Updated: Jan 15
The 'Halloween' saga, beginning with John Carpenter’s seminal first film in 1978, incorporates a long and rather tangled web of continuities. In linear terms, the new film is the eleventh entry in the franchise, and the tenth to feature Michael Myers (Halloween III (1982) was an early attempt at anthological horror, and doesn’t focus on the travails of Haddonfield). In terms of story however, the various films have followed separate and often contradictory paths. The simplest way to place this latest instalment is to pretend that the 1978 film was a one-off, and that the subsequent sequels and the piss-poor Rob Zombie films, didn’t happen. As far as the new film is concerned, Michael Myers was recaptured and incarcerated at Smith’s Grove sanatorium, where he’s remained for forty years, whilst the lone teen survivor - Laurie Strode, as played by the iconic Jamie Lee Curtis - became a paranoid recluse.
Curtis portrays Laurie as broken and deeply traumatised, still haunted (and ultimately motivated) by the events of forty years ago. She exhibits overt signs of post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt, and the film explores these ideas adequately, but the writers rely heavily on Curtis’ abilities as an actor, rather than the quality (or lack thereof) of the script, to tell their story. The ‘living in isolation’ aspect is perfectly logical and vividly realised, but the use of family within the film feels rather contrived. That someone as damaged as Laurie would even consider having children tests credulity. Both Karen (Laurie’s daughter, as played by a wholly irritating Judy Greer) and Allyson (Laurie’s granddaughter, portrayed with a modicum of zest by Andi Matichak) exist as proxies for Laurie’s rage and guilt, and fear and loss, respectively. Toss in an uninspiring dash of teen angst and a redundant husband/father, ripe for the offing, and a tapestry of interpersonal predictability is thus woven.
Pleasingly, the Michael Myers blueprint for destruction is as potent as ever, and this new film revels in the visceral power and violence of the character. Our reintroduction to Michael - serenaded by his motley dawn chorus - lends instant intrigue, and great care is taken to both establish and maintain him as a seemingly demonic force. Director David Gordon Green pays worthy homage to Carpenter’s original filming techniques, tracking and framing Michael in his pursuit of prey, and highlighting the folly of those not minding their surroundings. The voyeuristic tendencies of the character are repeatedly emphasised, and there is an almost fetishistic quality to the way Michael is eventually unleashed. The apex of this infatuation comes when Michael dons his legendary 'Shatner' mask, which is presented in lingering slow-mo, as if he were being anointed by the Devil himself. His murders are wantonly vicious, mostly indiscriminate and fantastically - but not gratuitously - gory. He is supposed to be the embodiment of pure evil after all, and the film does a fine job of presenting Michael Myers as such. His presence brings with it all the screaming, death and amped-up tension the discerning slasher fan demands. It’s just a shame that the impact of one of Michael’s more vintage assaults is ruined by its having been included in a trailer.
Jamie Lee Curtis has been rightly lauded for her performance, but too much emphasis is ultimately placed on the character of Laurie Strode. We feel and witness her pain, but being completely honest, Laurie is a fundamentally boring character. This is why we get the familial melodrama/padding, and is one of the reasons why a clunky plot twist was added to the original Halloween II, revealing Laurie and Michael to be siblings: to add substance where very little existed previously. The film does at least try to be vaguely nuanced, seeking to subvert the roles of hero and villain; juxtaposing the lives and motivations of Laurie and Michael, via the character of Dr. Ranbir Sartain (played with fervour by Haluk Bilginer), or the ‘new Loomis’, as Laurie succinctly labels him. This is a fascinating concept which, save for one or two choice encounters between Michael and Laurie, mostly fails. This thus renders the good doctor superfluous to proceedings, save for a (wholly pointless) minor plot twist.
The new Halloween succeeds when it dispenses with its emotional warpath and focuses on being an unapologetic slasher horror film. The scenes with Michael roaming the crowded streets of Haddonfield, deciding who lives and who dies, are both eerie and genuinely frightening. Alas, this new film is entirely beholden to its illustrious predecessor. Some signature elements, such as Michael’s unsettling breathing whilst masked, are entirely welcome, as is John Carpenter’s utterly stunning, reworked interpretation of the original film’s score (with added 'oomph'). In the end though, what should have been a bold and brutal reminiscence, yet worthwhile in its own right, lingers in constant thrall to an older, better motion picture. The new Halloween ends abruptly, and in that instance I was forced to concede my dissatisfaction. There is much to commend the film to transient viewers and genre acolytes alike, and pre-existing 'Halloween' fans will be mostly satiated, but one cannot shake the feeling that the 2018 iteration of Halloween represents something of a missed opportunity.
| To be continued... |