HALLOWEEN 2018

Halloween 2018
Let’s dispense with one thing right from the start: David Gordon Green’s HALLOWEEN is not a return to the aesthetic of John Carpenter’s original. I’m sorry. I’m hearing this a lot and it just couldn’t be further from the truth. The key aesthetic of that classic unforgettable film is an almost complete lack of gore, the very thing that many slasher fans would single out as their favorite aspect of the genre. Had Green truly want to capture the spirit of the original, he would have made a discerned effort to minimize the gore and rely on editing and psychological terror. Not that this film doesn’t employ those techniques as well but, unfortunately, it is mostly as fan service to evoke nearly identical shot from the first film. No, what we have here is something much more akin to the original sequel, HALLOWEEN II (Rick Rosenthal, 1981) which already embraced the gore.  A brilliant creep through the neighborhood reminds us of this as well as cinematographer Michael Simmonds mimics Dean Cundey’s (who shot both the original and and the 81 sequel) Steadicam style and a similar sequence in the HALLOWEEN II.  Beyond that, the key aesthetic forerunner to this film is Rob Zombie’s 2007 reimagining and it’s 2009 sequel.  The brutality that Zombie brought to his two films is on full display, they even lift a “head stomping” kill right from H2 (let’s use that to reference Zombie’s second film).

More essential to both films however, is having its characters suffering from PTSD. In H2 Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is two years removed from the events of the HALLOWEEN ’07 but still suffering from nightmares and seeing a psychiatrist (Margot Kidder) regularly. She is also abusing her prescriptions and has alienated her closest friend, and fellow survivor, Annie (Danielle Harris) who, with her father the Sheriff (Brad Dourif), have taken Laurie in after her parents were murdered by Michael in the remake. Annie’s story here is heartbreaking as she has become a shut-in, playing more mother to both Laurie and her father than she does friend or daughter. But this is supposed to be about the new HALLOWEEN so I save that for the comments section. So the new one then. Jamie Lee Curtis is back to reprise the role of Strode for the 4th time, though as has been well reported David Gordon Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley have chosen to disregard all the sequels, including the ’81 film that takes place the same night as the original film. What does that mean in terms of narrative? Well, two things primarily: Strode is no longer Michael’s sister. That revelation came in the first sequel and has been disregarded with a cheap throwaway line that claims that “someone said that once but it’s not true.” Okay fine. The other narrative switch is the capture of Michael Myers. In the original film Michael is shot multiple times and falls from a balcony, when Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) looks down Michael is gone. As the 2018 film begins, Michael has been institutionalized for the past 40 years. Wait what? So he was caught that night? Yep, that seems to be the case but the film offers no explanation as to how this occurred. This has the effect of immediately demystifying Myers. He is no longer a mysterious force of nature that can walk away from six shots to the chest (also not explained in this film) but just a man who got busted after a murder spree. Laurie’s trauma here has had decades to fester. She is quite nearly a shut-in, living in a fortified house (that somehow has easy access through a forest but never mind) with an arsenal of weapons, ready for anything. Except, her fear doesn’t really seem to extend outside of Michael Myers. That is to say we do not see her destroyed by nightmares or seeking or getting any outside help. We just see her still afraid. 40 years later with no further incident but still she knows, SHE KNOWS, Michael will be back someday.

Of course that day comes sooner than later as Michael escapes from a transport to another facility. Why is he being moved, and why on the anniversary of his horrific crime? As far as I could tell it’s just so he can escape, but whatever, Michael’s out and guess who he’s coming for? I know you don’t have to guess. You know why? Because Laurie is exactly where he left her, Haddonfield, Il.  Why is Laurie still in Haddonfield? Like I said, she’s waiting. The early scenes here were the strongest in setting up the extent of Laurie’s trauma and the effect it has had on her life and the life of those around her. We learn of her daughter Karen’s (Judy Greer) isolated childhood and see her someone distance (though still living within a stone’s throw) from her mother and resentful of her upbringing. Her daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is more sympathetic to her grandmother. In one of the more interesting “throwback” shots we see Allyson in the classroom gazing out the window just as her grandmother did 40 years ago. Instead of cutting to show Michael lurking or an unfamiliar car, Green and editor Colin Patton cut to Laurie standing outside looking into her granddaughter’s classroom, which puts her in the position of traumatizer at an early stage of the film.

It’s these early moments that also showcase the best of what David Gordon Green brings to the film with his understanding and empathy for rural America, something present in all his best films. This is best embodied in Sheriff Frank Hawkins played by veteran character actor Will Patton as an officer who was “there that night” 40 years ago.  Patton’s hound dog expression goes a long way in carrying the town’s trauma but unfortunately Green doesn’t have enough time to really explore that trauma as a whole so it’s all on Patton. This is a great disadvantage to a film that is trying to take PTSD seriously. A little more to indicate the town’s ongoing trauma would have went a long way, but HALLOWEEN ’18 isn’t really interested in trauma beyond using it as a surface motivation. It’s much more concerned with being a badass slasher film. So is it that? Mostly yes, thanks again to the brutality that Zombie brought to the franchise and to the reworked and revamped soundtrack by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies which had the unenviable task of not only living up to the greatness and effectiveness of the original score but overcoming the cheap tweaks and bastardizations it’s endured since the second film. I can’t be 100% sure that some of the chills I got while hearing weren’t the result of nostalgia but nonetheless it’s a tremendous score that elevates the movie.

Unfortunately, by the third act, the film could use some elevating as it deteriorates in to a pretty average slasher, better than a lot of recent entries in the genre but ultimately not able to rise above the genre in the way it handles its noble themes. There is just too much that is inexplicable, too many silly or down right stupid decisions to take the film seriously as an exploration of trauma or cycles of violence. Too much happens solely to propel the increasingly nonsensical plot until finally “the twist” arrives and it’s the most predictable and dull moment in the entire film, amounting to nothing.  At this point the film is pillaging the entire series for scraps and has pretty much abandoned its thematic conceit. When the inevitable climax brings the three generations together it’s meant to be a cleansing moment for Laurie, purging her of that old trauma, but it plays more like a validation of the continued trauma she has inflicted on her family, complete with a cutesy cat and mouse game between Karen and Michael. Turning Laurie’s trauma and the trauma she inflicts into a positive is about as unsatisfying a conclusion as I could have imagined, complete with a final shot that says, hey, let’s remake HALLOWEEN 4!

And yet, despite all the thematic confusion and narrative disappointments there is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing Laurie Strode getting to confront Michael. Not so much because of what this films is or does but because of the absolutely atrocious ending her character got in Rick Rosenthal’s HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION (2002). That was no way to treat the greatest icon the genre has ever seen and at the very least Green has redeemed that bit of poor decision making. In the end HALLOWEEN 2018 is a mixed bag. As an attempt to return to the spirit of the original, it fails miserably.  As a slasher it has effective moments and some atmosphere, but it all seems borrowed.  As an examination of PTSD and cycles of violence it is too muddled and rushed to say much of anything, too dependent on the tropes and beats of the genre too rise above them (in contrast H2 abandons the genre in favor of a more surreal, dream like approach). It tries to be all things for all people and ends up just another sequel. Is it a disaster? Not at all. Is it the greatest thing since the original? Not at all.

–Jason Callen

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