Review: David Gordon Green's 'Halloween' Deals in Tricks, Treats, and Trauma
After watching John Carpenter’s 1976 action-thriller Assault on Precinct 13 at the Milan Film Festival, film producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad put up the $300,000 budget for the young up-and-coming filmmaker to write, direct, and score a movie about a psychopath who stalks babysitters. Carpenter and his then-girlfriend Debra Hill began drafting a script for The Babysitter Murders, which was later renamed to Halloween after Yablans suggested setting the movie on Halloween night. And the rest is history. The 1978 independent film grossed $70 million at the worldwide box office and became the blueprint for every slasher flick since. Now, 40 years later, David Gordon Green (of George Washington, All the Real Girls) looks to capture some of the macabre magic of Carpenter's classic with his own Halloween — a direct sequel that ignores the seven sequels before it and resurrects the iconic characters of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers.
Produced by Malek Akkad and Blumhouse's Jason Blum (of Get Out, The Purge, Paranormal Activity, Upgrade, Truth or Dare), Halloween (2018) picks up four decades after the events of the original, which ends with Dr. Loomis shooting Myers six times, knocking him off a balcony – presumably to his death. But when Loomis goes to check the body, it's missing. Carpenter's unmistakable score kicks in and both the characters and the audience come to a horrifying realization: evil never dies. The boogeyman is real, and he's out there somewhere, waiting to get us. Green's sequel provides a bit of revisionist history, however. As it turns out, Myers was apprehended the night of the murders and has been locked away in Smith's Grove Sanitarium ever since, under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a former student of Dr. Loomis.
On the eve of his transfer to a new maximum security facility, Michael Myers (played by Nick Castle, who also portrayed Myers in the original Carpenter film) is visited by Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), British investigative journalists and "true crime" podcasters who have come a very long way in hopes of getting the infamous killer to finally talk about the Halloween murders of 1978. The emotionless, unspeaking Myers isn't cooperative and shortly after "The Shape" escapes to stalk the streets of Haddonfield once again, leading to another confrontation with the girl who got away, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Now 57 years old, Laurie has spent her entire life preparing for the return of the monster that robbed her of a normal life. Much like The Terminator franchise's Sarah Connor, the traumatized Laurie is training for a future that may never come — turning her home into a fortress, complete with surveillance systems, hidden passageways, a fully stocked armory, and a shooting range to sharpen her skills.
What's most interesting about this take on Laurie is how, by refusing to be Myers' victim, she has instead allowed him to define her existence. She can't let go of the past – she can't let her guard down, not even for a second. Laurie was a carefree teenager who, armed only with a wire coat hanger and some knitting needles, fought back against an unstoppable evil and lived, but Myers wasn't the only person locked away that fateful Halloween night. This is a movie about victim and victimizer, trapped in their own separate prisons, waiting for the day when they can finish what they started. It's this singular purpose — this obsession — that has caused Laurie to miss out on a lot of things, namely the lives of her estranged daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and her granddaughter, Allyson (newcomer Andi Matichak). Coping with agoraphobia and additional unexplored psychological trauma, Laurie finally gets her wish — the chance to fulfill her destiny as the final girl and kill her would-be murderer, freeing herself and the town of Haddonfield from his curse once and for all. Hopefully.
Halloween (2018) has a lot going for it, especially the performances. Curtis delivers maybe her career-best in returning to the role that started her career, and supporting players like Greer, Matichak, Bilginer, and Will Patton, who plays Officer Hawkins, a cop who took Myers into custody 40 years ago, are great in their roles. David Gordon Green, a filmmaker known primarily for making independent films, and comedies like Pineapple Express and HBO's Vice Principals, approaches the iconic horror series with the aim of making a great film — not just a serviceable slasher flick. No doubt inspired by the look of movies from the late '70s, and the manner in which they were shot, Green and cinematographer Michael Simmonds keep the movie grounded in Carpenter's signature style without being beholden to it. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's a movie meant to evoke a certain feeling — the feeling you felt when you saw the original all those years ago. It isn't just nostalgia though, it's about paying homage to the past while also carving a new path for the horror franchise that feels familiar and fresh at the same time.
The screenplay, written by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and Green, nails the characters of Laurie and Myers, but there are some weird tonal issues throughout. There a few sequences in which characters are incredibly dumb, even by slasher movie standards. We're talking "those scientists in Prometheus" level stupidity here — the kind of boneheaded behavior that makes audiences root for the antagonist. There's always room for one of those "this idiot deserves to get killed" comedic bits in a horror movie, but when the majority of the victims are this dumb, it can be counterproductive to sustaining a sense of dread or a reason to care. Speaking of comedy, the script is amusing, but sometimes the humor gets in the way of the primary objective: to make Michael Myers scary again. The comedic MVP is no doubt Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), a little boy fully aware that he's in a horror flick. His bedtime conversation with his babysitter is laugh-out-loud funny. The intent of making the movie as funny as it is scary seems to be to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, but more often than not it deflates the tension by playing the horror for laughs.
The other issue with the script is that the plot more or less rehashes the original Halloween. Myers escapes from the Sanitarium, gets his mask and coveralls, and heads to Haddonfield for some babysitter slaying. Myers' doctor teams up with a local cop to stop the escaped psychopath before he can kill again, leading to a meeting between Laurie and Dr. Sartain where she greets him with, "oh, you're the new Loomis." Any other established continuity from the previous movies — like the idea that Laurie and Myers are actually siblings — is written off as something someone made up, but the new mythology replacing it isn't all that intriguing, outside of the character study of Laurie. Still, I had a great time with the film. It's funny, scary, and the best Halloween film since 1981's Halloween II, which I still think is a better sequel than it has any right to be.
This new Halloween feels like the culmination of the horror series, but I find it hard to believe this will be the last movie we see under the Halloween banner; perhaps Blumhouse and Universal Pictures will take the franchise into a new direction as an anthology series like Carpenter originally intended. Regardless of what the future holds, The Shape is back again, with his blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes — the Devil's eyes — and David Gordon Green has ensured that Michael Myers will continue to terrify children and their teenage babysitters for years to come.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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