Nearly three years ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) soared into theaters amid a maelstrom of nostalgia and an unprecedented marketing onslaught. The film promised to be the elixir needed to rid a weary fan base of the bad memories of disappointing previous installments, while reminding everyone why they fell in love with the franchise in the first place. It would eliminate all of the unnecessary mythology from the prequels, and adapt the look, tone, and overall feeling that the original films possessed. And the sales pitch worked to the tune of over 2 billion dollars worldwide. The movie itself? It’s mostly just ok; strong on visuals, solid on character, weak on plot and thematic engagement. It’s a pretty good film dressed as a landmark film, and the promise of returning audiences to 1977 was in many areas unfulfilled.
Which brings us to Halloween 2018. If the Force Awakens is the most anticipated movie of my lifetime, David Gordon Green’s Halloween may be the most anticipated slasher of all time. After each Busta Rhymes karate kick and failed attempt on Rob Zombie’s part to find something deeper in The Boogeyman (more on that later), the blood of Halloween fans has boiled in hopes for a moment like this. A moment where the franchise will go back to its roots; to the simplistic, but incredibly effective psychology of John Carpenter’s 1978 chiller. A moment for redemption. Just like The Force Awakens. And here we notice not only a pattern, but also possibly a peak into Hollywood’s future. There is no doubt there is an obsession in popular culture for things that were first established in the 70’s and 80’s. And if we’re talking comic books, we have to go back even further than that. Nostalgia is nearly dead, as the things we loved from the past are still the same things that we are seeing in mainstream entertainment today. And after Halloween 2018 demolishes box office records, it won’t be long before we hear talk of the return of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.
Yet all of this talk about what our sequel/reboot obsession means for our future distracts from the most important question – is Halloween 2018 a good movie? The answer if yes. Michael Myers’ triumphant, bloody return to the silver screen is good, at times very good, and at fleeting moments excellent, but it can never sustain itself long enough to be considered a great film. But make no mistake, director Green is astute student of John Carpenter, and his film feels deliberate in trying to retain the tone of the original film while updating it with modern gore, modern lampshading, and, regrettably, modern humor. It’s not that humor has no place in a horror film, so much as the jokes just aren’t that funny. Except for one line from a teenaged character towards The Shape that perfectly encapsulates the relationship Michael Myers has with Laurie Strode.
Speaking of Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis’ return to her most famous role may be the highlight of the movie. She is very much hitting similar notes to that of the character in Halloween H20 (1998), but with more pain, more regret, and stronger panic attacks. She is a damaged woman, who seems to be living every waking moment in the waning hours of October 31st, 1978. The Laurie Strode of H20 wanted to get away and forget. THIS Laurie Strode, even if it is never stated explicitly, wants REVENGE. This Halloween isn’t about psychic abilities, or weird cults, or Sheri Moon Zombie riding around on a white horse. This is a simplistic revenge flick, a thematic counterpart to the 1978 classic – that film is merely about a deranged man who’s escaped a mental institution for some fun. And as far as a hook, this simplicity gets the reboot on the right track.
The film begins as two British podcasters, Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees), have traveled to Haddonfield, IL to interview and study Michael Myers. In an attempt to retcon every single Halloween sequel that has ever been produced, the new film tells us that Myers was captured shortly after the cameras stopped rolling in Carpenter’s original film, and he was returned to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Our podcasters are fascinated by Myers, especially by the fact that he still hasn’t said a single word in the 40 years since the night he came home. Their goal is to get him to speak and to interview him about his thoughts, his actions in ’78, and if he has any regrets about the lives he took. Predictably, these attempts are futile. But when Aaron pulls ole’ William Shatner out of his bag, a satanic ritual nearly breaks out as Myers is seemingly drawn to his old mask, changing the energy of the entire scene. Myers wants out for one more night of fun.
After the visit to Smith’s Grove proves fruitless, Aaron and Dana track down Laurie, who only lets them in her home because it will net her $3,000. Laurie is now a weary, frustrated, beyond jaded grandmother who lost custody of her only daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), due to her inability to cope with her trauma. Karen still resents her mother to this day, which affects the relationship both women have with Karen’s daughter and Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (newcomer Andi Matichak). Still lacking the proper perspective on the tragic events of 40 years ago, Aaron and Dana want Laurie to tell her “story.” They even have the audacity to suggest that Laurie go to speak to Myers. But there is no story, as Laurie corrects them. As Dr. Loomis once surmised, Myers is simply pure evil. And the carnage he left in his wake is as straight forward as it gets; he is an evil, deranged man and there is no further understanding to be had of this person. This portion of the film seems to be a rebuke to the many sequels and remakes that attempted to contextualize Myers’ violence. Halloween II introduces the concept that Laurie and Michael are siblings (a plot thread that is quickly debunked in the new film). The Thorn Trilogy infamously introduced a cult that not only explained why Myers chose to kill, but even went as far to explain why he murdered on certain dates. Rob Zombie’s remake introduced a tragic backstory for the character, asserting that Michael’s unbearable upbringing is the source of his rage. And all of these threads simply tear away at the mystique of the original film because Myers is most scary when he doesn’t have all of that BS backstory: the original film is scary BECAUSE there is no explanation for his behavior. And once that is re-established, the new film sets to re-establish The Shape as the embodiment of evil.
Once the exposition is out of the way, and we’ve met all the important players, it is not long before Myers breaks out of a bus while being transferred to another facility, gets his old mask back, gets a fresh mechanic suit and returns home one more time – just in time for Halloween. The film really picks up here as you can feel that director Green gets a chance to let loose during Myers’ rampage. Green appears to have more ability as a horror director than he does as a director of drama, and he uses that to great use as the film exceeds the body count of the original film even before the halfway mark. This Myers is as brutal as Rob Zombie’s, or maybe even Jason Voorhees. He’s not strangling people anymore, he’s breaking their necks and putting knives in places they should never go. A particularly thrilling scene is a tracking shot that captures Myers’ commencement killings on Halloween night. And as death has returned to Haddonfield, Laurie Strode is waiting. After learning that he’s loose, Laurie has been preparing day and night for the film’s inevitable climax. And the climax is worth it as Michael rumbles with Laurie in her booby-trapped home, a Cathedral of destruction that would make Ripley and Sarah Connor blush.
While this is all great fun, there is a downside to this film. This movie may possibly be the best Halloween sequel, but that seemingly has more to do with the low bar the franchise presents than the strengths of this film. Halloween 2018 is thrilling, brutal, and well shot. But the editing feels rushed, particularly in an important flashback scene for Karen. It at times features poor dialogue and poor set ups (including one involving a very dumb character, whose actions help Myers to find Laurie.) The film is certainly fun, but it doesn’t stick the landing anywhere near as well as the original. It lacks the original’s pacing, while juggling several different plotlines without allowing itself the necessary runtime to let them all breathe. Perhaps there’s a director’s cut out there that let’s us see more of Laurie’s inner turmoil, or at least gives us a reason for why Allyson’s dumb boyfriend takes up so much screen time. Halloween 2018, like The Force Awakens, is good. It’s solid. It may be even worthy of becoming a holiday staple for years to come. But is it worth the hype? Not entirely, no. Which begs a very important question. If we’re going to keep making new films that are an homage to the landmark films of the past, when will these movies start to become great? We’ve proven they can be good. But will they ever be able to create new memories based on their own merits, without piggybacking on iconic moments that came before? Or are we doomed, due to the sheer DNA of the Reboot/Sequel, to produce a beeline of pretty good, 7/10 movies that leave us full, but not totally satisfied? It’s not the worst problem to have by any means, but it also not wrong to long for more.
One thing is for certain, the box office numbers will inspire Blumhouse to want a sequel. And wouldn’t you know, Halloween 2018 ends ambiguously (and abruptly, in another case of shaky editing from this film) enough that this could conceivably be the last film, but could also be the start of a whole block of new Halloween installments. Perhaps we’ll learn once and for all if Michael Myers is just a man or truly supernatural. Usually, this story ends with the producers going for one film too many, and that film pissing off most of the fan base (see Halloween Resurrection or Rob Zombie’s H2, but never SEE them if you know what I mean.) And then another group of filmmakers will come along, wanting to reset the timeline, remove the junk from canon, and get back to the roots of what made us fall in love with this franchise in the first place. It rhymes, doesn’t it?