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Review by William Connor Devlin
Let's just get this out of the way: the new Halloween commits a cardinal horror movie sin in that it all feels too safe. In other words, it's not scary.
This latest sequel erases the rest of the canon in favor of being a direct follow up to John Carpenter's 1978 original. Almost by fiat, this is surely the best of the Halloween sequels (although I'm in the camp that finds Halloween III: Season of the Witch to be an irresistible autumnal treat, warts and all), but that bar was incredibly low to begin with. Indeed, most of the Halloween sequels were outright abominable, and those that weren't still had plenty of issues. Chiefly was the decision in the first sequel, Halloween II back in 1981, to make Michael and Laurie brother and sister. This diminished The Shape's stature as The Bogeyman, and set the mythology on some incredibly weird tangents that involved druid cults, men in black, and young Paul Rudd. Scary, but for all the wrong reasons.
The decision to uproot all the canon in favor of a simple follow up to the original is actually a smart move. With this, the filmmakers attempted to keep things streamlined while trying to find ways to make the forty years in between the two films have some sort of emotional resonance, both for the audience and the character of Laurie Strode. Unfortunately, all the best intentions in the world doesn't guarantee success, and 2018's Halloween comes up a bit short and falls on its face a few too many times. As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest problems is that the film is never scary or particularly adventurous with its narrative. But a more problematic issue is that there's essentially two films here. One is a tired rehash and pseudo-remake of the original, which itself has been "remade," "rehashed," and "liberally stolen from" ever since it kickstarted the slasher genre back in 1978, so this all makes the new effort even more tiring. The second story involves a generation of women coming together to face the trauma that's haunted each of them in different ways, and that trauma is embodied in The Shape. The latter is the story worthy of being explored forty years later, but guess which of the two takes greater precedence?
Another issue: the story is filled with strange tangents. In fact, the film opens with two podcasters attempting to get interviews from both an incarcerated Michael Myers and a reclusive Laurie Strode for their "true crime" show. It's pretty abysmal stuff, and it feels like a way to simply pad the run time, get some pieces into place, and add a few more bodies for Michael to make his way through. Then there's Laurie's granddaughter Allyson Strode (Matichak) and her friends, who basically serve as the film's means to remake the first installment. Don't forget Michael's new doctor, Sartain, who's from the Dr. Sam Loomis school of psychology in that he believes Michael might speak if he's near Laurie. Then the whole trauma storyline is happening and the same time and... Okay, so maybe it's not at all the simple follow up it was trying to be. Point being, there's just too much going on here. It's all in service of getting us to that final showdown between the Strode women and Michael Myers, but it feels like there could've been a much less convoluted way of doing that. Slasher buffs will no doubt appreciate the highly inflated body count thanks to all these storylines, but bouncing between all these narrative strands leaves little room for development when it comes to characters, and ultimately, makes Laurie Strode's return feel very hollow indeed.
I've got very few words to say about all the rehashing and remaking of the original text. It's all done in the name of providing fan service and a healthy helping of callbacks. Halloween (2018) is far from the only film these days that succumbs to this forced desire, but it retroactively disallows the new installment from having much of an identity of its own. In the case of the Halloween franchise, each ill-wrought sequel would try to include the exact same kinds of throwbacks as this one, highlighting the classic murders or infamous shots, and by the time this film rolls around forty years later, trying to do the same, the effect is diminished to a shocking degree. It's unnecessary but not all surprising.
The biggest sin is the way the film flounders with its strongest asset: Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. The actress is more than game to play a version of the character that is wracked by trauma and PTSD. She's not a good mother to her daughter Karen (a grievously misused Greer), who in turn has cut Laurie off from being around her new family, Allyson included. Laurie spends her days in a secluded home that she's retrofitted as a survival cabin. Anxiously awaiting the day that Michael will come back, Laurie isn't your typical final girl anymore. She's a huntress, ready to kill the hunter who ruined her entire life.
The film wisely allows Karen and Allyson to share in Laurie's trauma. Michael has affected both of them in deeply profound ways by crippling Laurie as a parental figure. In fact, the notion of a slasher film being led by a grandmother who is trying to get the jump on the killer as a means of reconciling with the trauma from her past is some richly, profound stuff. It's far from safe. It's exciting. And Halloween makes that catharsis a low priority. The ending showdown is fine on a technical level, but starved emotionally, ending before it ever really feels like these women have a chance to come together and reconcile. Even worse, it ends before we get a sense of what might become of Laurie and her trauma. The way the film interposes her into recreations of famous shots make it seem that she'll become a new kind of Michael, and that's just trite and lazy. It's true, I argued that Laurie's Jungian shadow is most likely Michael, but the film is reaching for some pretty low hanging fruit if that's the biggest conclusion they're willing to draw, and they're pretty non-committal anyway.
Perhaps the one who fares best is Michael himself, and it's pleasing to see that the filmmakers haven't decided to elevate the character or make him any different than he was in the original film. No, they don't necessarily find ways to explore the notion of The Bogeyman, forty years later in a film that just sounds and feels so 2018, but The Shape still makes for a pretty relentless monster all these years later based solely on the strength of the character conceived all those years ago. What's interesting is that he doesn't break out to come after Laurie. Instead, much like the first film, his bloody killing spree is less motivated by decision and more by happenstance. There's a great, extended long take that sees The Shape making his way through nearly three houses and wreaking havoc, and it's the film's crowning achievement.
In my article about the original Halloween and interpreting the meaning behind The Shape, one of the possible meanings was derived from this idea that Michael is an indictment of a contemporary, rational society, some undiagnosable running amok in a scientific world. This film latches onto this meaning in a few ways. Dr. Sam Loomis's diagnosis: evil doesn't quite work in a scientific environment, much less in today's society, which has leaned incredibly heavily into seeing the world work through only scientific means. Firstly, the podcasters set up this idea that a human connection with Laurie, the victim that got away, might be enough to have Michael react like a human. Then Loomis's protege, Sartain, believes that Michael can speak. Even if it's just one word, by jove, then it'll mean Michael is just another human patient that the scientific community has cured. Although the storyline eventually goes off the rails, the film is smart to lean into this interpretation of Michael, especially nowadays. It's this longing for being able to explain everything rationally because we're so afraid of the possibility that things will come along that we can't assign reason to that will affect us so deeply. The Shape is one of those things: the physical embodiment of both evil and fate.
It's not a terrible film by any stretch of the imagination. It's produced handsomely, and feels the most "Hollywood" of any installment. Although director David Gordon Green, who is quite accomplished by the way, can't find a way to actually raise the tension in the end, he does create an effective autumnal atmosphere throughout. For slasher fans, the kills come at a steady rate, and while I didn't find them to be personally inventive or satisfyingly bloody, there's at least one kill that'll have the entire audience shrieking in disgust. Of all things, it's two of the people returning to the franchise that fare the best here. The first is Jamie Lee Curtis, who isn't served well by the script at all but still gives it her best shot to great result, and the second is John Carpenter himself (along with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies) who returns to do the score, and unlike the rest of the film, doesn't settle for callbacks but instead crafts something new, haunting, and exciting. It's been too long since we've been blessed by an original score from him.
Ultimately, Halloween (2018) acts as a really good embodiment of the state of horror filmmaking today. It's well-intentioned and slick, but it forgets that horror films are a monstrous art form in every way. They aren't meant to feel safe or calculated, but dangerous and unknowable to some extent. We are not in a golden age of horror, though many would try and have you believe otherwise. That honor still belongs to the 1970s, which saw some of the most seminal works of horror produced, including the original Halloween. That decade used societal fears and deep-seated taboos to create incredibly unsafe work, often directed by talented artists. The genre wasn't seen as less than back then. Perhaps we're headed back to those days, but right now, horror is being made for a society that would rather take to the idea of something seeming dangerous on the surface than allow themselves to be rocked by something deeply, deeply disturbing. And it's really just capable of so much more.
- Release DateOctober 19, 2018