attempt to reset and recover that purity. Enter David Gordon Green and Danny McBride with their own radical notion of ignoring everything following Carpenter’s immortal classic and returning to the basics: The Shape haunting Haddonfield on Halloween night, setting up a long-overdue rematch with Laurie Strode.

While it’s not exactly the scorched earth approach that Rob Zombie embraced, it’s drastic nonetheless, especially for longtime fans experiencing déjà vu: we’ve been here before, when H20 kindly asked us to dismiss Jamie Lloyd and friends from our minds and scrub our Thorn tattoos from our wrists (but not our hearts). However, the news is much better this time around, as this latest reboot is much more worthy of such a sacrifice, as Green and company have crafted a killer Halloween movie, one that directly confronts the enigma of Michael Myers and attempts to reckon with it: not content to merely restore The Shape’s mystique, this bunch has made a thrilling, brutal, and intense monument to it: simply put, Michael Myers hasn’t felt this primal—this scary—since 1978, when he was still the ultimate boogeyman bringing death to the American heartland.

Here, 40 years after his infamous Halloween night massacre, Myers’s supernatural aura inspires skepticism from a pair of true crime podcast hosts looking to exploit the case for their latest episode. As they descend upon Haddonfield, they learn that Myers has been confined in Smith’s Grove ever since that fateful night; during his captivity, he hasn’t spoken a word nor shown a hint of remorse. Itching to discover what makes Michael tick, the two even provoke him with his old mask (secured from a DOJ agent) and remind him of his killing spree. Myers remains stolid, though his hands do seem to clench up a bit at the thought of it all. Luckily (and, let’s be real, quite stupidly), the state is set to transfer him to another facility after investing so much money into studying him to no avail—and, of course, it’s set to happen on October 30th.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is well-prepared for the occasion and has been for most of her adult life. After surviving her encounter with Myers, she dedicated herself to being ready for the next time: convinced that her attacker would someday eventually escape, she went into full survivalist mode by arming herself to the teeth and even turning her home into a fortress on the outskirts of Haddonfield. In the process, she burned through two marriages and has found herself alone, still unable to exorcise the demons that have left her estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Michael’s inevitable escape during the transfer doesn’t do much to calm her hysteria—but it does provide the opportunity for Laurie to finally vanquish the boogeyman for good. Michael’s back, but this time she’s ready.

But before the two reunite, Halloween is mostly Michael’s show. During the first half of the film, it’s tempting to chuckle at what unfolds: indeed, it seems like they made the bold choice to dispense with the existing canon only to remix large chunks of it. You have Myers terrorizing a gas station en route to Haddonfield (part 4), at which point he stalks a restroom during especially intense sequence (H20). His quest eventually brings him to the heart of Haddonfield’s suburbs amidst Halloween night revelry during an incredible stretch that recalls the best bits of Halloween II. In fact, Michael’s first two kills during this sequence are direct homages to some moments in the original sequel: once again, we watch him skulk through a suburban home to recover a butcher knife (this time, however, the old woman—perhaps Mrs. Elrod herself still—isn’t as lucky) before prowling from house to house for his own twisted take on trick or treating.

As familiar as this stretch is, it’s also the moment where Halloween undeniably springs to life. Okay, I found myself thinking, this is working like gangbusters. Once again, Myers is The Shape, floating through Haddonfield like a phantasm, spreading carnage right under the nose of the entire town. He drifts silently, bludgeoning, hacking, and slashing his way through unsuspecting babysitters and other oblivious citizens. Whatever questions the film poses about Michael’s motivation seem to find an answer here in this indiscriminate bloodbath. Finishing off Laurie Strode doesn’t seem to be much of a concern; rather, Michael has simply picked up where he left off 40 years earlier, resuming his unholy Samhain massacre simply because he can.

From the moment two young trick-or-treaters bump into him (one of many callbacks to previous entries), the film truly puts the audience on edge: there’s a sense that no one is safe from this inhuman shade of a man. He will find you and he will kill you, simply because you’re there. It’s goddamn scary in a way Halloween hasn’t been for decades, as Green recaptures that primal essence that dissipated from the franchise the moment Michael headed towards Haddonfield Memorial in search of Laurie Strode because she was simply his sister. This film not only pointedly undoes that twist but also goes the extra mile in reestablishing that Michael Myers is, in fact, the boogeyman walking among us.

Not that Halloween is exclusively a grim piece of work, mind you. Green, McBride, and co-writer Jeff Fradley are careful to inject the necessary levity and emotional beats to keep this from degenerating into mindless stalk-and-slash fare. Obviously, the Strode clan is instrumental in this regard, as the early-going splits time between Michael’s rampage and catching viewers up to speed with Laurie’s tense, rocky relationship with the rest of her family. Karen and her husband Ray (Toby Huss) have all but cut ties, insisting that she isn’t welcome in their home until she overcomes her trauma. Allyson is more understanding towards her grandmother and desperately wants her to return to the fold: it’s obvious these two are closer than Karen would like them to be, and there’s a sort of unspoken sense that Allyson—an obviously sweet, smart girl—will hopefully be able to live the life Laurie was once destined to have before Michael Myers ripped it away from her.

Curtis is astounding here as Laurie, who is in a much different headspace than she was in H20. Where that Laurie ran away from her problems and chased them with endless bottles of booze, this one has remained in Haddonfield, actively hoping Myers will one day escape so she can kill him. There’s a vulnerability beneath that hardened exterior, though, as a profound sense of loss defines Laurie this time around; where “Keri Tate” desperately clung to whatever life she had in H20, this Laurie has already watched her life be consumed by Myers. It somehow feels more authentic in this film, perhaps even a little bit more nuanced; instead of dialing up Laurie’s trauma to shrill, obvious outbursts, Green and Curtis opt for a more subtle approach, imagining instead that Laurie is irrecoverably haunted—but not exactly broken, it should be noted. Two scenes capture the range Laurie exhibits here: one has her breaking down in public, seeking the refuge of her granddaughter’s shoulder, while the other has her rolling up right into the midst of Michael’s rampage, gun in hand, ready to blow his face off without hesitation.

In an interesting turn, Laurie isn’t exactly the “new Loomis,” as one might expect here. Yes, she assumes some of his duties, most notably insisting to anyone within earshot that Myers is a ruthless killing machine that needs to be put down; however, Green often visually connect her to The Shape himself with several shots that find her inhabiting the same spaces the boogeyman once haunted: she looms outside Allyson’s school as Myers once did, among other clever inversions that further underscore how her tormenter utterly consumed her. She might not be an unfeeling murderer like Myers, but she always feels at a remove, almost as if a part of her was forever lost the moment that butcher knife tore into her shoulder 40 years ago. Halloween is the rare slasher movie that’s equally invested in characters and carnage, as this crew fully exploits the thematic, resonant heft that inherent in those 40 years (even if those memories of H20 and Resurrection do linger a bit, to be fair).

Green extends that courtesy to most of the supporting cast as well. It’s remarkable just how well he recaptures the general vibe of Carpenter’s original in the sense that just about everyone is decent and upstanding. Some exceptions apply, of course, but, for the most part, this is a good-natured collection of characters that don’t deserve to have their lives utterly ruined by Michael’s latest exploits. Among the highlights is Vicky (Virginia Gardner), Allyson’s best friend who finds herself juggling babysitting duties with the horny whims of her boyfriend Dave (Miles Robbin). They—along with the hilarious kid (Jibrail Nantambu) of the house—find themselves right in the middle of Myers’s suburban bloodbath in one of the film’s standout sequences: it’s perhaps a bit funnier and raucous than anything in the original, but it’s genuinely affecting. In the space of a few scenes, this trio etches itself into franchise lore as some of its best supporting characters, and their sequence is made all the more tense for it, especially since an early scene makes it clear that Myers has no compunctions about offing a kid.

Other characters are terrific, too: Will Patton appears as Hawkins, a deputy who essentially functions as the Sheriff Brackett surrogate, only it doesn’t take him nearly as long to spring into action. Once he notices that Myers is on the list of patients unaccounted for from the crash, he knows the town can’t fuck around; after all, he was on duty as a young cop during Michael’s first massacre all those years ago and witnessed the carnage first hand. He has a nice rapport with Curtis, and it’s nice that the script avoids the obvious cliché of establishing a contentious relationship between Laurie and Hawkins. In the absence of such needless drama, you’re just left with two resolved survivors committed to the task of killing Michael Myers. He understands Laurie’s position, and she knows he’s doing the best he can. Their utter decency—and that of several other Myers victims—provide a crucial counterbalance to all the mayhem and remind the audience of the stakes: once again, Haddonfield is an otherwise idyllic middle-America town under siege for no goddamn reason other than Michael Myers was born there 61 years ago, and now he's come home--again.

Attempting to make some sense out of the madness is Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), Michael’s primary doctor since Dr. Loomis’s death. A student of the dearly departed doctor, Sartain resumed Loomis’s original quest of finding some semblance of human reason or motivation guiding his patient’s actions. It’s proved to be a futile quest, though it’s also quite clear Sartain hasn’t completely given up just yet, particularly once the script resorts to a twist that will likely prove to be controversial (one shot for sure during this part gave me so much pause that I thought they were about to absolutely blow it). Without spoiling the details, let’s just say that Sartain is also committed to seeing his work through and will stop at nothing to discover what—if anything—drives Michael.

While this turn of events proves to be a little clunky and contrived, it’s ultimately in the service of reiterating one of the film’s central themes: nothing lurks within Myers. Dr. Loomis’s haunting words from 40 years ago practically reverberate throughout each savage bludgeoning and every malicious slash: there is indeed nothing left here besides the instinct to kill, and age has done nothing to slow Myers. At 61 years old, he’s impossibly even more unrelenting and vicious: by my count, he at least quadruples his body count from the original film. Hell, he outdoes his first massacre before he ever arrives in Haddonfield proper here and leaves a slew of indelible carnage every step of the way.

Halloween features a nice mix of on-screen violence, aftermath gore, and implied bloodshed: in many ways, the guiding force here seems to actually be Halloween II since Green doesn’t hesitate to indulge slasher movie expectations. Just as Carpenter sensed that the first sequel would need to keep up with its splattery brethren in 1981, his counterpart here recognizes the necessity of gnarly, twisted violence. Here, though, it doesn’t quite feel completely gratuitous: rather, it’s all a stark, striking reminder that Michael Myers is an agent of pure evil concerned only with utterly decimating anything in his path. Each act of violence is a pointed rejoinder against the notion that human motivations or impulses guide him, with one show-stopping outburst acting as a face-bashing exclamation point.

Of course, all gore-soaked roads lead to the inevitable confrontation sixtee—er, forty years in the making once Michael and Laurie cross paths during the finale. The script is actually careful about making this Michael’s purpose (it’s certainly Laurie’s); in fact, it’s perhaps too cautious, as it relies on that contrived, aforementioned twist to put the wheels in motion. McBride and Green have been adamant about reclaiming Michael as an enigma, claiming he’s scarier if he doesn’t fixate on specific targets, so they have to nimbly walk that tightrope in setting up this final confrontation. The particulars of the setup aren’t completely successful, but that’s all but forgotten by the time Laurie enacts her long-awaited plan to end Myers within the confines of her own home during a thrilling sequence that nearly rivals the original’s climax.

I don’t make that comparison lightly. Carpenter’s original crescendo of mangled corpses, nail-biting suspense, and a stirring conclusion is a masterwork of horror—perhaps even the genre’s very finest fifteen minutes (or so). Green crafts a completely worthy update by turning the tables first by envisioning a sort of home invasion thriller, only he’s upended the predator/prey dynamic in thrilling fashion. This is not to say the script suddenly renders Michael helpless—he certainly gets his blows in during this showdown—but this is the moment Laurie Strode has dedicated her life to conquering, and she doesn’t disappoint. Green recognizes the enormity of this confrontation: it’s not just the peak of his own film but also the climax of a 40-year ordeal for its heroine, and he craftily builds to an incredibly rousing finale. Once again, clever inversions of the original film’s iconic moments play a pivotal role; no mere fan service, these nods visually represent a final girl overcoming her trauma to become more than just a survivor. Nothing says you’ve conquered the boogeyman quite like stealing his own moves.

It’s here that Karen and Allyson also firmly cement themselves as terrific additions to the franchise, almost in spite of a script that tends to sideline them for most of the film. Both Greer and Matichak make the most out of their screen time up until this point, ensuring that you give a damn about them during a perilous climax that actually inspires genuine anxiety over their fates. Friends, we are a long way from wishing Myers would plunge a knife right into Busta Rhymes and Bianca Kajlich’s faces in Halloween: Resurrection. If anything, you find yourself wishing for exactly the opposite: Halloween isn’t your typical antihero slasher movie that revels in the exploits of the killer. By the end, Green and company have rehabilitated Michael’s image so well that you want him to finally meet a grim fate for what he’s put the Strode family through. I cannot stress how remarkable that is for what is essentially the 11th Halloween movie.

You could argue that it’s remarkable that Halloween works at all: this has not been the sturdiest of franchises for the past 20 years (some will argue 30 years, and I will not begrudge them), so it’s nice to have a new entry that I’m unreservedly enthusiastic about. It’s not without its flaws: again, the general frame of the story is a little convoluted and contrived as it labors towards its climactic confrontation. I can’t help but think you could lose the entire story surrounding the podcasters and simply have other characters—perhaps Hawkins, Sartain, or even Laurie herself—bring audiences up to speed, though I do have to admit their presence does nicely add to the body count. There’s also the nagging feeling that seeing Myers incarcerated in Smiths Grove—complete with a damn bald spot—slightly demystifies him a way that’s contrary to the film’s aim to do the exact opposite. I almost wish they had just gone with the notion that Myers simply disappeared after Loomis blasted him off that balcony, only to inexplicably return now, 40 years later just because.

But that and other nitpicks (the editing and rhythm feels a little jagged, especially during the early-going) pale in light of Green’s considerable skills as a filmmaker. During his career, he’s become one of the great cinematic chameleons, easily floating between various genres: character-driven dramas, raucous comedies, and ruminative thrillers. Now he can effortlessly add “improbably effective slasher sequel” to his resume, as Halloween blends humor, violence, atmosphere, and drama into a crowd-pleasing cocktail that’s unafraid to embrace its genre’s expectations. Like Halloween 4 before it, this entry is mostly preoccupied with restoring the franchise and its boogeyman’s former glory, and Green often delivers with a dazzling style that the more workmanlike Return didn’t quite reach.

With the master himself in tow as a producer and composer, Green does Carpenter proud by recapturing the Panavision bravura of the first two films especially. There’s more than a little Dean Cundey in this film’s gliding, prowling camerawork, especially during that stunning suburban massacre sequence and during those unnerving, subtle moments when Myers becomes a phantom lurking in the margins of the frame. Green’s visuals expectedly benefit from Carpenter’s original score (composed alongside his son Cody and Daniel Davies), which mixes familiar themes with new arrangements to tremendous effect. One new cue finds Carpenter going straight up vintage Eurohoror, echoing the glory days of Goblin and Fabio Frizzi as Michael stalks Allyson in a desolate Haddonfield neighborhood. A mile-wide smile stretched across my face here: if that early suburban stalk-and-slash confirmed that Halloween was working, then this was the moment it swept me away and reminded me that this is why it’s worth being a horror fan: for these bursts of sublime, nostalgia-tinged bliss that only the old guard can deliver.

That, ultimately, is the triumph of Halloween: Blumhouse obviously embraced Green and McBride’s direct sequel approach to reach the masses, yet it never feels like it’s been made expressly for that crowd. There’s no sense of disdain towards the franchise, as there seemed to be with H20, a film whose entire existence hinged on righting some perceived wrongs, all while coasting upon the popularity of contemporary movies that wouldn’t have existed without Halloween. This latest entry feels much less cynical in some way, and not just because it sprinkles in plenty of nods to pretty much every sequel (you can even argue that Zombie’s efforts earn a shout out). No, there’s something more potent and vital than that in Halloween, a film whose opening titles double as a mission statement by cleverly riffing on the original’s credits, complete with that iconic pumpkin inflating back into shape. The message is clear: here’s Michael Myers once again rising like a blood-soaked phoenix from the ashes of discarded sequels and reboots, ready to soar back to his rightful place as horror's ultimate boogeyman.

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