Monday, October 22, 2018

Review: HALLOWEEN (2018)

by Patrick Bromley
The night he came home...again. But not that again. A different again. Forget that last again. This is a whole new again.

I like Halloween (2018) a lot. It's a difficult movie to talk about, because the title is confusing and because it's a movie that totally ignores 40 years of sequels and remakes (except for when it doesn't), which means I have to try and get nine other movies out of my head in order to view and discuss it the way it should be viewed and discussed. It becomes especially difficult to do when it means ignoring H20: 20 Years Later, the movie that most dulls the impact of Halloween (2018) by virtue of the fact that it got there first. Watching Jamie Lee Curtis return to the role of Laurie Strode and confront Michael Myers all these years later is incredibly powerful, but I couldn't quite shake the feeling that it would be so much more powerful if we hadn't seen this same story played out twenty years ago in another movie this one pretends doesn't exist. Instead, I have to be happy with a do-over. It's a very good do-over, but a do-over all the same.
It's been 40 years since that Halloween in Haddonfield, Illinois, when escaped murderer Michael Myers killed a bunch of people and very nearly killed young Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). She has spent the years since living in the aftermath of that trauma, learning how to shoot every kind of gun, turning her home into a booby-trapped armory, twice divorced, and driving away her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who now has a high school-aged daughter of her own (Andi Matichak). When Michael escapes during what can only be described as an ill-advised transfer, Laurie and the rest of Haddonfield prepares for his return...though the rest of Haddonfield may be a little too late.

From its opening credits, which more or less recreate the opening of John Carpenter's 1978 original only with an updated score (by Carpenter and his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies) and a pumpkin that's rising up as though being inflated -- I'm back, the fucker says, and it's right. Halloween is back. Director David Gordon Green has succeeded in making a movie that feels a lot like Carpenter's in the ways that it needs to, but distinguishing itself as a David Gordon Green movie throughout. It's in the intensity and brutality of the kills (which owe more than a little to the two Rob Zombie Halloween films, movies that are much more like Halloween 2018 than fanboys will be willing to admit), or the way he counters his use of Carpenter's negative space and controlled camera with extreme close-ups and handheld immediacy. This is a Halloween movie that wants to get in close to its characters, to examine the toll that the past and the passage of time has taken on them, to understand how they've been affected and what still drives them 40 years later. It's a much more personal take on this story. Where Carpenter's Halloween wanted to portray pure evil, Green's Halloween wants to study it.
The interest that the screenplay (by Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley) takes in this study of evil and the dichotomy of predator and prey is both fascinating and frustrating, as it's also where the movie comes up most short. There are obvious points that Green is trying to make about role reversals and how trauma can tear people down into someone we no longer know, but at times it feels half baked. Jamie Lee Curtis is incredible in the film, strong and yet broken, years of terror and rage worn on her face, at once devastating and totally kick ass. But Green keeps choosing to make visual callbacks to the original Halloween, more often than not swapping Michael Myers out for present-day Laurie Strode. At one point, Michael's replacement doctor, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), comes right out and speaks some of the subtext for which Green's movie is reaching, but it too often is confused about the themes it's attempting to explore. One moment involving Dr. Sartain tries so hard to underscore the film's ideas that it threatens to derail the whole thing, but thankfully Halloween gets back on track within a few scenes. It should never have made the final cut.

There are other issues I have, of course, like the convoluted role a couple of podcasters play in Michael getting back his mask or a handful of scenes that push for humor in a movie that, quite honestly, has no room for it. There's a direct callback to 1981's Halloween II, which is frustrating because Green and Co. have gone out of their way to tell us that movie doesn't exist in this continuity. Why, then, make a point of referencing it? But these are barely more than nitpicks, because on the whole Halloween is both an emotionally affecting drama (particularly if you're as invested in this series and these characters as so many of us lifelong fans) and as a really strong horror movie. There are a couple of set pieces in the film that are as tense and as scary as what Carpenter achieved in the original; the difference here is that Green is quicker to break that tension with a payoff, where Carpenter made you wait for it. And wait for it.

This new Halloween understands something about the Michael Myers characters that none of the other sequels did, which helps make it feel much more of a piece with the '78 film. Carpenter's Michael Myers is allowed to be a character: sure he's quiet and expressionless and lacking in any depth by design, but we are still offered a glimpse of the way he sees the world. There are POV shots and shots over his shoulder. There are scenes of Michael doing things that are totally separate from the other characters. He exists as his own entity, not just as the external threat we see in the subsequent movies, which just turn him into Jason Voorhees. Green picks up where Carpenter left off, allowing Michael to be half of the equation. It's even more important in this new Halloween, actually, because the story this movie is telling is about the two fractured halves on a collision course towards being a whole one last time. Know what the only other entries in the Halloween franchise to understand and explore this idea were? The Rob Zombie films. But sure, let's keep talking about those like they were crimes against horror.
I can't quite shake the nagging feeling that this movie would land harder if it hadn't already been made before. It covers ground that's been covered before, but covers it better. We've seen a number of examples of this kind of thing in recent years: the movie that's part sequel, part remake. I suppose Halloween is kind of like this year's Blade Runner 2049: a legacy sequel that has its share of problems but which honors the original and justifies returning to this material all these years later. It's more than just the sigh of relief we can collectively breathe that they didn't fuck it all up; the filmmakers have managed to move the story along while still addressing new concerns -- in short, the original and the sequel are about different things, and that's rare in any sequel, much less one made 40 years later. It functions as a beautiful bookend to the 1978 film, paying off not just the reunion of these two opposing forces but also the decades in between that took place off camera. It rewards us for caring for all these years and hopefully gives Laurie Strode the peace she deserves. Lord knows she's earned it.


  1. Great review, Patrick! This is a weird one. I really liked most of Halloween '18, but it seems like a movie in battle with itself. One of best scares is ruined by a little kid. Outside of Michael and Laurie and her family, most of the characters(the Podcasters, the Sheriff, the Boyfriend) were just glorified plot devices. Also, the Sartain stuff was a dumpster fire, which is frustrating because there is an interesting idea there but is handle VERY badly.

    However, the last 10-15 saved it and are some the best moments in any "Halloween" film. It's too bad it also has some of the worst.

    *Also, I'm very annoyed at seeing people completely forgetting the Rob Zombie "Halloween" movies as well.

  2. Everybody's making a big deal about how this is a new timeline and undoes all the other sequels, etc. But H20 established Laurie changing her name and creating a new identities for herself, so MAYBE this is in continuity after all.

    Also, I thought the movie was terrific.

    1. I don't think this would work as a continuation of H20 since she and Michael were brother and sister in that one.

    2. Also, Michael gets his head chopped off.

  3. Forgive me - What's the Halloween II callback? The one from the trailer? "No - he's not her brother..." dialogue?

    1. I think he means Michael running around in the neighborhood, entering the next best house, going to the kitchen, getting a knife there, killing a totally random woman etc. - just like he did in Halloween 2.

  4. I really enjoyed this... But..

    I think we have to accept that if Michael survived this night and That situation? The sequels to this continuation will be no more wacky than the originals sequels they are attempting to retcon.

    Choosing to transport Michael the night before Halloween?
    The heel turn of a particular character.. Patrick mentions it almost derailing the whole thing and it really, nearly does.

    1. between that and the police lunch conversation it did for me

  5. I'm honestly not that familiar with the Halloween franchise, but I watched Halloween 1978, then Halloween 2018, and Halloween II 1981 today in that order. While the 2018 movie clearly has reverence for the original I also thought that it was very much a David Gordon Green movie, in that it has so much good and great in it and a very high level of film making overall but there's some ingredients missing that keeps it from being a new classic. He really confuses me as a director because he always seems so close to making one of my favorite movies but never gets there, and I can't pin down what it is.

    Overall I hope he tries his hand at another, original, horror movie. I'd be fascinated to see what he'd come up with.