Halloween 2018 (Review) Michael’s coming home…

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HALLOWEEN

 

THE SETUP

October 31st, 1978 was the night he came home. He, being the evil that is Michael Myers. Some of you may recall that I recently reviewed Director, John Carpenter’s iconic horror film “Halloween” not all that long ago here at AdamTheMovieGod *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/2018/08/21/halloween-review-the-night-he-came-home/. Despite composing a thorough breakdown of the film highlighting all its obvious shortcomings (shortcomings some hardcore fans just refuse to acknowledge), I still really respect Carpenter’s original film and how it paved the way for future generations of filmmakers, particularly in the horror genre and its subsequent “slasher” format. Is it a masterpiece? No, I don’t think it is. But I certainly don’t hate it. I just simply can’t ignore the number of issues, which stem all the way back to even the simplest foundation of creating a Halloween themed film but not establishing any cornerstones of the actual holiday itself. Now that’s not being critical, that’s just an essential element you need if you’re going to call your film “Halloween”. Its age tag shouldn’t be an excuse either, because Wes Craven’s rejuvenation of the genre 22 years ago with “Scream”, still more than holds up in just about every department. Anyways, enough about all of that. It’s been 40 years, a tonne of pretty lame sequels, a tonal shift through two of Rob Zombie’s entries, and here we are talking about the highly anticipated release of Halloween in 2018. Halloween is Directed by David Gordon Green (Stronger and Snow Angels) and is a true sequel to Carpenter’s 78′ original. Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) is now a broken woman living in isolation. After two failed marriages and a now rocky relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak), Laurie must face her fears once and for all, when on Halloween night she’s confronted by the masked figure known as Michael Myers. The film also stars Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Toby Huss, Dylan Arnold, James Jude Courtney, and Nick Castle.

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THE GOOD

Halloween comes to us from Blumhouse Productions, a company responsible for some of the best horror releases of the last decade. DP, Michael Simmonds manages to re-create some of that visual appeal that was present in Carpenter’s original, while still maintaining a particular contemporary look and feel for the modern slasher audience. The cinematography is wonderfully executed. Highlights include a number of terrifying and sharp profile shots of Michael, slick panning, and a slew of atmospheric POV shots (point of view). Timothy Alverson’s edit is nice and tight and the color grading exhumes the best of both worlds in regard to light and dark. John teams with son Cody to resurrect the infamous Halloween synth theme – man it’s a classic. The score is much more effective this time around because it’s not overworked, it doesn’t cue every single one of Michael’s entrances and there’s room left for the material to breathe. Where is the suspense if you choose to telegraph each one of those moments?  I’m pleased to say that Green and Co. opted against that. There are a number of stretches void of music and yet they manage to effectively build tension. The dramatic themes are also nicely composed. Make no mistake about it, this year’s undertaking of Halloween deserves its slasher crown. In spite of its worldwide success, in my eyes, Carpenter’s original film was mismarketed. Seemingly advertised as a slasher film, where in reality, very little slashing occurs. It plays as much more of a suspense/thriller than anything else.

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Most fans were excited about the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, the real Laurie Strode if you will (not to say Scout Taylor Compton’s Laurie wasn’t real) but… well, you know what I mean. To be honest, I’ve never really rated Curtis’s performance from forty years ago, nor was the one-dimensional character of much interest to me either. I understand the intention was probably to keep a simplistic approach to the setup, but you still want to root for a protagonist you like and care about, and I simply didn’t. Let’s just say Jamie’s improved a lot over the years and she’s gone on to make a number of solid films. Her performance as an older downtrodden Laurie, whose living the life of a timeworn recluse, is a very good one. Not only that but it was a stroke of genius casting a dark-haired Judy Greer to play her daughter Karen, so to newcomer Andi Matichak as the youngest in the Strode family lineage. All three are incredibly well cast and have the required level of fight in them to face Myers. There are a few other familiar faces in here, such as Will Patton (Remember The Titans) as Officer Hawkins, Toby Huss (HBO’s Carnivale) as Ray, Karen’s husband and Jefferson Hall (of Vikings). The performances all around are a hell of a lot better than almost all the other films in the franchise. Turkish born, Haluk Bilginer was a much-needed addition and served as a credible vehicle for Michael’s character arc over the course of the years between the original film and this one. Bilginer plays Dr. Sartain, once a pupil of Dr. Loomis (played by the late Donald Pleasence) who was Michael’s original physician following the murders in 78′. The writing surrounding Sartain makes for a fresh perspective on the potential risks or dangers of spending your entire life studying something that simply can’t be explained. I liked that angle.

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This latest script, penned by a combination of three writers, is multi-faceted in nature. A majority of the issues surrounding a lack of attention to detail in Carpenter’s original film are all but rectified here in 2018. Let’s start with the raw foundations. As soon as the words October 31st hit the screen at the start of the second act, the holiday is well and truly established. Halloween itself is incorporated into the story through a number of different avenues, none of which required much money to conceive. Whether it be a number of conversations that mention it, decorations on porches and pumpkins exploding, or an abundance of trick or treaters out in force on the streets of Haddonfield. It’s all there, everything you want to make you believe in the world that Green’s creating. Even the school dance is aptly a costume themed one. The importance of simply filling out the world of the film and having Michael blend in with his surroundings cannot be understated. There’s a certain eerieness that’s generated from that. I’m going to assume that actor turned writer, Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down) was responsible for the comedy infused into the script. Surprisingly, it’s good-natured and pretty well-timed. Youngster, Jibrail Nantambu (in his first film) plays Julian, a boy being babysat by Allyson’s friend, Vicky (Gardner). He’s quite a charming kid and a couple of his lines were pretty funny. Huss has his moments, playing the dorky somewhat embarrassing dad To a T, and even the duo of local cops have some back and forth banter in their patrol car which provided a couple of chuckles. The decision to age Michael and have two different actors play him was a smart one. The disheveled look of his mask was a nice touch too.

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The pacing and runtime of Halloween are perfect. The proper consideration is taken regarding setting crucial events in motion before the chaos and body count starts to pile up. Normally it’s a strike against any slasher that doesn’t deliver a kill in the first fifteen minutes, but given this is a widely known franchise with a lot of entries I can forgive that. It’s somewhat overshadowed by the fact that you’ve got countless entertaining nods to the original film and a number of others in the series. Notable moments include Allyson looking out the classroom window, shots lingering through a clothesline, the graveyard scene, and one particular character being killed and hung up and left against a wall. Babysitters, escaped mental patients, and references to sibling connections are just a few of the many more. Finally, we get a Halloween film where virtually every single character takes Michael Myers seriously. Even residents of the town are told to stay inside their homes and batten down the hatches. Short of including a news bulletin or a town curfew, not much more could be asked of the writers. Most importantly, Laurie is crafty. She’s prepared for everything that’s coming and approaches the inevitable showdown with a sense of confidence and vigor. It’s a combination that results in an outstanding final twenty minutes that sees Laurie navigate every inch of her home trying to find Myers. It’s darkly presented, perfectly slow burned in nature, and further highlights Laurie’s preparedness. The on-screen violence certainly hits hard too. Maybe not Rob Zombie kind of hard, but still heavy none the less. The film boasts quality practical blood and gore fx and some extremely suspenseful stalking scenes. The killing is often swift and ruthless, especially during a montage of Michael going house to house. Even the off-screen kills usually contain a graphic aftermath and that’s a blast to see.

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THE BAD

The number one hindrance with Halloween is the creative license issue that comes when the filmmakers consciously choose to ignore crucial details established in prior films from the franchise. Firstly, if you’re going to attempt to do that then the last thing you ought to be doing is referencing said films, other than perhaps the original. Secondly, I’m not sure why you’d want to disregard the previously explored backstory between Michael and Laurie anyway, especially when the result makes for a far more unnerving context within their cat and mouse game. In this particular sequel, the writers provide us with some passing dialogue intended to debunk the theory of Michael and Laurie being siblings by claiming it’s all just something people made up to make the ordeal seem bigger than it was. Come on guys, that’s a pretty weak out. If the two are related, it’s personal and scary as hell. If they’re not, then why Laurie? Myers has no particular MO, so why her? A couple of pieces of dialogue might have benefited from a re-write. Namely the overly formal use of the term “grandmother”. Laurie is even labeled that way in Allyson’s phone contacts. One might argue that it was to convey the separation of the family, but that only works if Allyson and Laurie feel like strangers, and they don’t. They seemingly talk quite regularly so a simple change to “grandma” would have sufficed. In addition, Laurie’s line “Every night I prayed he’d escape” and explanation “So I could kill him” (I’m paraphrasing), leads to Hawkins reply of “Well that was stupid” and subsequently the conversation ends on an awkward beat. He would have been better to respond with something like “Congratulations, you got what you wanted” (or something to that effect). It has more impact and makes more sense than simply just stating the obvious.

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If I’m being nitpicky the older father in the truck with his young son should have been established as his grandfather, the guy was way too old to play that part. Halloween isn’t without a few flat reactions from characters either. Allyson’s phone being thrown into a bowl of food would likely elicit more of a response than she ends up giving (after all she’s a teenage girl). She never really reacts to what she initially witnesses Cameron doing, and then also contradicts herself by showing frustration and disapproval of his drinking and immaturity at the dance, yet moments before makes plans for the two of them to meet up with Vicky and her boyfriend Dave to smoke weed, uh, what?? In addition, it takes laying eyes on Myers and not a friend of hers incapacitated in a precarious position, to make Allyson act. The most obvious example of an undersold reaction comes in response to the demise of one particular and likable character. There’s zero reaction from two others in the moments after it occurs, nor is there anything from them at the closing of the film. The inclusion of a few slow-motion frames highlighting the magnitude of it all wouldn’t have gone astray. Little Jibrail’s reaction to seeing Michael pop out of the closet is oddly comedic and underplayed as well, though he can be forgiven because it’s his first time in front of the camera.

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Halloween well and truly exceeded my expectations and has turned out to be arguably the best pure slasher film since “Scream 2”. The cinematography is fantastic, the editing is stylish and tight, and Carpenter’s iconic score is employed in all the right places. There are countless nods for fans of the original, the casting of the family is spot on, Sartain acts as the conduit for the missing years as well as an homage to Loomis, and to most people’s delight Curtis leads from the front and all the remaining performances follow suit nicely. Halloween’s pacing is superb and it boasts a level of attention to detail like no other film in the franchise has. For once the characters actually take Michael seriously. There are a few nice light-hearted moments but the violence is hard hitting and the body count is high. The practical effects look impressive and the final twenty minutes makes for one of the best third acts in recent horror history. I have to say the filmmakers choosing to ignore all the other films wasn’t the best decision and I think Laurie and Michael’s specifics should have remained the same as they always have. A few lines of dialogue feel clumsy, characters sometimes contradict themselves, and on a few occasions the reactions either simply aren’t present or aren’t all that believable. In the end, though, the facts don’t lie. Halloween has just overtaken Wes Craven’s “Scream” as the highest grossing slasher film of all time, and for that and more, it deserves credit. Needless to say, it’s the best film in the Halloween franchise and certainly the best horror film of the year. You can and should check out the official trailer below!

My rating for “Halloween” is 8/10

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