Saturday, November 10, 2018

Review: Halloween (2018)

The latest Halloween movie, directed by David Gordon Green, is technically a sequel to John Carpenter's slasher masterpiece Halloween (1978). The new film ignores and supersedes all other Halloween franchise films from Halloween II (1981) onward, wisely erasing the first sequel's backstory that there is a blood relation between Myers and his target / nemesis Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). This shift restores the original film's notion that Michael Myers is an impersonal killing machine, not a slighted brother looking for psychological vengeance. This is a good change that, along with its evocative visuals and (mostly) tight storytelling, makes this new quasi-"requel" a worthy successor to Carpenter's influential, entertaining horror classic.

Halloween (2018) looks higher-budget than Carpenter's film, with more sets and settings and more nuanced lighting and set design. Yet on the whole, it is aesthetically of a piece with the spare 1978 original. The camerawork, all superb, seems like it almost could have been shot by Carpenter, especially if he had a budget like this one. Produced by Universal Studios and Blumhouse, this new iteration is a slick, precise, exciting, terrifying slasher movie that works on its own terms while providing a satisfying "bookend" to the narrative of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. As the Red Letter Media guys say about nine and a half minutes into their video review, "we didn't even need this movie, but we have it, and it's pretty good, and now we need to be done. It's nice closure."

I agree with most of what the Red Letter Media reviewers say about the new Halloween, i.e.:
  • Michael Myers (here played by James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle) is scary.
  • The movie doesn't "do anything too stupid" (as Mike suggests here).  
  • As usual, Halloween co-producer Blumhouse, the company also responsible for recent horror hits Get Out (2017), Split (2017), and the Paranormal Activity franchise (2009-present), "knows what they're doing."
"Hi, my name is Jason Blum. If you're a horror fan, just give me all your money now."

[SPOILERS FOLLOW]

The best thing about Green's Halloween is how it makes Michael a genuinely menacing, evil, frightening presence. He is genuinely scary every minute he is on screen, and his first significant attack, in which he brutally kills two true-crime podcasters in a gas station washroom, is one of the finest murder scenes I've seen in a horror movie in a long time. On this basis alone, I really enjoyed this movie a lot and feel more in harmony with Jay's enthusiasm for Green's Halloween than with Mike's more reserved response to it.

I like the film's sporadic comedy moments, especially those provided by young Julian (Jibrail Nantambu). Despite liking most of Julian's bits, Red Letter Media Mike claims that in general the film's humor "weirdens the tone" and breaks the mood of horror and fear the movie otherwise maintains so well. I don't fully agree, though I concede that the offbeat "bahn mi" dialogue between the two oddball cops late in the film is not as effective as would have been some serious talk about what's going on in Haddonfield, which surely the two cops, soon to die, know of via their police radio. Mike's dialogue idea (which he discusses starting here) would definitely work better there.

Mike and Jay also correctly assert that the twist that brings Michael within spitting distance of Laurie's fortified home feels contrived and clunky -- it sure is a lucky break for Laurie that Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) is a psychopath! However, despite its clunkiness, that twist moment works for me, or at least it did upon my first viewing. I like the idea of a "mad doctor" in this movie, since Loomis was always kind of an obsessed loose screw in the original anyway.

Yet I wanted to see Laurie take an even more active role in tracking Michael down and luring him to her isolated compound. That would be more compelling and thematically on-point than watching her driving around somewhat aimlessly in certain parts of Halloween's back half.

Haluk Bilginer as Dr. Sartain, the late Dr. Loomis' protege, Michael's new keeper, and the character whose story arc provides Halloween's major plot twist. 

That said, in addition to its depiction of Michael, Halloween's other greatest achievement is to give Laurie Strode an appropriate revisit and sendoff after 30 years' (ret-conned) hiatus. Though the previews for Halloween make Laurie look like a Sarah Connor-in-T2, gun-toting badass, the film's portrayal of her is more complex and rewarding than that. She is, in fact, frightened and traumatized to the point of being more or less totally unhinged. As Red Letter Media's Mike says, the scene where Laurie shows up at a celebratory dinner for her granddaughter and breaks down crying is basically the best (non-murder) scene in the whole film. And Laurie's hunting of Michael through her own house in the film's climax is a terrifying nail-biter that tops Michael's washroom double murder scene for intensity.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode.

I assume that anyone who likes well-made slasher movies and/or Carpenter's original will enjoy this sequel. It will never be 1978 again, so don't expect quite the same low-budget scrappiness in this version. But slick though it may be, this sequel has it where it counts: it is an exciting, scary, tightly paced horror movie with a top-notch soundtrack, newly composed by none other than John Carpenter (with collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies).

In short, Halloween (2018) is a must-see for slasher horror fans.

Leatherface's Easter Egg Alert: Keep your eyes open in Halloween for at least two distinct homages to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The first one involves Laurie's granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) only. The second involves all three generations of Strode women and happens right at the very end of the film.

Bonus Afterthought: The release of this latest "requel" in the Halloween franchise has kicked up some internet talk about Rob Zombie's generally maligned duo of Halloween films released in 2007 and 2009. Despite being a Rob Zombie film fan, I am no great defender of Halloween (2007), Zombie's Zombie-ified reboot of the 1978 original. The first portion of the film, about Michael Myers' white-trash upbringing, is interesting and well crafted but unnecessary, whereas the back half is simply a hasty, uninteresting rehash of Carpenter.

Yet as Richard Newby argues, "as a film lacking the beautiful simplicity of Carpenter's, Halloween '07 made a case for itself as an inelegant, raw and dirty psycho-fantasy drawn out of the idea that, as the Zombie-utilized Nazareth song goes, 'love hurts.'" Indeed so -- the Michael-Laurie family connection established by Halloween II (1981) and rejected by Green's reboot is front and center in Zombie's take. And Zombie builds upon and improves his focus on this theme in his criminally underrated 2009 sequel. As Newby contends:
It's in Zombie's Halloween II that the director is at his most interesting and assured as a filmmaker. Michael Myers takes a back seat to Laurie Strode and the trauma she's endured. [Scout] Taylor-Compton's girl-next-door vibe from the first film is stripped away and replaced with something damaged and genuinely human in its fragility. It's a performance, one of the best and most surprising to come out of horror in that decade, that rejects former notions of the final girl and her invulnerability.
Not only does Zombie's depiction of Laurie gain tragedy and resonance in his second Halloween outing, the film also renders Michael (Tyler Mane) as more of an animalistic wild man. The iconic Myers spends good chunks of the film trudging through the countryside, killing people, and seeing visions of his dead mother. It is weird, hallucinatory, and melodramatic, like Zombie's other hillbilly horror masterpiece, The Devil's Rejects (2005), and it works.

Indeed, Newby concludes that "Halloween II '09 is one of the most original films to come out of the slasher movie subgenre, and [it] ended on a note far more interesting than any of the sequels that had come before it." Agreed -- I would rank Zombie's Halloween II as the third-best Halloween franchise film overall, behind Carpenter's original and Green's.

To again quote Newby: "While so many horror remakes in the 21st century feel like a shadow of the original, Zombie managed to create two films that feel fully formed, even if audiences disagree over whether they enjoy the shape they took."

1 comment:

  1. I didn't think much of Rob Zombie's remake -- like you, I thought that explaining Michael was missing the point -- but I haven't seen the sequel; I'm intrigued by your summary of it.

    I also haven't seen this new film, because of strange and complicated reasons, but I am keen to see it when it turns up on home media; I love Carpenter's original and it would be nice to see a decent sequel!

    ReplyDelete