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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Halloween (2018)

The new Halloween movie pretends that all the sequels never happened.  There is no more sibling connection between heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and silent killer, Michael Myers, and the entire backstory that has been built for Michael over the various entries is gone too.  Director and co-writer David Gordon Green wants to clear everything away, start fresh, and go back to the basics of the original John Carpenter film.  This is admirable in a lot of ways, but sometimes when you go back to basics, you end up with a movie that is, well, basic and an echo of the movie the filmmakers are trying to emulate.

For all of their efforts to bring back the tension of the seminal 1978 movie (which still has not been touched by just about any imitation or sequel that has come after it), Green and his fellow writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley seem to have missed the point just a little.  The original is a taut masterclass in building suspense.  It also is wonderfully atmospheric, creating a time and place that few horror films can, almost to the point that you can feel the crisp October weather whenever you watch it.  This new follow up is admirable in a lot of ways, but it just never truly transports you into the story.  I constantly felt like I was watching an emulation, instead of something truly terrifying.  There are some interesting themes here that the filmmakers attempt to add to the story, but they are also undernourished, as are the characters, some of whom simply disappear without any explanation, and some who are introduced, only to get killed seconds later, so there's absolutely no point to them other than to add to the film's body count.

That's another thing.  The original Halloween was largely built around suspense and atmosphere.  When you go back and watch it, the body count really is not all that high.  Here, the filmmakers seem to put a much more emphasis on overly brutal killings that definitely get a reaction from the audience, but simply are not that scary.  It's a quick jolt for sure, but it doesn't have a lasting impression, because the movie just moves right on for the next kill.  The plot involves Michael Myers escaping from a prison bus that was transporting him to a new sanitarium, and going on a rampage as he makes his way home to Haddonfield, Illinois to seek vengeance on Laurie.  Along the way, the movie throws a variety of victims in his path, many of whom as I already stated are introduced only so that they can be murdered in the exact same scene.  There are a pair who work on a podcast and attempt to interview Michael at his prison (he hasn't spoken in 40 years, and isn't about to for them), a whole slew of hapless cops, and an even bigger group of teenagers who are trying to have a fun time.  Each of them run into Michael, and he makes short work out of them by stabbing them repeatedly, bashing their brains in, or just simply crushing their heads with a single stomp.  These kills are staged well, but they quickly got repetitive to me.  They offered no genuine frights, just cheap thrills for the gore hounds in the audience, who reacted out loud whenever a new kill came up.

Of much more interest to me was how the movie handles the character of Laurie Strode.  While Jamie Lee Curtis has returned to her iconic role for a few sequels in the past, this one gives her an interesting new angle to play on the character.  She has more or less taken on the role of the late Dr. Loomis, in which she serves as the voice that says Michael is pure evil who cannot be reasoned with, and simply must be destroyed.  Laurie has more or less become a prisoner of her own hated of Michael, and preparing the inevitable day that he would come back for her.  At one point, she even tells an officer that she has been hoping he would escape so that she could kill him.  The best moments of the film are the ones that explore the impact that the events that happened on Halloween night in 1978 when Laurie was a 17-year-old babysitter trapped in a nightmare.  Not just on Laurie, but also on her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who has grown to resent her over time because of her obsession (the obsession over Michael dominated her childhood with her mother).  It has even created a rift between Karen and her own teenage daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).

There are some very good moments exploring the relationship between the Strode women, but the movie never quite explores it to the level that it could have.  Rather than explore the depths of this idea, it turns Allyson into a screaming victim who basically does nothing but run for what feels like a good 40% of the movie.  And when Laurie and Karen are forced to fight together against the evil that has ruled their lives, I never truly got the sense of the importance of the situation for the two.  There was never a moment that truly felt like mother and daughter were bonding, or forgiving each other for everything that has happened between them.  Again, the movie relies simply on cheap jolts and thrills, rather than getting to the heart of the matter.  I think it's the movie's reliance on jolts that really bothered me.  There's a great moment early on in Michael's rampage, where we are watching him go from house to house from outside, looking in on him through the windows.  It's quiet and calculated.  From that point on, the movie loses all subtlety, and simply becomes a string of violent set pieces.

And like too many modern day updates of classic film, the movie references the original in the dialogue or the camera shots without actually understanding what made the original so great.  It simply references without putting its own unique spin on the material, or without having anything to say.  Like I said before, the movie feels like an echo of what worked before.  Yes, it's admirable in a way, and Green has made a good-looking movie here.  But there's just nothing underneath it behind him wanting to recreate what Carpenter made 40 years ago.  It's a tribute, but it's a hollow one, and one that does not find its own identity.  I think if the bond between the Strodes had been strengthened, this could have been sufficient to add a new level.  But, because the movie doesn't go far enough with its own idea, we're left with what largely feels like a rehash.

Halloween is current sitting at 80% at Rotten Tomatoes as I am writing this, so I am clearly in the minority.  I've even heard a lot of people say it's the best sequel to the original yet.  But, when you stop and think about the franchise as a whole, is that really a huge achievement?  When all is said and done, I see this as a noble effort that missed the mark and the point just a little.  I didn't walk in expecting greatness, but I was at least hoping for a new angle, and I just did not see one here.

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