Halloween is a franchise at the mercy of the genre it helped to popularize. When the first film (which will be referred to as Halloween 78 throughout this review to avoid confusion with this new film Halloween under the exact same title for some stupid reason) was released in 1978, it caused the slasher film boom that would last a solid decade. The sleek use of tension and terrifying peril jolted audiences into craving young people getting picked off one by one. As a result, imitators sprung up like Friday the 13th and Prom Night that added far more gore than Halloween 78 had. So, with Halloween II in 1981, the bloodshed spread onto this franchise like margarine on toast. By the return of Michael Myers – after a detour in Halloween III – with Halloween 4 in 1988, that very boom was far past its peak. Thus, we leaned into more over the top violence, family connections and occult subplots to muddle the very simple story of pure evil attacking the innocents of Haddonfield. Hell, the franchise had to become meta-contextual during peak Scream popularity in the late 1990s with Halloween H20: 20 Years Later to stay relevant. All while bringing back Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) for a final battle with Michael that ignored the events of multiple sequels prior. Glad they didn’t go back to that same well 20 years after that, right? … Right?
Yes, director David Gordon Green and writer Danny McBride have chosen to make Halloween another selective sequel. This time, we’re ignoring every sequel prior. In other words, no LL Cool J guarded prep school, no Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle and not even any familial connection between Laurie and our Shape of a killer. All that matters for continuity are the events that went down from when Michael killed his older sister Judith on Halloween night 1963 to the moment he disappeared from Dr. Samuel Loomis’ view at the end of Halloween 78. So despite wanting to distance itself from the earlier sequels, Halloween is still playing at least one familiar trick from them. In fact… it’s not just one familiar trick. The trouble with this most recent Halloween is a lack of consistency. Green and McBride clearly revere what Halloween 78 director John Carpenter (returning as a producer and writer of the score) did before and aim at multiple points to recreate that tension. They want to bring back the fear of the classic boogeyman harming individuals in a seemingly random pattern of violence in a world that dismisses this crimes of yesteryear that pale in comparison to our modern problems.
Yet, Halloween still takes some similar underwhelming avenues to give the audience more of the same 80s slasher vibes that undercut the menace of its predecessor. Green’s direction for Halloween constantly feels less like the patient Carpenter’s hand and more like Rick Rosenthal’s mixture of mimicry and punctuated gore from 1981’s Halloween II. Hell, the elevated amount of blood even mirrors some of the bloodier sequences in Rob Zombie’s duology of remakes from a decade ago. Keep in mind, they’re not badly directed kills by any means. Despite never directing a horror film before, Green’s history with comedy shows he can time out a scare much in the same way he can accurately time a laugh moment. McBride and Green’s knack for humor still pops up just when needed, particularly between a sassy young boy (Jibrail Nantambu) and his babysitter (Virginia Gardner). Halloween is also obviously helped by Michael Simmonds‘ ethereal nightmarish cinematography and Carpenter’s propulsive score to build the tension. Yet, David Gordon Green constantly cycles back and forth between showing off the immense gore in process and merely displaying the aftermath. One wonders if this is an intentional way of showing the random brutality of evil Myers is supposed to be or an inconsistency of style that never authentically builds up from a director unexperienced in this genre.
Still, there’s a fair amount of atmosphere going on when we see The Shape wander around and Michael does seem authentically scary for the first time in a few decades. His domineering presence is still felt as Myers descends on this current suburban area, this time around as a true villain without the humanity that cursed him in the later sequels. Having Myers’ kill moves be swift while he’s also being believably thrown around shows a consistency to Michael as a character. He’s a force of nature being lead to the danger all around, removing the unnecessary family motivations of the sequels to the benefit of this representation of senseless random cruelty the world can provide. It’s a shame Halloween did the same for the other supporting characters who were supposed to be human. So many contrivances are there to get us from set piece A to set piece B, showing that while trying to keep Halloween out of the usual slasher mold, McBride and Green aren’t willing to go beyond the slim reasonings for getting people into the right situations. Some of these contrived detours were at least curious choices that spiced up the proceedings such as with Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) or far more underwhelming stretches with the teen characters who totally disappear like boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold).
That all being said, there’s one true consistent rock that keeps Halloween intact. Laurie Strode is phenomenally realized as a massive shut-it doomsday prepper, constantly haunted by the visage of Michael Myers out of fear he may come back to kill again at any time. This is where ignoring the sequel continuity actually works because Laurie seems far more unstable and mad for thinking a killer who murdered 40 years ago would be able to come back and slay just as well. Curtis attempted to do something similar twenty years ago with Halloween H20, but that film showered her in the veneer of a post-Scream tongue in cheek sensibility that muted the PTSD of it all. This Laurie is truly haunted by that event, with certain scenes of Curtis breaking down being even rougher to watch than any murder depicted. Laurie Strode was the victim who vowed to never be victimized again. Even at the cost of allowing her family to live without paranoia and terror. Laurie is far more morally grey here, where even as Michael attacks, one can still see that no amount of planning could prepare her for this.
The tension this creates between Laurie, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is a fascinating bridge to bring Halloween into a modern age. One where three generations of women progressively doubt our modern world could have sins of the past return right up until it stabs them in the arm, making them either run in fear or fight back as they prepared to do. All three actresses show a believable chemistry of estrangement and regret that really catapults once the atmospheric climax hits. Seeing these three women struggle and claw their way against Michael feels like the type of stab at patriarchal nightmares one could use in our modern climate, guised under the sheen of a sleek slasher. Still, a bit more development for the modern Strode women would crystalize such a dynamic perfectly. Greer is mostly stuck providing exposition while Matichak is confined to being a charming presence amongst the lesser teen characters.
It may seem like I’m far too down on Halloween, but that’s only because moments of greatness constantly peak out along the sidelines. More so than any follow up to Halloween 78, Halloween strives for a much more ambitious take on modernizing Michael Myers. Having his unrelenting desire for murder and mayhem feel like any current danger we see on the horizon. Unchecked power, lax concern for safety, an unwillingness to face the cyclical nature of human history. It’s something Laurie knows and Michael embodies while bathed in grimly gorgeous cinematography. However, the connective tissue is what makes the structure feel wobbly as we shift focus to the supporting cast to mixed results. Halloween wants to be the ultimate sequel to a classic that avoids the baggage of what came in between while still hypocritically sinking to the same lust for blood and underwhelming structure of many of those sequels. As a result, Halloween feels like we’re leading the spirit of the original estray while constantly reveling in it. Like an old mask we’ve put on before after being in an attic for a few years. It’s usable and may even look quite creepier because of how worn out it is, but that old plastic smell is a bit too much at this point. While all signs in the story point to this being a closing chapter in the saga of Michael Myers, but all signs point to further entries coming for our big boy from Haddonfield. Unfortunately, this shape seems to have lost its form and might as well quit while it’s mildly ahead. Don’t want to risk Resurrection-ing this franchise again. Though you may as well get Childish Gambino to kung fu Michael if you’re going to this time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Blunt Murder Objects
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