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Review: Halloween 2018 is Basically H40

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It’s the anniversary of John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic, Halloween, and a new entry in the series largely ignores most previous franchise continuity in favor of a clean slate, reintroducing us to original heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Now decades older, the events of that fateful night when she still in high school continue, understandably, to be the defining moment in Laurie’s life, and one that continues to haunt her to this day. Consequently, Laurie drinks heavily, and has alienated her family with what they perceive to be her paranoia and overprotectiveness. But when Michael Myers abruptly resurfaces, Laurie is not only proven right to have been so afraid — she’s ready to fight back.

Did I just describe the basic plot of 1998’s Halloween H20, or 2018’s Halloween? Because the answer is “both,” I spent a portion of the latter film daydreaming of 2038’s inevitable rebootquel, in which the same exact story plays out once again, only now with Laurie and Michael as surprisingly-spry octogenarians.

Hopefully, in that iteration, they’ll have the lithe filmmaking to match. Like H20Halloween 2018 isn’t a bad movie, exactly, so much as it’s just another depressing reminder that this franchise has never come within a mile of duplicating the sheer brilliance of the ’78 original.

Halloween H40 was directed by David Gordon Green, who was always an odd choice for the job. Not that Green is necessarily a bad filmmaker (although he has certainly made some horrible movies), but he has nothing in common with original Halloween mastermind John Carpenter other than a love of the American cinema of the 1970s. Even without the daughter of Psycho star Janet Leigh playing the lead, Carpenter’s Halloween is pure Hitchcock. The script, which Carpenter co-wrote with Debra Hill, doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. Everything about the story and its execution is simple and efficient, and it never uses words when images will suffice. Furthermore, its violence is relatively tame and largely suggested. On the whole, it’s actually more akin to something like Jaws than Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street.

But David Gordon Green isn’t the ruthlessly economical director that Carpenter was in his prime. Green’s best films are loose, lyrical character studies and tone poems which owe more to Robert Altman and Terrence Malick than craftsmen like Carpenter and Spielberg. And so Green’s script, which he co-wrote with Danny McBride (!!!) and Jeff Fradley, plays fast and loose with structure, and introduces entire characters and subplots that have no bearing whatsoever on the story. Some of these choices seem arbitrary, while others seem like deliberate attempts to undermine audience expectations. But they’re too flabby and un-involving to work; it doesn’t matter if Bland Supporting Character B is killed when you thought for sure it was Bland Supporting Character A who was gonna get it if you don’t care about either one of them. Given this, even if one were to argue that there’s some thematic consistency to these throwaway moments, they seem like flab that detract from the finished product; for example, a subplot involving Laurie’s granddaughter (Andi Matichak) is in line with the movie’s feminist ideology (more on that in a moment), which is swell, but it also completely robs the character of the chance to have an arc, which leaves her with no function in the story other than that of a plot device.

Meanwhile, Green’s attempts at being scary, with some notable exceptions, rely largely on graphic gore and brutality (he kills off more people in the first scene after Michael’s escape than Carpenter did in the entirety of the original Halloween). The most unsettling deaths all occur off-screen, and they make you wish Green had the confidence to sustain his restraint for the rest of the film.

And on top of all of that, Green seems to be taking cues from J.J. Abrams, ostensibly preying on the audience’s nostalgia by recreating moments from the original movie, sometimes with one slight variation to make it seem original (e.g, “What if this time it was Laurie stalking Michael outside a closet?”). At one point, this results in the franchise’s least-earned twist since that Druid cult from Halloweens 5 and 6, one made all the worse because it vaguely suggests a more original and thought-provoking concept than the one the filmmakers ultimately chose to pursue.

The result is that Halloween 2018, though only three minutes longer than Halloween 1978, feels like it drags on for a long time. At the screening I attended, there was an outbreak of yawns and bathroom breaks just as the movie was entering the grand finale. That’s a weird time for your audience to feel like it can go take a pee, and it speaks to the fact that, as a relentless thriller, this Halloween is a failure.

Which isn’t to say that it’s terrible. Jamie Lee Curtis is great, as is most of the supporting cast (even if you do wish that actors like Judy Greer and Will Patton were given a little more to do — Greer, in particular, has one totally kick-ass moment late in the movie that really calls attention to how much she’s been squandered here). The score, by Carpenter, his son, Cody, and Daniel Davies, is top-notch. There’s one sequence in the movie, in which a babysitter and her charge playfully quarrel, that feels like it came from of Green’s other, better movies. Basically, if you think of Green’s Halloween as a dinner table, it’s one with some very nice silverware resting atop some perilously wobbly legs.

The most interesting aspects of the 2018 Halloween, then, are its subtext, and what it can teach us about horror stories.

On the latter subject: resolution is the enemy of fear. It can be easy to forget, in this era of perpetual sequels, that the conclusion of Carpenter’s original movie wasn’t intended as sequel bait. It adds a layer of existential dread to the proceedings (“You can’t kill the boogeyman!”), it suggests, in a weird way, a more believable outcome (i.e., the protagonist is going to be traumatized forever), and it sends the audience out buzzing. That’s not a feeling you can really duplicate with a story that’s more “complete” in the traditional sense.

On the former subject: A woman’s struggle to get over the trauma inflicted decades ago by a male assailant feels more than a little relevant right now, and that sense of timeliness is only bolstered by the fact that it’s multi-generational: Laurie is trying not just to protect herself, but her daughter (Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak). It’s hard to go into too much detail without getting into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say, the movie ultimately suggests that progress may be slow and painful, but is ultimately worth the struggle. If only Green could have synthesized that wonderful message into a better movie.

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