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Wasn’t it her brother who murdered all those babysitters?

Movie

Halloween
(2018)

 

Proof that you can keep going back to the same crumbling well and there’ll still be a ready and willing (nostalgic) audience to lap up the results. At least, for the first weekend. The critics seemed to like this sequel to the first movie, though, which expressly wipes out Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later – which also retconned out of existence everything aside from the first two movies. Mind you, the makers would do that, since both cover similar ground, while this Halloween isn’t noticeably superior.

H20 took a slicker approach, perhaps, riding the crest of the Scream wave (Kevin Williamson wrote the story). It gave Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode some degree of autonomy, in that, while she’s also trauma survivor, she’s a functioning one with a successful career (her faked death and change of name deriving from initial plans to count the earlier sequels as canon).

In contrast, this Laurie has become estranged from her family and barely functions outside of her survivalist basement and fortress home. You might argue turning her into an embattled Sarah Conner-in-T2 type is a smart move that takes her away from being someone who simply needs to run away from Michael Myers again forty years later. But that only works if the picture carries an abiding intelligence, if it actually wants to treat the idea seriously. Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green’s screenplay only does half the time, which rather leaves one with the feeling that they’ve resurrected her for a second time to little real avail or catharsis (such that I wouldn’t be so surprised if she gets offed in the opening act of the next one too, like clockwork).

There are moments were there that more mature movie is trying to get out. In particular, the reaction of daughter Karen (the always great Judy Greer) to mom telegraphs this. And if Laurie’s inability to function at a meal attended by granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) is curiously truncated, Curtis manages to get across the necessary emotions. But you can’t have it both ways. Laurie can’t be both psychologically fractured and a kick-ass who knows how to deal with the bogeyman. And the way the picture treats her, she’s whatever they needed Laurie to be at a given moment.

She storms into her daughter’s house waving a gun and warns her and hubby Toby Huss that the bus has crashed… and then leaves without even telling them Michael was on board and that’s why they should be worried. The movie wants to be a “smart” slasher but repeatedly reverts to standard-issue, stupid-characters-doing-stupid-things slasher tropes.

You could say that’s homage, but it quickly becomes irritating and exasperating. As far as I could tell, Karen has never told her husband or daughter that she was trained to shoot guns by her mother and prepare for Michael’s second coming, even though they know all about Michael… because the script requires it at that point. There’s certainly no logical reason she wouldn’t have, if she is as knowledgeable of her mother’s psychological condition and the need for emotional development as she suggests; her “Gotcha” when she shoots Michael is satisfying, but doesn’t seem motivated given everything we’ve seen previously.

The selection of teens ripe for offing was duly dissected twenty years back in the Screams, so setting up a new selection played straight, yet without the nuance to support them, just tries the patience. There are odd choices here, such as how Cameron, despite being a complete shit, doesn’t get offed for his behaviour; instead, his beta-buddy Oscar (Drew Scheid) is dispatched for being a dweeby loser who comes on to Allyson. And there are daft moments like Myers not even bothering with Allyson when she escapes the police car. Unless it’s because she’s dressed as Clyde, and it confuses Michael’s gender priorities. Generally, there’s nothing in these scenes to distinguish them from any other teen slasher movie, and they tend to drag on.

One might argue Jefferson Hall as an English “true-crime podcaster”, is overplaying in the spirit of Donald Pleasance’s inimitable ham when he pulls out Myers’ mask and tries to get a rise out of him (“Say something!“). Actually, it feels ridiculously hyperbolic (and somehow, that open courtyard was much more impressive/oppressive in the trailer).

The same approach resurfaces more successfully later with Doctor Sartain (Haluk Bilginer, having a lot of fun; he knows what movie he’s in, it just isn’t the same one the Strode family are in). He suddenly decides to stab Deputy Sheriff Will Patton (sadly wasted) in the throat to prevent him finishing off Michael, and then puts on the Shatner mask himself. It’s a batshit crazy turn of events, and I was almost on board with it… but, of course, he’s then offed a few minutes later.

I’d note too that the movie feels long at 105 minutes; there’s a less-is-more with these genre entries, and unless you really have a story to tell, you end up with a whole lot of padding.

The picture is, after all, a great deal of set up just to get us to Laurie’s reinforced basement (somehow, that high-walled fence and gate surrounding her house doesn’t seem to be operating later). During these scenes, any semblance of conviction that Laurie knows what she is doing rapidly deserts us, She’s been getting herself ready for forty years and then shows us she’s pretty clueless, when it comes down to it.

It’s almost worthy of a comedy sketch; someone will doubtless do an edit of all the ways she screws up when Michael comes visiting, not to mention that it’s debatable he’d have end up there, were it not for her impressing herself on the scenario (he didn’t seem especially into unfinished business with her, particularly since she’s no longer his sister). It was apparently her plan to get him into the basement all along… which is why she randomly shoots holes at him through the kitchen floor above? What if Michael had methodically taken up the floorboards? There are so many ways her plan leaks like a sieve, it’s farcical. I’m not really sure about burning him either. Maybe flooding the basement with acid? That way you could wait around and be sure nothing was left.

Green does a serviceable enough job with the direction, but there’s nothing very iconic here. They might as well have brought back Steve Miner. His best moment is repeating Carpenter’s vanishing body trick, but from the antagonist’s perspective. He also delivers a suitably queasy, “He wouldn’t, would he?” as Michael idles by a crib holding a crying babe that ranks as the movie’s sickest joke (although, AvP: Requiem went there, so it isn’t beyond the bounds of the mainstream).

Notably, Green gives us a whole lot of bloodiness, including a particularly hilarious/risible head stomping (imagine a pulverised pumpkin – Sartain’s skull must have been paper thin), seeming oblivious to how restrained Carpenter’s picture was on that score.

I’ll readily admit I don’t love the 1978 Halloween; I enjoy Pleasance lurking around in the bushes scaring people, and it does what it does effectively enough; a relentless, minimalist affair that succeeds largely on the basis of that Panaglide camerawork and Carpenter’s insistent score. This is just too choppy to flow or really engage, however.

And the Shape in that movie is a force; here, despite the intent to renege on Rob Zombie’s white-trash iteration, there’s too much flirtation with showing him as an old guy. We may not see him directly, but there are far too many shots of his face as a reminder he is just a human (and is now the kind of monster who extracts teeth and then taunts his next victim with them? I suppose he’s known for pulling the odd elaborate sheet trick).

I found myself continually wishing Halloween would make a detour into something more interesting, even if it was just giving us a flashback to how exactly Michael broke out of the bus, and that it was down to Sartain (I’ve seen it suggested Laurie might have caused the crash, which would have been a great twist). There were, scarcely conceivably, eighty drafts of the screenplay, and you have to wonder: this is the best you could come up with?

It’s nice to see Curtis as an ostensible lead again, but Green et al have failed to justify this retcon; when it’s silly, it isn’t sufficiently fun with it – they show a clip of Repo Man at one point, which just reminds you how much fun you could be having – and when it’s serious, it doesn’t have the brains to take the series to a place that warrants expunging its prior history.

Carpenter’s still got it when it comes to doing the score, though. For the sequel – McBride and Green initially intended to pitch two films to be shot back-to-back – they should definitely bring back babysat kid Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), who gets all the best lines and is easily the most believable character. What the series really needs is for Busta Rhymes to be retconned back into the proceedings, though.

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