A film review by Craig J. Koban November 3, 2018

HALLOWEEN (2018) jj
 

2018, R 109 mins.

 

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode  /  Judy Greer as Karen Strode  /  Andi Matichak as Allyson Strode  /  Will Patton as Hawkins  /  Virginia Gardner as Vicky  /  Nick Castle as The Shape  /  Miles Robbins as Dave  /  Toby Huss as Ray  /  Jefferson Hall as Martin

Directed by David Gordon Green  /  Written by Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride

 

 

 

It's impossible to understate the relative importance that John Carpenter's 1978 horror thriller HALLOWEEN had on its genre and on the larger movie industry as a whole.  He all but single handedly invented the mad killer "slasher" horror genre all on his own and, for better or worse, went on to inspire an unending number of copycat efforts throughout the 1980s.  Without HALLOWEEN there would have definitely not been a FRIDAY THE 13TH or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series.  To be fair, Carpenter's pioneering horror film also spawned a long series of increasingly mediocre sequels and the franchise as a whole has become - since its inception - the very negative thing that it helped usher in. 

There have been so many countless HALLOWEEN sequels - not to mention a Rob Zombie reboot, which had its own sequel - that I've frankly lost track over the years.  This brings me to the latest HALLOWEEN film, the confusingly titled HALLOWEEN, but it should be noted from the onset that this one serves as both a direct follow-up entry to Carpenter's late 70s original while completely ignoring all of the confusing and bloated sequels that have been released since.  In this respect, this new HALLOWEEN is both a sequel and a subtle reboot of the series, making it an ultra rare rebootquel.  Compellingly, it follows the narrative of the 1978 film by catching us up with what has happened to its young teenage heroine, Laurie Strode (played in a then career jump-starting performance by Jamie Lee Curtis).  Yes, the series previously revisited the character in 1998's HALLOWEEN H20, but since the mythology of that film (and the other sequels) have been jettisoned we now have a new installment that begins things fresh with this character, forty years after she was attacked and nearly killed by the masked serial killer Michael Meyers. 

 

 

The best compliment I will pay HALLOWEEN is that it wipes its own slate mostly clean and wishes to begin things anew.  The franchise's own inherent mythology and continuity over the decades almost would benefit from a road map at this point, which leaves the makers here (comprised of director David Gordon Green and writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) with a revitalizing creative freedom to do fresh things within this horror sandbox.  Because we now have a direct sequel to the '78 film it also gives Green and company an opportunity to probe the decades of tormenting psychological impact that Laurie obviously had to deal with in the aftermath of Meyers' attacks.  HALLOWEEN intriguingly hits the reset button in this franchise and opens up a whole floodgate of new possibilities, but where it ultimately fails is in the sense that it basically still adheres to many stale slasher film troupes and flows by mostly on obligatory autopilot, ultimately leaving the whole enterprise feeling like a somewhat squandered opportunity. 

The film does have a nifty opening, though, which begins forty years after the original and shows a pair of podcasters going to visit Meyers at the mental institution that has been his incarcerated home since his infamous murder spree in Haddonfield, Illinois in 1978.  He's been completely mute since then, but one of the investigative team thinks that showing him his mask that he wore during said murders may evoke an emotional and verbal reaction out of him (now, how low level podcasters would able to secure evidence from a mass murder case from what I'm assuming is police property is beyond me).  Needless to say, Meyers remains unnervingly silent, but fate steps in when - during a bus transfer of patients - he manages to escape and plot his return to Haddonfield to get the job done that he didn't complete all of those years ago. 

It's at this point when we're re-introduced to the near elderly Laurie, who has spent a majority of her life burdened by obsessive paranoia that Meyers would some day return to reek murderous havoc.  In the subsequent years she began training her mind, body, and soul with a Sarah Connor-like fanaticism to prepare herself for a potential confrontation with her past attacker, which has led to her estrangement from her own daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak).  Everyone of Laurie's family members thinks she's nuttier than a fruitcake, but when Meyers does indeed return and begins to re-paint the town with the blood of new victims Laurie begins to realize that she's in for the fight of her life and proceeds to secure her loved ones in her remarkably fortified and well armed home for the bloodbath to come. 

If there is one reason to see HALLOWEEN then it would be for its empowering performance by Curtis, who at 59-years-old has a field day returning as her legendary scream queen persona, only this time re-envisioned as a tough talking, booze guzzler, and militarized loose canon whose life was destroyed by past trauma, but has pulled herself up to tackle the inevitability of a confrontation with the madman that nearly killed her as a teenager.  It's really fertile dramatic territory for this re-branded character, and Curtis shows great enthusiasm for portraying this rugged, tough talking, hot tempered, but still vulnerable version of Laurie.  Her impeccably well realized performance is nicely tied with Green's underlining handling of a fascinating thematic arc of the film, which explores how once anxiety plagued and mentally damaged women find inner strength to become ferociously empowered instruments of vengeance against their past tormentors.  Like Dr. Loomis before her, the only logical choice Laurie feels in terms of "dealing" with Meyers is to kill him.  Pure and simple.  And unlike so many innumerable slasher films that HALLOWEEN inspired, this new version turns the female victim/prey into the trigger happy hunter.  In essence, Laurie has become a cold hearted avenging angel, which makes this HALLOWEEN simmer with a surprising amount of ironic complexity. 

Still, some of my big problems with HALLOWEEN is that it pays perhaps too much faithful homage to Carpenter's cherished classic, so much to the point that it commits the same sins that STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS did in mimicking the look, feel, and overall narrative trajectory of what's come before without offering up sufficient new innovation moving forward.  There are lots of cool little references by Green here (some subtle, some not so much) to specific scenes, dialogue exchanges, and even shot compositions to Carpenter's film, which definitely makes this new HALLOWEEN feel like the HALLOWEEN of old (that, and Carpenter himself has returned to create a masterful synth-heavy score that wonderfully echoes his past work on the franchise).  However, the problem with the explicit fan servicing that's on display here is that it generates nostalgic feelings of deju vu in audience members without fully engaging them with any new memorable handling of the material.  HALLOWEEN is a faithful sequel, but it regrettably feels like a carbon copy of the original, albeit with minor tweaks here and there.   

When it boils right down to it, this HALLOWEEN simply regurgitates the basic premise of Meyers returning to Haddonfield to pick off innocent victims one after another, and in the process doesn't bring much new to the table.  Instead of slyly transcending this well worn genre, Green simply is working within its stale playbook.  That, and he's an ill fit for this material, but not because he's a bad director (if anything, he has a splendidly eclectic resume and seems unafraid to tackle any genre, as shown in films as far ranging from SNOW ANGELS, UNDERTOW, JOE, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and STRONGER).  Re-watching the original HALLOWEEN I was taken in with how meticulous crafted it was and how Carpenter generated sequences of legitimate nail biting suspense and haunting atmosphere.  Green, by unfortunate comparison, doesn't really have an affinity here in his sequel to create a unique work with any level of similar tension and tone.  Green's direction is workmanlike, but lacks any real personality.  There are some stylistic call-backs to Carpenter's claustrophobic compositions and nerve-wracking editing, but Green never sufficiently makes this HALLOWEEN compellingly his own.  Beyond that, Meyers' sadistic kills here rarely, if ever, generate ample scares.  They're violent, yes, but dully so and rarely come off as truly unnerving and frightening. 

The final act of HALLOWEEN is arguably the only time in it that Green conjures up moments of lingering terror, which all culminates in what everyone in the cinema has been waiting for: An epic one-on-one donnybrook between Laurie and Meyers that ends with mostly satisfying results (granted, a shoddy and mindless plot twist that leads into this thrillingly intense climax is beyond insipid).  HALLOWEEN is a difficult franchise entry to  decipher; it contains elements I greatly admired, like wisely discarding years worth of wretched sequel storytelling, not to mention returning the series to its original roots in look and feel. There's a respect being paid here to Carpenter's iconic past vision, but a mournful unwillingness to tread newfangled ground.  HALLOWEEN paradoxically has a conceptual freshness and tediousness to it, and it's a sequel that battles with itself.  It traces the framework of Carpenter's renowned film without adding its own embellishing brushstrokes to segregate itself apart from it.  And after four decades, perhaps genre fans deserve a bit more.  

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