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« Blueprints: "A Simple Favor" | Main | Carey Mulligan Shines in 'Wildlife' »
Thursday
Oct182018

Review: "Halloween"

by Chris Feil

After being reinterpreted by Rob Zombie in two grittier takes, Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield and to his storytelling roots in David Gordon Green’s Halloween. And even more importantly, so is his first survivor Laurie Strode and the indomitable woman that plays her: Jamie Lee Curtis.

This take unfurls the fortieth anniversary of the original John Carpenter film (dispensing with the narrative of all other installments) as the septuagenarian Michael escapes his asylum confines to return home and kill again. But this time Laurie is ready, perhaps too ready. She’s been waiting actually, devoting her life to preparing for his inevitable return by outfitting her home with intricate safety mechanisms and a cache of guns. The fallout has been isolating herself in a constant thrum of anxiety and becoming estranged from her daughter, played by Judy Greer. Michael’s return puts him and Laurie on their fated trajectory, this time with Laurie’s granddaughter (and the fate of her family’s survival) in the middle.

Admirably, this Halloween attempts to create a fabric of ideas where the simplicity of “good versus evil” unleashes a torrent of thoughts much harder to reconcile. Lived traumas can become inherited, passed down as indoctrinated survival tactics. Crime legends are newly perpetuated through the often gross omnipresence and digestibility of true crime media (now in podcast form!). Michael’s indistinctness without his mask contradicts that his serial killer costume is terrifying partly because it is nondescript; he has chosen what could be described as “everyday man” to literally mask his otherworldly psychosis, his version of assimilation is annihilation. The world continually begs to hear him speak, but tries to tell Laurie what her own story is.

Yet each of these fascinating insights are merely noted before the film frustratingly discards them for either more mayhem or another notion it doesn’t develop. What could be thematic world-building, with all of these things floating in its ether, becomes half-baked as it almost immediately loses interest in all of them. Halloween would rather throw as many things at the wall as it can, but we care more than it does about whether or not they stick.

The idea it gleans to most fully is that of the lingering trauma endured by Laurie Strode, how it has rematerialized across generations of daughters and how she reclaims it. But unfortunately this feels largely beyond the depth of Green and his cowriting partners Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley. Luckily, we have Jamie Lee Curtis’ hand taking the reins in her journey, giving her complexity where they have tried to pin her into cliched corners. She’s not provided enough room to feel fully like an authorial voice, but it’s damn close. She doesn’t just save herself, she saves the movie.

Much of the payoff comes from repurposing key imagery from the original (excluding one misfire that is ruined purely through poor staging and clunky CGI) to turn the tables on Michael. The finale of the film is satisfying in the extreme, as primal and exacting as we wish the film entire would have been. When so many franchise films these days - superhero ones especially - feel obstructed by the demands of fan service, Halloween is liberated by it. Sure, this one sometimes takes it to the point of feeling like outright fan fiction, but it can be excused for finally taking it back to Laurie as she is and always was. You know, a superhero.

But so much reverence to the original in all of its tension building tactics and understated visual panache unfortunately only invites qualitative comparisons between the two when this one’s attempts at mimicry miss the mark. Despite all of its evident affection, much of this also serves to show the many ways that Green is ill-fitted to the material.

The director has been adaptable to sometimes anonymous effect, jostling raucousness like Pineapple Express and the intimacy of films like All The Real Girls. Here he seems caught between all of his traits, missing on his best ones as the result. Though rewriting the rules and history is par for the course with this franchise in particular, Green seems confused on the things that distinguish Michael Myers’ menace, developing cognizance and performative traits that don’t sync with how he is defined. At best, he’s an efficient guide for the material, but at worst we can’t avoid the question if he’s the person to be telling this story.

While it’s not nearly the return to the peak form for the franchise, it does satisfy on Laurie’s terms. It’s not just a joy to see Jamie Lee Curtis on screen again, it’s that she gets to run away with the film in ways she has rarely been afforded. In her hands, the somewhat rote slasher mechanics of the film become essential.

Grade: C (Finale: B, Jamie Lee Curtis: B+)

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Reader Comments (9)

So excited for this I can barely contain myself. Thanks for acknowledging the movie’s pros and cons while avoiding spoilers. I feel like my expectations have been adjusted just enough to still have a blast in the theater.

October 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEli

Eli - The finale is very fun with a crowd.

October 19, 2018 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I'm a huge fan of this franchise and have been looking forward to seeing this film for months. I found it to be among the best of the sequel bunch, just behind H2O, IV and II, in that order. Of course, seeing Jamie Lee back in the role was a pleasure. I preferred her damaged but determine H2O character arch over her damaged but determined 2018 take on the same PTSD-driven neuroses. I'd like more Ripley, and less Eileen Brennan's Jeepers Creepers cat lady. That notwithstanding, the movie provided plenty of scares, some appreciated tips of the hat, the right amount of slasher gore without being Rob Zombie grotesque and a strong, satisfying third act. So I'd say it's certainly worth seeing, but maybe not worth all the hype.

But what I really found interesting - and here come the spoilers - was the way the movie pushed the gender buttons. Interesting buttons to push in the era we're hopefully surviving. How often do you see a slasher flick, and come away with an in-depth discussion about the male/female roles in modern American society. It goes without saying that this was a celebration of the strength of women, with three generations of Strodes banding together to do battle with - and of course ultimately prevailing over - pure evil. Women rock! An obvious under current - no, rip current - through the film. But keep a close eye on the guys and the thoroughly interesting way the three male writers and director chose to develop them. The husband/father character is perfectly nice, but spinelessly benign and ineffective (making one of the more boneheaded slasher film mistakes in the third act). Typical, and by itself, not noteworthy. But add dad to the rest of the males in the movie and a gender-bending, masculinity-minimizing theme emerges. Maybe to make the women appear even stronger, or maybe to signal the decline of the manly-man mandate that used to corse through the veins of the America male. Take, for example, the boy begrudgingly riding with his dad in a pickup truck heading out to do some hunting. The boy would rather be at dance class. Dance, you see, speaks to his heart. I assumed he'd survive. He's a gentle soul who likes dance. And when was the last time a slasher film killed a 12 year old. On screen. I was wrong. Then there's boyfriend #1. He and Laurie's granddaughter go to a costume party as Bonnie & Clyde, with a twist they don't want to reveal to her parents. She's going as Clyde, and he's going as Bonnie - skirt, scarf, hat, the works. It serves the plot not at all, but it certainly assists in the deconstruction of the movie's gender roles. Finally, as far as I noticed, there's boyfriend #2. Blink-and-you'll miss-him Dave, the kid that blew up the pumpkin with the firecracker and later pops in on his girlfriend while she's babysitting the movie's only black character (A: one social discourse at a time, and B: he steals the show!). Anyway, Dave's character is interesting not because the guy runs when the going gets tough - which he does, though he doesn't get far - but because of a curious bit of casting that seems to fit the film makers' narrative. Dave, you see, is played by Miles Robbins - son of actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon - who has a penchant for walking the red carpet in a dress. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Turns out, the guy just doesn't like ties, doesn't care about society's self-imposed gender roles and finds dresses pretty comfortable.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe this is a movie just about strong women, and not at all about the deconstruction of men. Or maybe the most pivotal character in this new Halloween isn't Laurie or Michael. But instead, boyfriend #2.

October 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChris L

SPOILERS:

Great points, Chris L! I saw this last night (and will again with a group of fan-friends on Sunday) and was thinking the same exact thing. The third act is absolutely awesome.

This was a very well made movie IMO. The cinematography is fantastic (that long take of him going thru the neighborhoods) and the choreography of his attacks were awesome (the whole gas station sequence!!). I also thought the character development was enough to feel bad to just about all his victims.

I was so sad about the dancer boy too, haha. The callbacks to the original were great (the boyfriend's father being a Tommy Doyle bully, the Myers doll house, the dancer boy's death sort of recreating Annie's, etc). The little boy being babysat was also the most enjoyable child actor of the series, my God. JLC, Judy and the granddaughter were all fantastic. The motion sensor scene! So much fun.

Lastly, as a fan of the series, I'd say this is probably the best Michael (costume, performance, mask) the series has ever had (in any sequel).

October 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermikenewq

A wasted oppurtunity,Curtis is going through the motions,it's more of a parody of Halloween,there isn't one ounce of dread or fear in Michael any longer,to show him with no mask is a mistake,real monsters are a lot of out own public figures nowadays,the deaths happen v quick or are off screen,judy Greer whines a lot in this film,the finale is silly and lazily set up for a sequal.

October 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I'm mostly confused as to why Laurie still lives in Haddonfield and why would Michael be so intent on her if (since they have retconned the other sequels) he has no connection to her whatsoever. That being said, I am so excited for it since slasher movies are far too rare these days.

October 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Slicker, bigger budgeted, a few effective scares, and a welcome ability to "go there" with the intense horror film gore, but the film really didn't seem much better than Halloween IV or H20. I was really expecting something great and was, therefore, kind of disappointed.

October 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan H

Knowing Laurie, Knowing Jason

October 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

Curtis will still likely end up being better than at least one BA nominee.

October 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHeeny

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