Thursday, November 1, 2018

HALLOWEEN (2018) movie review

Halloween (2018) d. David Gordon Green (USA) (106 min)

Truth be told, I have never been a huge fan of the Halloween franchise. Like most horror fans (and cinephiles in general), I hold the original in high esteem both for its skillful execution on a minimal budget and its lasting effectiveness despite an endless stream of imitators, but I never really bought into the “Strode-Myers-Lloyd-Thorn Family Curse” storyline introduced in Halloween II and extrapolated over another three decades. The key to Halloween ’78 was its brilliant combination of the simple and the mythic, the commonplace and the unimaginable, with a spritz of supernatural flavoring its final moments.

Unlike many of my brethren, I didn’t care what else Michael Myers got up to after he disappeared from the Strode’s front lawn – the shivers arose from the fact that He Was Still Out There. The sequels that followed seemed occupied with Michael playing in the same extravagant body-count/creative-kill sandbox as his brutish cinematic cousin Jason Voorhees, as well as endlessly attempting to explain Unexplainable Evil. For the record, I did enjoy Halloween H20: 20 Years Later because it ignored the previous five sequels and brought things back to basics, with a frightened, alcoholic, and still-traumatized Laurie Strode finally facing her greatest fear via a well-told storyline and an extremely satisfying (for me) finale. The less said about Halloween: Resurrection which, among its many other crimes, undid said finale, the better. And while I know Rob Zombie’s iterations have their myriad defenders, I am not one of them.

Which brings us to Halloween (2018).

First off, it should be acknowledged that Green and his creative team have taken on an inherently challenging endeavor – there was no way to please everyone considering the franchise’s already divisive fanbase. Credit must be given then considering that (for the most part) the film works relatively well, with Easter egg-type nods to the 1978 original that don’t feel overly cute or slavish while still attempting to deliver a 21st century slasher for a 21st century general audience. After all, let’s not fool ourselves: the underlying reason to revive the series is to MAKE THAT SWEET, SWEET MONEY. Universal Studios, Miramax, and Blumhouse all share “presenting” credits and there are no fewer than 15 producers listed in the credits. A lot of people were praying for a payday on this one, and I can’t imagine they aren’t pleased with the results ($135 million domestic and counting after three weeks, from a production budget of $10 million).

The basic plot, as devised by co-screenwriters Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley, and Green (and which eliminates all references to previous Halloween films save the original), is as follows: Michael Myers, captured hours after taking his balcony tumble with Dr. Loomis’ six slugs in his chest, has been returned to Smith’s Grove Mental Hospital where he has resided for the past 40 years. As fate would have it, he is slated to be moved to another facility (on October 30), leaving his current caretaker, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), chagrined at losing his patient.

Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, steely under a stringy white wig), still scarred from the events of that fateful October night, has retreated from society and now spends a hermit-like existence just outside Haddonfield, having assembled a small arsenal of firearms for protection in the meantime, should her assailant ever show his Shatner-masked face again. These plot points are clumsily revealed via the interactions of two “investigative reporters” (Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall) who apparently still think there is an audience for a decades-old murder spree that claimed four, count ’em, four people total. (I mean, YAWN.) We also learn that Laurie has an estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and an honor-role granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) with whom she maintains a covert relationship.

It’s no great spoiler to say that the hospital transfer does not go as planned and Michael (played primarily by James Jude Courtney, with occasional work by the original Shape, Nick Castle) is soon terrorizing Haddonfield’s sleepy streets. Why he feels obliged to once again take aim at the Strode clan is still a mystery, though it could just be that he’s annoyed at the “one that got away,” and the reacquisition of his trademark navy blue jumpsuit and mask are wildly convenient at best, but Green is trying to play fair yet still give the people what they want, so such sticking points are best let go.

The biggest difference between 1978 Michael and 2018 Michael is rather than relying on surprise and sneaking up behind people with a sharp knife, this time around our 60-year-old killer is blessed with superhero-level strength, able to shatter skulls and destroy squad car interiors without breaking a sweat. (I guess they forgot to mention his extensive workout routine or Smith’s Grove’s expert team of personal trainers.) I lost track of how many times Michael smashes someone’s head against an immovable object, but they are manifold and myriad.

This aspect of our antagonist seems mostly inspired by the Zombie films and/or the F13 franchise, or it could just be that this is what Green thinks today’s horror fans need and want, and I’m not sure he’s wrong about that. It’s inconsistent, but maybe it’s right. The nasty bits are indeed nasty (the gas station sequence delivers several memorable images), and it’s far better than watching Tyler Mane attempting to punch through people with his knife hand.

There are several attempts at overt comedy, some of which work and some feel like bits that McBride, Green, and Fradley fell around the room laughing at themselves and then should have scrapped. But most of these seem character-based and none are deal breakers, so I’m willing to give it a pass, considering the film (correctly) takes itself seriously much of the time. Speaking of character, it’s worth mentioning that while we don’t spend a lot of time with our cannon-fodder supporting cast, most of them manage to make an impression, no small feat indeed. Among these, Will Patton fares best as Officer Hawkins, a weary Haddonfield badge who was present when they apprehended Myers in 1978 and still remembers who he’s dealing with.

One would be remiss to mention that John Carpenter (with his son Cody and collaborator Daniel A. Davies) returns to deliver an amped-up version of his original theme, along with a number of satisfying musical cues and stings. Say what you will about the old cuss: he’s still got it.

Ultimately, Halloween (2018) is 100 minutes of Michael Myers killing a crap-ton of people in graphic fashion en route to the inevitable showdown with Grandmother Strode and brood at her Haddonfield compound and on those points, it delivers. The three lead female characters have strength and flaws in equal measure, and it’s heartening to see them face their bloody fate without the aid of a heroic male dashing up the stairs with a revolver. (This time, the sisters are doing it for themselves, and that’s as it should be.) There are certainly quibbles to be had in terms of character motivation/action and pure plot contrivances but nothing so flagrant as to take me out of the story, and while I wished the filmmakers had had the courage to conclude their story with a legitimate conclusion (a la H20), I understand their rea$$$ons for choo$$$ing not to.




  1. Fair assessment. I've seen it twice so far. Enjoyed it even more on the 2nd go round. Inconsistencies aside, I very much liked the script...and totally bought into the Curtis/Strode trajectory.

    1. I have a few issues with the script. The doctor character is pretty weak and clearly in there to satisfy the "need" for a Loomis type, and there are a more than a few contrivances in there that you have to just "go along with" in order to enjoy the movie. But I enjoyed it well enough even if it doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. Thanks for dropping in!

  2. A tribute to your critic-ing skills that I really enjoy paging through your reviews of movies, most of which I have no real interest in for their own sakes, but only for the sake of your takes.

    1. I sincerely appreciate the kind words, good sir. Just tell me where to send the check.

  3. Spot on review. I have been a huge original 1978 fan since I saw it opening night so long ago. I saw it six times at the theatre back then. So, the return of JLC had me back at the theater on opening day again!

    1. I saw Halloween 1978 at the tender age of 10 years old and it messed me up good and proper. Truly a formative experience for me. Thanks for reading and taking time out to comment!