Halloween (2018) : Review
(Author’s note: I’m a huge fan of the Halloween films, and this is my first chance to review one of them. Apparently, the cool kids would call what follows “going off.” There are 1,983 words in this review, so here’s the TL,DR version: A surprising script, solid direction, and a sharp feminist/#MeToo undercurrent make David Gordon Green’s Halloween one hell of a movie. Don’t miss it.)
When it comes to October scares and feeling the need to voluntarily activate the primitive parts of our brains which react to danger, few look further than John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween. Released on October 25, 1978, Carpenter’s film singlehandedly redefined and revitalized the horror genre, inspiring a whole generation of knockoffs and homages, not to mention spawning seven inferior sequels and a duo of Rob Zombie-directed reboot films. All of these failed to capture the essence of what made Carpenter’s Halloween so memorable, plying audiences instead with increasing amounts of gore, nudity, and other superficial adornments.
As told in 1978, Michael Myers was a six-year-old Haddonfield, Illinois child who suddenly and brutally murdered his teenage sister Judith on Halloween night, 1963. Exactly fifteen years later, on his way to be tried as an adult, he escapes and heads back to Haddonfield, starting a killing spree which leaves at least four people dead, including three friends of high schooler Laurie Strode. It is never explained (at least in the theatrical release) why Michael does what he does, much less how he does it. His psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis, says only this: “I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
Only in the extended television version of Halloween (which premiered the same year Halloween II made its theatrical debut) and the many sequels which followed was Laurie clarified as Michael’s sister in an attempt to explain Michael’s homicidal urges. The linchpin theme of an unchecked and unkillable evil existing in this world was weakened by blaming it on the bloodline. Halloween 5 and 6 went a step further, blaming Michael’s immortality and murderous rage on black magic, somewhat tying these films to the unjustly-maligned Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a standalone episode which literally treated the Michael Myers story as a “Movie of the Week.” The notion of pure evil has been lost and buried under flagging attempts to hang his slaughterfests on everything from witchcraft to white trash child abuse (see Zombie’s Halloween films for the latter).
Carpenter’s darker and ambiguous vision has been blessedly resurrected in David Gordon Green’s Halloween (referred to hereafter as Halloween ’18 to avoid confusion), a 40th anniversary gift which restores every bit of “wow” chipped away by the 1981-2009 Michael Myers films. Green has stepped up and reestablished Michael (played here by both Jude James Courtney and Nick Castle, who played Michael in 1978) as the embodiment of unstoppable and uncompromising evil without trying to give any myth-dispelling explanations. Don’t bother with calling him “The Shape,” as that level of subtlety doesn’t exist anymore; right from the off, we see Michael – mask and all – for the entire film, which plays into the film’s feminist themes.
Sure, the scares and blood and guts are all there (gruesomely so at points – watch out for a graphic stomping which kicks off the third act). But the film’s pervasive marketing has taken most of these frights away from us, which leaves us room and time to ponder the nature of Green’s take on the Myers legend. The script – co-written by Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride (I know, right?!) – is surprisingly layered with subtext, almost directly taking on the patriarchy and fighting deeply-entrenched systems of repression and fear. It’s a fantastic movie we need for the sociopolitical climate we find ourselves in currently, with women fighting for their rights and to take back their lives from their pasts.
It starts with our heroine Laurie Strode, played for the fifth time by Jamie Lee Curtis. She stealthily sinks herself back into Laurie’s skin, enrobing herself with the soul of a wary survivor whose skills are about to be tested… and she’s hoping like hell she passes. As Halloween ’18 serves as a direct sequel to the 1978 original, we need to forget her misadventures at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital (Halloween II), Hillcrest Academy (Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later), and the Grace Andersen Sanitarium where her story ends (Halloween: Resurrection). Although Halloween ’18 makes references to Laurie’s character traits from all the other films, this is a brand-new Laurie Strode we’re meeting for the first time in 40 years. She’s the town legend, but not in a good way; she’s seen as a crazy hermit, living in a forest-surrounded house in the outskirts of Haddonfield.
Rumors about her fly around town regarding what happened and why, but no one – not even the audience – knows the truth about that night, especially how Michael Myers was remanded into custody. Her life has been shattered by the events of October 31, 1978, and she hasn’t had the power to pick up the pieces, with the effects of her PTSD rippling disastrously through her life. The power she seeks is denied with the knowledge that Michael Myers is still out there, waiting for the right time to pounce. She will know no solace or peace until he’s gone, so she’s dedicated her life to preparing to meet him one last time.
This dedication has ended two marriages and her relationship with her only daughter Karen (Judy Greer), whose childhood was spent participating in weapons and SERE-type training in their back yard. Taken away by Child Protective Services when she was twelve, Karen has put her past – and Laurie – behind her, living a completely different and vibrant life with her husband Ray (Toby Huss) and daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Karen lives in a gorgeous house on the very streets where Laurie grew up, a safe little suburbia where the calm is about to be destroyed once again by an escaped Michael Myers.
Halloween ‘18 takes after the first two Terminator movies, with Laurie undergoing a similar evolution – and fate – as Sarah Connor. Both are broken by their trauma and retreat into themselves, preparing for eventualities by becoming proficient with weapons and gearing up to go on the offense instead of waiting for the danger to come to them. Their children also follow similar tracks, with John Connor’s “Mom was a psycho, but she knew… and nobody believed her” kind of vibe coming from Karen. The thing is, Karen still doesn’t want to believe, but can no longer keep up this pretense with death staring her in the face.
Allyson’s not without her problems, either; her boyfriend Dave (Miles Robbins) picks the wrong time to show a controlling side, and his best friend Oscar (Drew Scheid) also selfishly acts upon on his own raging teenage hormones. Most of the men in Halloween ’18 display signs of toxic masculinity – treating women like property, dismissing women out of hand, making things worse by forcibly inserting themselves into situations beyond their ken. Green, Fradley, and McBride have written a horror movie made for the #MeToo era, with Michael Myers standing in for the male-dominated establishment. He towers over his intended victims, silently letting them know exactly where they stand and what they mean to him seconds before he penetrates them with some kind of phallic instrument (knife, fencepost, hammer, etc.). He constantly lurks in the minds of those who have survived his attacks, and his final appearance imparts a haunting despair – he’s shown as an immovable statue-like edifice standing amidst chaos, as if to say “I will always be there, no matter what you do.”
Seen as a straightforward horror movie, Halloween ’18 takes little moments and characteristics from all of the foregoing Halloween films and almost condenses them into a wink-and-a-nod recap. The obvious mental-patients-walking-around is taken straight from Carpenter’s Halloween; Halloween II’s opening stalk-and-slash moments are reconstituted during a gorgeous long take; masks from Halloween III make an appearance; Halloween IV’s failed prisoner transfer gets revisited; the classroom-window moment shared in Halloween and H20 is revived; and the list goes on. The typical kitchen knife-fodder gets thrown in for humorous purposes: the stoner, the oversexed (yet chaste!) babysitter, the person stupid enough to leave said kitchen knife on the counter, and the guy who goes outside and says “Who is that?” when he hears something.
But there are new characters which speak to our darker sides. Our cultural obsession with scandal and ugliness is personified by a pair of true-crime podcasters – Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees) – who attempt to interview Michael in the sanitarium’s exercise yard. Aaron shouts aggravatingly at Michael and dangles his mask in front of him, to which other inmates and a police guard dog react nervously; all Michael does is turn his head slightly. Dr. Loomis’ replacement, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), is inexplicably attached to Michael, trying to get a handle on his true nature and what drives him. Of course, as Michael chooses not to speak, we wonder if Dr. Sartain might be hiding more of a mania than we might think.
David Gordon Green has a sure handle on what makes Halloween ‘18 what it should be. It’s a tightly-wound spring, coiled in the corner like a snake waiting to unleash itself when the time is right. He creates suffocating tension right from the beginning, where we almost palpably feel the power Michael’s mask has over him and the inmates. Adding to the tension is Michael Simmonds’ involving photography, which echoes shades of Dean Cundey’s 1978 Panaglide-saturated camera motion without being an outright ripoff. Simmonds stays away from the point-of-view shots which Cundey pioneered and instead uses tracking shots to put us alongside Michael, removing us from his shoes and objectifying his misdeeds. And thanks to Tim Alverson’s well-paced editing, we’re not dosed with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action; Simmonds and Alverson provide us with enough spatial reference to fully comprehend what’s going on without any shot overstaying its welcome.
Best of all, we have Jamie Lee Curtis pulling off a feat not many have attempted; she’s creating an entirely different Laurie after having done three other sequels, all bearing different motivations. Here, in Halloween ’18, she’s been tasked with a continuation of her 1978 character, and she rises to the occasion in every way. She gives a realistic portrayal of a woman whose light and spirit were destroyed as a teenager, driven by a grim outlook on life because her immortal tormentor still lives. It’s hard not to feel sympathetic toward her, especially after we learn how her life has twisted and turned away from the sunny teen she once was. The darkness grabbed her on that fateful Halloween night and never let go, and Curtis fuses a world-weariness and alertness which makes you feel horrible about the unhappy grey area in which she’s forced to dwell.
The distance which time has given between Halloween and this installment – and its characters – deepens this film’s resonance. It makes its humanity all the more engaging and identifiable, culminating in a cathartic, wondrous rush as Halloween ’18 cuts to its credits. Even though franchise continuity has been expunged, respect is still given to the series and, most importantly, to its characters and actors. Halloween ’18 has the shocks and scares you’re looking for with a blast of surprising social commentary amid its horror film trappings; it rivals the quality of the original, firmly proving remakes and reboots can be done right.
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use, and nudity.
Audio surprise at the end of the credits.
Running time: 105 minutes.
Released by Universal Pictures (for the first time since Halloween III: Season of the Witch).
Review dedicated to my father Rey Pasa, who let me watch the network TV premiere of Halloween back in 1981 and started my love of horror movies.