Face Your Fate
Exactly 40 years after monstrous masked figure Michael Myers terrorized audiences in John Carpenter’s genre-defining horror Halloween (1978), producer Jason Blum has wiped the slate clean, so to speak, hitting the reset button, this new Halloween working as a direct sequel to events depicted in the first film. So basically, it disposes of those seven other instalments, along with the mythology carved out in its follow-up Halloween II (1981), which suggested that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and madman Myers were actually brother and sister, Curtis’ heroine having been put up for adoption after the death of their parents — something that might piss off franchise diehards/ purists. Granted, some of the earlier episodes, like Halloween H20 (1998) — which saw Curtis reprise her iconic scream queen role 20 years later — are actually pretty killer, even if unofficial parts nine and ten, Rob Zombie’s sadistic Halloween reboot duology (released in 2007 and ’09, respectively), left much to be desired — so, blot those ones out, too.
Speaking of H2O, Halloween ’18 more-or-less uses its setup as a jumping-off point, constructing a narrative that takes place decades after Myers’ killing streak and subsequent re-incarceration (40 years as opposed to 20, though), sticking to the singular story beats laid out by writers Carpenter and Debra Hill back in the late ’70s. Essentially, all one needs to know is that Michael Myers is an escaped mental patient who stalked and slashed a group of teenage babysitters on Halloween night, 1978, after having murdered his older sister Judith (played here by original actress Sandy Johnson via archival footage) when he was just six years of age in 1963, some 15 years prior, the murderous monster re-captured then shipped back to the maximum-security madhouse at the close of the ’78 film; and he’s slept there ever since.
Taking place, once again, in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois, Halloween 2018 revisits characters and incidents four decades later, the picture opening with true-crime podcasters Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) travelling to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to interview Myers (Nick Castle reprising the role 40 years on, with stuntman James Jude Courtney stepping in to do the more physical scenes), who hasn’t uttered a word the entire time he’s been locked up. Searching for a motive behind the grisly slayings, though getting nothing out of The Shape (despite tempting him with the white, expressionless latex mask that he wore on that fateful Halloween night), the pushy podcasters’ next stop is to visit sole survivor Laurie Strode, who lives in a heavily fortified farmhouse home. Not giving the journalists too much either, we soon learn that Laurie is just as caged as Michael, living behind bars both physically and psychologically, her fear of Michael driving a wedge between her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), whom she lost custody of at age 12, and spunky teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who’s attempting to mend the strained relationship between her mother and grandmother, brought on by Laurie’s anger and paranoia.
Coincidentally (well, not really, otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie then, would we?) Michael, alongside a load of other psych patients, is being transported to a more secure facility on Mischief Night, Halloween Eve, via bus, Myers accompanied by his psychiatrist Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who’d been treating him ever since his former doctor Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) passed away. It goes without saying, the vehicle capsizes before reaching its destination, Michael escaping then finding Dana and Aaron at a nearby gas station and brutally slaughtering them both (hardly a spoiler if you’ve seen any of the trailers), reclaiming his old mask and some overalls in the process. Now that its Halloween, the Face of Evil returns to Haddonfield to finish what he started 40 years earlier, survivalist Laurie given a chance to finally face her tormentor, having spent her entire life preparing for round two with butcher Myers, whom she feared for 40 long years.
Helmed by David Gordon Green — the guy who gave us stoner comedies Pineapple Express (2008) and Your Highness (2011) — Halloween is a lot better than the follow-ons that preceded it, which would probably explain all the undue hysteria it’s received upon release. Being his first foray into horror, Gordon Green proves comfortable in this playhouse, delivering, stylistically, the best Halloween since Carpenter set the standard back in ’78. It’s hauntingly atmospheric and features tons of foreboding set pieces, complete with Halloween-holiday iconography, Myers’ chilling presence really dialing up the dread; a one-take tracking shot, trailing the knife-wielding serial killer as he stalks and stabs hapless victims amongst a mass of trick or treaters, is well staged and a major highlight.
Although it’s been suggested, through years of theorising and hypothesising, that the ’78 picture bluntly comments on the youth of America and their immorality during the 1970s — and, yeah, the most promiscuous players are killed off here, too — this new film doesn’t really have much say, besides making some mild observations on the strain of generational trauma. Sure, some have called it relevant, linking it to the current #MeToo movement, as Myers embodies an oppressive faceless man who has preyed over ‘the weak’ for decades, with Curtis’ Laurie and her kin finally fighting back. But these parallels feel somewhat unwarranted, given that the narrative is very much recycled, sticking closely to the slick-and-dice formula that’s been mimicked over and over again. I call coincidence!
Written by filmmaker Gordon Green, actor Danny McBride, Your Highness (2011), and producer Jeff Fradley, Vice Principals (2016-17), though guided by master of horror himself John Carpenter, Halloween is, for the most part, a by-the-numbers slasher, and gives us no mind-blowing shocks or revelations — outside of a weak third-act plot twist that should have been left on the cutting room floor. It’s also populated by a cast of undercooked characters; bar Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, who packs one hell of a punch. At age 59, her shot-gun-toting protagonist, who’s equally vulnerable, resilient and strong, wholly kicks arse (in a Linda Hamilton-Terminator 2 sorta way), Curtis cementing Laurie Strode’s seat amongst the pantheon of all-time great female leads. The rest of the cast, while okay, seem like mere spoils, ready for the Shatner-masked maniac to maim and mangle, with Toby Huss, Destroyer (2018), standing out as Karen’s good-humored husband Ray Nelson, while it’s nice to see filmmakers, at long last, put a face to Officer Hawkins, the rookie cop who assisted in taking Myers into custody all those years ago, played here by Will Patton, Armageddon (1998).
Problems aside, I still had a blast watching this in a packed out theatre! It’s gory as hell — with a handful of graphic kills, it’s not for the squeamish — and funny — the back-and-fourths between frisky babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardner), Allyson’s best friend, and the young black boy whom she watches (Jibrail Nantambu) are hands-down hilarious — while the cheeky Easter eggs and homages to Carpenter’s classic enrich the overall proceedings; the intro title sequence, for instance, shows the ’78 pumpkin head recomposing (a nice little touch), and did anyone spot a trio of costume-clad kids donning Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)? Furthermore, John Carpenter’s moody retro-horror soundtrack, which includes the menacing yet eerily simplistic, vastly recognizable piano-driven theme, totally ramps up the tension, Halloween’s score possibly the 70-year-old composer’s best in yonks.
If you’re willing to suspend disbelief for a good 108 minutes — the seemingly immortal Myers, who’s repeatedly shot and wounded, has more in common with the T-800 than he does with any traditional serial murderer I can think of — Halloween is a hugely effective albeit slightly overhyped slashfest, one that’s bloody, scary and pretty unsparing. And while it’s taken forty years to get it right, we’re finally given a worthy successor to Carpenter’s low-budget masterpiece, which is still one of the best thrillers to have ever graced our screens, Michael’s homecoming brutally bittersweet. Cue the spooky synth sounds!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner