Film Critic Alisha Shah explores whether David Gordon Green’s 40-year Halloween sequel can live up to John Carpenter’s legacy
Halloween is a rebooted sequel to the original classic 1978 version. This movie, the eleventh instalment, occurs nine years after the last movie in this so-called franchise. Crucially, this one retcons all nine previous sequels, ignoring advances in the plot and instead following on directly from the events of the original. So the good news is that this Halloween is fairly accessible to the general movie-goer without an encyclopedic knowledge of the series. Michael Myers as an antagonist, alongside John Carpenter’s original iconic theme (the original director returns to provide an updated soundtrack in this movie) still stand up as icons of horror and wider pop-culture.
For the fans, there are numerous references to the original. For instance, the jack-o-lantern during the opening credits is a direct call-back, and there are many, many more – focus on them too long and it can be distracting! It is clear that this movie was made with love and genuine appreciation for the original. So the question then is: how indeed does this latest reboot hold up in the modern context of horror and cinema, for new audiences and fans alike?
This Halloween is both set and released forty years after the first movie. Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role as Laurie Strode, who has spent that time obsessively preparing for her final fight and confrontation with the since incarcerated Myers. We see the effect of this obsession and paranoia on her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and even her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who wants a genuine connection with her still-traumatised grandmother. Myers dramatically breaks free to wreak havoc once more on a fateful Halloween night, and Laurie is now given the opportunity she desires.
Laurie is undeniably the most compelling aspect of this movie. She essentially encapsulates how to write a true badass with baggage. Whilst she is strong, dedicated, and her vigilance is ultimately vindicated, the movie doesn’t shy away from addressing the true consequences of her obsessive behaviour. Her relationship with her daughter, whom she once lost custody of, is heartbreaking. So, Laurie makes for a great protagonist, as she is a thoroughly flawed and broken individual. Her triumphant arc marks an interesting shift from the usual ‘final girl’ trope in horror – and Laurie herself decides to not be a victim. Halloween (2018) will always be memorable to me for this portrayal of a strong woman, truly encapsulating a change in how the horror genre portrays its female characters.
Reprising his role as Myers, Nick Castle is also commanding and engaging on-screen. The physicality of Myers has always fascinated me, and director David Gordon Green is successful to a large extent in presenting the silent monster. Myers tends to pause and contemplate his warped logic in moments before he goes in for the kill, ultimately enhancing his status as a captivating horror villain. There is an artful choreography to Myers’ unstoppable murderous spree – a definite standout of the movie. There is also the matter of his insane super strength, but perhaps I can accept that Smith’s Grove Sanitarium has a great fitness programme.
So why is it that Halloween ultimately disappoints in the area it should excel at most? Simply put, the movie is not scary. Of course, scariness is dependent on many things, fear tolerance being the main factor. Halloween is admirable in a sense that it doesn’t fall into the cheap horror territory of too many needless jumpscares, so the fault is not there. As a warning, this movie also incorporates elements of body-horror that extend beyond simply dead bodies. Though occasionally the gore appears fake and ineffective, it is still not the main issue.
The problem is that the movie is not successful in injecting a genuine sense of tension and atmosphere when it most needs it. Even the most frivolous of horror concepts can be centred on real emotions by gripping the audience and having them hanging on the edge of their seat. In the moment Myers becomes free, the dynamic of the movie is not sufficiently altered. The audience is not clinging to the edge of their seat. The issue is not with the unaware small-townsfolk – but rather that the atmosphere refuses to build the tension, to ask the question, ‘when is he going to strike next?’ There are possible hints of these moments, but their inefficacy undermines the shock and horror that are so vital to this movie.
On the topic of characters, despite Laurie being the crown jewel of the movie – certain other characters are a letdown. Regarding the teenagers, the movie gestures towards trying to make them interesting somewhat distinguishable. But they ultimately mean nothing and are just there to be killed. However, other characters are stupid for the sake of the plot and it is infuriatingly distracting. Yes, they are flesh-bags primed to be murder victims, but these are inevitable and even necessary in a horror. There are, though, let-down characters that do indeed play critical roles in the story. Their actions are warped to be borderline insane to force certain plot elements to progress. Unfortunately, such potential story threads end up falling flat. These moments of idiocy force the story to contort dramatically, and much like the comedy – stick out as being distracting. The story at multiple instances breaks out in sprints to move along, with the ultimate goal of the final confrontation between Laurie and Myers.
Overall, this Halloween is a movie that I should like unapologetically, but there are issues present. It is successful in re-launching the franchise, simplifying the nature (or lack thereof) of Myers and making him once more a credible horror monster. This reboot is made with love for the original, but the slasher-film aspects feel underwhelming simply because of the tonal and atmospheric inconsistencies. Laurie is a grounded and formidable character, though the overall conflict that builds between her and Myers comes across more like a thriller.
The best moments are when these thriller aspects combine with strong horror. The directing on Myers’ killing spree, the tension between him and Laurie – and of course the final fight. As a genuine lover of these moments, I wish more of the movie was like this because Halloween is on the cusp of something truly amazing. There is definitely scope for future movies in this vein, this is a Halloween movie after all. I would be open and glad to see them. Whilst lessons can be learnt, Halloween makes for a great movie-going experience on the whole, but is unfortunately far from perfect.
VERDICT: When taken as an out-and-out slasher film, Halloween (2018) falls slightly short. It is, however, a strong entry overall with great elements of horror and thriller. The characterisation and depiction of Laurie and her family relationships is strong and truly unexpected in its execution. The direction of Michael Myers and his overall character depiction stay true to the spirit of the original, echoing the view that he is a monster with the mask of a man. So despite structural problems and certain questionable decisions, I cannot deny that Halloween (2018) makes for an enjoyable outing. I would, therefore, recommend it on the whole for fans of the series and the greater audience alike.