HALLOWEEN Review: Welcome Home, Michael

Halloween 2018 poster.jpg

2018’s Halloween really wants you to know how much it loves the original Halloween. Fans of the 1978 slasher granddaddy will be ecstatic to see the little touches that demonstrate the film’s admiration. The iconic title font is back. There’s a delightful inversion of the original opening credits, in which a rotted, collapsed jack-o-lantern springs back to life - an incredibly optimistic symbol for the franchise as a whole. John Carpenter has even returned with a new score. And perhaps most importantly of all, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in her most iconic role of Laurie Strode, the original slasher film heroine.

By that fact, attentive viewers will be able to tell where the film stands as a continuation of the story. David Gordon Green’s sequel is back-to-basics in numerous ways, excising forty years of lackluster sequels and reboots to make a direct continuation from Carpenter’s original film. That means no familial connection between Laurie and Michael Myers. No weird druid cults. No white trash childhood upbringing. Just one fateful, deadly night long, long ago.

That night still lingers with this version of Laurie. In the years since cheating death, she has never let her guard back down. Her home is a fortress, modified with hidden shelters and booby traps to protect her and her family. She has trained with just about every firearm you could imagine. She impressed her paranoia and training onto her daughter as well, at least until child protective services took her away. At the start of the film, she is a frazzled, broken woman, living both in fear and anticipation of the day that He would break free.

And break free he does, again on the eve of Halloween, coincidentally enough. You’d think it strange, the unlikelihood of such an event happening again with such precise timing of the same day. And further than that, he even managed to hit a round year anniversary as well. Michael must have been keeping a very detailed calendar in his cell at the mental hospital. What proceeds from there is what you would expect from a Halloween redux. The film is a sequel, but it could just as easily serve as a remake. Michael escapes the bus. He gets his mask and jumpsuit back. He procures a knife. He finds a steady supply of people into which to put that knife. His doctor and local law enforcement try to stop him. You get the idea.

If Halloween is a throwback, which the execution certainly confirms its status as such, then perhaps the film’s effectiveness says more about how the film and cultural landscapes have changed in the years since than it does the overall ability of the filmmaking team. Michael’s kill scenes are effectively staged and fittingly tense. One single-take shot follows Michael as he moves from house to house, claiming one victim after another in brutal fashion. Green proves in many instances that he knows how to use background space to deliver chills and hint at horrible violence. Individual scenes work exceedingly well. As a whole, the film lacks the patience of Carpenter’s film, constantly in a hurry to get to the violent goods before atmosphere has been fully birthed. The body count is another marker of the times. A lot of people die very horribly here, the aftermath much messier than anything depicted in by Carpenter. Myers killed three people in ‘78, a figure that’s commented on as being quite small by a younger character in this film. In the days of regular mass shootings and other atrocities, a measly three teenagers seems quaint.

David Gordon Green

Jamie Lee Curtis
Judy Greer
Andi Matichak
Nick Castle

Screenplay by
David Gordon Green &
Danny McBride &
Jeff Fradley

Despite discarding 90% of the existing canon of the series, Halloween is strangely obsessed with the legacy of the franchise. Aside from the original, I had not seen any of the other entries of the series, save the unrelated offshoot Season of the Witch, and I decided to keep it that way. Even from that vantage, the references baked into Green and Danny McBride’s script are obvious. They run the gamut of clear references in dialogue, direct visual callbacks, and clever inversions of famous moments from the series. Amusing at best and distracting at worst, these moments point to a broader problem that ends up undermining the film’s impact.

The reconfiguration of Laurie Strode and her multi-generational family provides a unique opportunity for the film to explore trauma and PTSD, both direct and inherited. Early moments of the film deliver on that promise with Curtis delivering an affecting, convincing performance. But as the film continues, the story falls back to relying on the metaphysical connection between Laurie and Michael for its dramatic payoff instead. That connection, however, no longer exists by necessity of the premise. Just as there is no reason for Myers’ need to kill beyond pure evil, there is no reason for Myers’ continued pursuit of Laurie. Their conflict is personal for her. It wouldn’t be for him.

The result is a climax that lands like a massive contrivance despite its inevitability. Individual components work well enough on a visceral level and are good for their intermittent thrills. Despite the abundance of worship, Halloween lacks a sense of purposefulness beyond existing for its own sake. Carpenter’s film found itself examining people attempting to comprehend true, undeniable evil, and coming up short. In 2018, Halloween isn’t as interested in forming new conclusions from that thesis. But it sure does like watching the evil do its work.

Halloween is currently playing in theaters everywhere.