Review: Halloween (2018)
Directed by David Gordon Green, Halloween (2018) opens with a familiar scene, a rockin’ main title sequence. Set to the killer score by John Carpenter, a smashed pumpkin regenerates back to its original shape, the very way it looked in the original film. Not only is this a desired callback to the original film, like all great opening title scenes, it sets the tone for the rest of the film.
It’s also a statement.
The franchise is going back to the basics. Like the smashed pumpkin, everything the series has done since 1981, every step forward, every step back, every triumph, and every mistake has been erased. The only lore that matters here and now is what happened on that original night, in that original film, and what happens on this night.
Having been picked up after being shot six times by Dr. Loomis, serial killer Michael Myers has spent the past 40 years at Smith’s Grove, the same mental health facility he escaped from back in 1978. After all this time, psychiatrists still haven’t cracked their notorious patient’s psyche. What drives his rage? Why hasn’t he spoken a word in nearly 55 years? They still don’t know.
That’s because Michael’s former doctor, Dr. Samuel Loomis, was one of only two people who truly understood who, what Michael Myers really was: the Boogeyman.
The other person is Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
Reminiscent of Sarah Conner’s arc in Terminator 2, Laurie has spent the past four decades training, rigging traps, readying both herself and her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), for the day Michael escapes so she rid the world of the Boogeyman once and for all.
Curtis’ new take on the character she made famous is a triumphant return. She plays Laurie Strode as a survivalist who’s tough on the outside, but is still fragile from the trauma she experienced as a teenager.
The character’s vulnerability is demonstrated beautifully in an early scene where, from afar, she watches Michael being loaded onto a bus, which we know will eventually crash. With a gun held on her hip and tears streaming down her eyes, Laurie’s breakdown here is a wonderful setup for the middle act, when she finally comes face to face with the man who destroyed her life, a moment she’s been preparing for most of her life.
Helping matters was the decision to do away with a major plot twist from Halloween II. Discovering that Laurie Strode was Michael Myer’s sister is an effective rug-pull for the audience, but it felt convoluted, tacked on, and counterproductive to the mystery that made the first film scary. The familial connection, which often felt like a setup to get the ball rolling in subsequent films, was never as compelling as the blankness of Michael Myers himself and what he does as opposed to why he does it.
There is no “why,” Michael Myers just does what he does. It’s his nature. A sentiment that is carried over to this film as James Jude Courtney dons the jumpsuit and warped William Shatner mask, walking the walk nearly as effectively as Nick Castle had moved in the original. Castle, who cameos as the character in one scene, also provides Myers’ frantic breathing, another welcomed return to form.
Green and his screenwriting cohorts, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride, amplify the film by pushing forward the human drama while also delivering the slasher traditions the audience paid to see. Laurie’s life matters. Her relationship with her daughter and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) matters. But most of all, Laurie’s pain matters.
But the film is also genuinely scary, with excellent cinematography from Michael Simmons, whose work here is legitimately well-composed.
The centerpiece of the film is a lengthy continuous shot that has the audience following along on Michael’s killing spree as if we ourselves were hostages to his endless wrath. In another eerie moment, Simmons angles up, facing Michael, who looks down upon us. Simmons blurs the image, as if we were looking upon the devil with our dying eyes.
However, if there’s a sour spot in the film, it is the need to have a show-stopping, “This changes everything!” moment with a late minute plot twist that gives us some food for thought, but is weird to watch to unfold and ultimately takes us nowhere, except for the place we were destined to go anyway. On the plus side, this offbeat moment does reward the audience with a creepy, little moment in the backseat of a car with Michael Myers.
Another hindrance is the film’s editing, which is over-paced at times. As a result, scenes that would benefit from playing out longer are cut short and strung together with some scenes that aren’t needed at all, such as a scene where Laurie breaks into Karen’s home and lectures her about guns. In some instances, the audience isn’t given the proper space to breathe, to reflect. As a result, a key moment for Karen feels apathetic, wooden, and thus, her pain isn’t fully articulated until a more poignant exchange later in the film. (“What’s this?” “My childhood.”)
The film is most effective when scenes are allowed to play out. When we follow Michael as he is wreaking havoc in the neighborhood, when he stalks a teen in a creepy moment with motion sensor lights, and when Laurie once again must brave the endless hallways and shadows of a dark house to find her Boogeyman, these moments are when you are most consumed by the screen.
The open air, the unspoken fears, the implied anxiety, these scenes reel us in with intensity.
David Gordon Green’s Halloween is a compelling follow up to Carpenter’s iconic film, one that handles its characters’ pain with integrity while effectively delivering the franchise’s legacy of frights, thrills, and a hefty body count. Green and his team do what they can to re-construct the presumed-smashed pumpkin, but not all the pieces come back together as the storytellers don’t always allow the time and space for the suspense and drama to build to their fullest potential.
As John Carpenter shows us in his Halloween film, there is value in patience. It brings us suspense.