Esteemed but sometimes hit-and-miss director David Gordon Green (Joe, Prince Avalanche) takes a turn toward the horror genre with Halloween, a sequel to the 1978 classic slasher film from John Carpenter. Low-budget horror outfit Blumhouse Productions takes over the series here with a small-scale ($10 million budget), contained, but still professional effort that should keep series fans pleased, and the decision to mostly ignore the several follow-ups (six sequels – one not directly related – and a reboot with its own sequel) to the original over the years makes it palatable to those who may not have revisited the franchise.
You could even watch and enjoy 2018’s take on Halloween even without seeing the original (hence, perhaps, the title), though those who are familiar will get a bit more out of the experience due to its Easter Eggs and other bits of deliberate fan service. To some extent, with the exception of the back story and a few older characters, it is a bit of a rehash. It’s been forty years since we first saw Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), first ran for her life from masked serial killer Michael Myers, and though there have been eight other entries within the franchise, Green’s revisit mostly ignores them all, possibly because only the first one is held in any particular regard. Curtis has returned to try to jump-start the franchise before twenty years ago for Halloween: H20, though Green makes a decided effort to erase all of the interactions between Myers and Strode since they first met, including the revelation that they are siblings.
We find that Laurie didn’t leave her suburban home town of Haddonfield, Illinois, and for a reason, we come to learn from this film, even though Myers has been in prison for decades for his vicious murders. Laurie now has a family — a nearly 40-year-old, resentful daughter named Karen (Greer, Ant-Man and the Wasp), and a naive teenage granddaughter, Allyson (Replicate). Although moving on with life, she hasn’t quite moved on with her near-death, as she is still fixated on the notion that Myers will inevitably find a way to come after her to finish what he started forty years ago. Her house has a bunker and an arsenal beneath it in anticipation that there will be a final showdown where only one of them makes it out alive.
Laurie’s superstitions turn out to have merit after all, when Myers manages to escape captivity while in transport to new prison facility, an accident resulting in deadly violence against his captors to allow the escape back to Haddonfield, and on Halloween night no less.
2018’s Halloween is an intriguing but all-over-the-map experience that combines horror, humor, and suspense with lots of odd story choices and introduction to characters we’re not sure merit much exploration. Part of this may be due to the screenwriting combination of comedic actor Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley (second unit director on McBride’s The Foot Fist Way and production consultant on Green’s Your Highness (which also starred McBride)), and David Gordon Green himself — three people with entirely different sensibilities and ways of envisioning dialogue, and none with any experience in the horror genre. Example: A babysitting chore gets turned awry, as we’re allowed to see the bond between caretaker and child, as well as the scoring of some pot and potential later dalliance with the boyfriend, none of which we care about, knowing that these characters are likely just fodder for slaughter. The granddaughter character seems more like a means to keep the franchise alive beyond Curtis, should this iteration prove successful, so the imbalance of in-authenticity results in where our focus lies strictly for the monetary consideration of the filmmakers.
Jamie Lee Curtis gets to shine in the role, giving the character the weight of being someone who has suffered a lifetime of PTSD from her traumatic experience, resulting in rampant paranoia that caused over-protection of her daughter to the point of schism. Her gearing up through toughening up her offspring and becoming an expert in the use of war tactics may remind some of the turn that Linda Hamilton took in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as she prepares for the inevitable return of her own seemingly unstoppable boogeyman out to snuff her out. The rest of the cast, save perhaps Greer, offers little of consequence worth following, especially in the psychologists and true-crime podcasters who seem to see Myers as a specimen worth observing for how he commits evil acts, almost taunting and teasing him to come out and kill again, practically hoping that infatuated predator and obsessed prey will meet to fulfill come sort of destiny that is keeping both alive.
While all of this is mildly intriguing, and Green’s direction helps it work better than the sequels that have come out in the past, there is a tendency to overplay its hand that results in some silly moments. The film’s prologue sees a couple of podcasters visiting Myers in some sort of weird high security sanitarium, where the killer is feared as some sort of object of unspeakably powerful evil, that there are boundaries that even the heavily armed prison guards try not to cross. The scene ends with a great deal of histrionics among the fellow inmates once the podcasters engage Myers with his fabled mask, as if it is the source of some sort of mystical powers that he is diminished by in its absence. The reverence paid to Myers from these journalists, as well as by the psychiatric world at large, is a huge pill to swallow, especially if we’re to wipe away all of the events of the sequels, in which case it makes little sense to give the character the kind of reverence of malevolence that exceeds tenfold that of Hannibal Lecter. The Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner aspect of the relationship between Myers and Strode is also far-fetched without those other sequels, especially the notion that they are both living for the day they can have their big battle, as if their personal Armageddon were foretold from some ancient text.
The theme of what to do about evil could have been interesting. Should we strive to examine evil and understand how and why it happens? Or should we just eradicate it as soon as we see it, no questions asked, when you have the chance? Our society is built upon making sure it is at bay, and yet people are so fascinated by it, listening to podcasts endlessly about serial killers, and shooting up the box-office numbers for films about them, just like this one. Perhaps this angle is the only fresh take in a film that is otherwise crafted merely to make its makers a lot of money before the Halloween season of 2018, but at least it’s an angle, which is something most of the rest of the Halloween sequels had been sorely lacking in the past.
Halloween may fall short of achieving the kind of places in the hearts of horror fans as that of John Carpenter’s original, but, though it isn’t saying much, it will likely be regarded by most as the best of the sequel attempts. Green’s direction is solid, and while the script choices and occasionally awkward dialogue will leave a few heads scratching (a line early in the film about peanut butter on one’s penis, in my mind written by Danny McBride, being just one example), the tension is there, and we actually do care to see whether characters will live or die by the end, which is something most of the slasher movies in the series have failed to do. This Halloween is less a trick, but still a treat.
Qwipster’s rating: B
MPAA Rated: R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner
Director: David Gordon Green
Screenplay: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley