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REVIEW: Halloween

October 19, 2018

Director: David Gordon Green

Screenplay: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle

Runtime: 105 Minutes

 

★★★☆☆

 

Although following in the footsteps of Psycho and inspiring many imitations, the reason why the original Halloween still holds up as well as it does is thanks to an incredibly refined screenplay and structure with little to no fat on its bones. It’s a streamlined horror picture in which a stalker hunts and kills the promiscuous youngsters without remorse or any sense of reason. It’s as renowned and celebrated for its clarity of vision and execution as it’s ever been, even if the franchise that it spawned never once managed to build on it in any successful way.

 

This new rendition of Halloween functions as the second or third retcon to the convoluted franchise chronology, positioning itself as a direct sequel to the original film 40 years on, and reimagining survivor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, revisiting her iconic role) as a mark 2.0 version of her counterparty character who has spent the intervening years anticipating the return of psychopath Michael Myers’ (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney).

 

This is by far and away the film’s most inspired angle, watching how a character like Laurie has been so warped and terrorised by the fear, trauma and survivors guilt of her past ordeal that fateful night in 1978 that it has turned her into a bunker building, gun-toting survivalist – destroying any relatively “normal” life that she might have had and damaging the relationships between daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).

 

Jamie Lee Curtis is tremendous in the film, as confident in her scenes as a battle-hardened descendent of the ‘final girl’ archetypes she inspired as she is when she is literally paralysed with fear at the idea of “The Shape” ever coming to find her again. Every scene she is in the conflict is palpable, but the nature of that conflict is something else entirely – and kind of the film’s biggest (but not only) problem.

 

In order for any of the mythological weight to have any substantive measure on the nature of the narrative, one has to almost entirely forget that the horrifying night of 40 years past was a passing circumstance, and the coming clash between her and Michael is reinforced by the film’s atmosphere as something approaching a destiny.

 

As with the original film, Michael Myers is a complete cypher. The unfeeling, unthinking force of fucking nature that mindlessly ploughs through the people and houses in his path. The violence on screen is nasty, bloody and brutal with one scene unfolding in a single shot following Michael into a house with a hammer, butchering its inhabitant, leaving with a knife, and then moving onto the next with a remorseless propulsion and lack of focus.

 

But as much as their meeting is built up by the atmosphere and the predetermined quality of its storytelling, position in popular culture and as a slasher film in and of itself, it’s needs to conform to the staples that the original film established. Which means that it’s operating on a bigger canvas with more characters and it just ends up making the film feel busier.

 

There are more kills than ever as the second act devolves into a sequence of teenagers murders in different locations, but the longer they go on for it becomes more apparent that it’s just going through the motions to kill time for the final confrontation – an extended home invasion sequence with a killer close that is probably the closest the film ever comes to replicating that same sense of haunting dread that the original birthed, that isn’t just taking recognisable scenes and moments and turning them on their head slightly.

 

There’s also the too many characters issue, and from the obnoxious British podcast journalists that turn up at the start to the vacant lives of the many, many teenagers of Allyson’s school, none of them really register beyond the main trio – and perhaps Will Patton’s police officer. As good as Andi Matichak is she’s not given that much to really do, and Judy Greer feels strangely miscast for a majority of the film until it reaches the final stretch. There’s even a bait and switch toward the end where it looks like things are about to take a drastic turn and then just… don’t.

 

There are many, many good factors to this new addition though that do end up making it work and keeping it enjoyable (even if at times that very concept feels almost at odds with what the original film was). David Gordon Green’s sense of mood, framing and especially the direction of the kills is exceptional, his co-written screenplay with Danny McBride is very strong, even if the comedy elements are jarring, and John Carpenter’s score is exceptionally excellent at adding new untapped layers of emotion while maintaining that same synth-heavy aggressiveness.

 

The individual components of Halloween work when they’re allowed to. Curtis is magnificent, the score and direction are on point, it’s fast and nasty with a barnburner of a final stretch. But there feel like so many opportunities where it could have taken more risks, and been more daring, instead of settling for something that feels like it was made for and by fans who didn’t want to step too hard on the toes of the revered original.

 

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