R | | Horror, Thriller | 19 October 2018 (USA)
Directed by: David Gordon Green | Cinematography by: Michael Simmons | Music: John Carpenter
Written by: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green (based on characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney
Summary: 40 years after surviving a massacre perpetrated by deranged serial killer, Michael Myers, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) resides in self-imposed exile, in the town of Haddonfield. When the geriatric William Shatner afficionado escapes from captivity, Strode attempts to save her family from his bloodlust.
Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to Halloween (1978)—which begs the questions of why the studio decided to settle on the name ‘Halloween,’ as its rather confusing to someone who isn’t familiar with the series (consider if a sequel to The Atomic Submarine was also titled The Atomic Submarine without further clarification). One does not have be familiar with the events from the original Halloween (or its many sequels and spin-offs, minus Halloween III, which belongs to the ‘halloween’ series in name only) to understand the plot, due to the thorough exposition sequences within the film, however, I would contend that ‘Michael Myers’ or more simply ‘Michael,’ or, ‘The Shape’ would have all been better titles. Though, the unimaginative title rather fits with the script which, though generally competent (and very particular as to detail; i.e. Michael’s right eye remains damaged from where Laurie stabbed him in the 1978 film), is likewise unimaginative.
Michael Myers escapes his mental facility—you know he’s going to begin randomly killing people and always slip away well before the body is noticed. Laurie Strode is thought crazy—you know she isn’t. Doctor Sartain is obsessed with Michael Myers and tries pitting Laurie and a police officer against each other—you therefore know that he’s going to do something (though not exactly what) to aid Michael and that he’ll surely be murdered. There is a teenage female main character with a boyfriend—because its a horror movie, you know he’s going to be a inexplicable jerk (though, he doesn’t get murdered, which was one of the few legitimate surprises the film was able to provide). The final confrontation between Strode and Myers occurs at a isolated house—you know its going to go up in flames (one can find examples of this type of failed purification in the The Following, or, Halloween II, among many others).
This isn’t to suggest that a film must be unremittingly unpredictable to be good (certainly not), but if everything in a film is, not just predictable, but something which one has seen before (occasionally, nearly shot-for-shot) then what is the artistic impetus to make the film at all (or at the very least, those copy-pasted scenes)? The photographer’s dilemma: if a there is no difference between looking at a rose and a picture of a rose, why take the picture? Such actions are typically couched as ‘homages’—as if calling them such somehow mitigates their inspirational dearth and narrative superfluity. In a 2017 interview John Carpenter said of the original Halloween, “My idea was that we should never make a sequel to the original Halloween. No story left. There was nothing left to say.” Clearly Blumhouse disagreed (they’re already preparing a sequel).
That being said, there are a number of scenes which take previous shots from the original Halloween and cleverly invert them. For example, the excellent scene towards the end of the film where Laurie is fiercely grappling with Michael upon the upper story of her house. Michael pushes her from the roof and hears a cry (Allyson) from below and turns. When he looks back to the spot where Laurie had fallen she is nowhere to be seen (a inversion of the scene at the end of the original Halloween where Loomis shoots Michael who then falls from the second story of Laurie’s house; when Loomis looks to where he should have landed, Michael is nowhere to be seen).
What is different in the film from many other 70s-80s styled slasher films is the treatment of Laurie’s trauma (due to witnessing Michael’s murder spree) and the deleterious effect it has had upon her family, especially upon her daughter and granddaughter. One of the best scenes in the film features a unbalanced Laurie showing to a family outing, gulping wine, causing a scene, crying and apologizing before leaving. High pathos, well executed.
Such scenes (and those of blood and tension to follow), however, feel strange when sandwiched between oddly placed bits (of what seems like impromptu) comedy and no amount of horror tropes or melodrama can quite curtail a film which is attempting to instill in its audience, a sense of dread, quite like misplaced comedy and Halloween features a couple of such scenes. Sometimes its comedy is effective, as when a young black boy is being watched by his baby sitter who is talking on the phone to her boyfriend, in veiled terms, about smoking marijuana. The precocious youth sees through the rouse and tells the woman that he knows she’s talking about weed. Its hilarious and helps shape the dynamic between the two characters (since we know she is a goodbaby sitter, her premature death is all the more tragic). Later, however, when Michael attacks and grabs the boy’s babysitter and prepares to gut her on the floor, the kid is still quipping. The latter scene is neither funny, nor scary, but simply awkward. Had the kid simply screamed (like the children the original Halloween) and ran, it would have maintained its raw-knuckle tension. In another scene, two police officers are introduced via a debate about the merits of Vietnamese bread, shortly thereafter, in a fit of atmospheric schizophrenia, both cops are gruesomely murdered and turned into fleshy jack’o’lanterns (one of the film’s deleted scenes features a different introduction to the characters which is far superior, as it not only develops them as characters [who are more than the sum of their quips], but also further sketches out Allyson’s boyfriend, Cameron).
John Carpenter, in a conversation with Clive Barker, once described what he considered to be the two fundamental types of horror, “right-wing horror”—wherein the monster is ‘out there’ (a alien, a demon, a mad killer)—and “left-wing horror”—wherein the monster is the familiar (the tribe, the self). Neither is, in so far as I can discern, intrinsically superior to the other, but are always more impactful when both are plied together, for, threats from the outside rarely leave once they have permeated within and vice versa. Halloween neglects this synthesis for a concise spectacle of danger from ‘out there’ and consequently neglects the ‘in here.’ This is, in essence, the reason why it is sensible to critique the excessive obeisance to cliches and tropes, since they are hemmed into only one type of narrative focus—the outside or the inside—and, if too judiciously followed, will yield only impressions (often of other impressions) and never concretizations.
Addendum: John Carpenter’s score is phenomenal and effectively ensconces the unease and dread of the ‘the other’ (as embodied by the film’s principal antagonist), and was, in my judgment, the best aspect of the film.