One of the easiest possible associations to make with Halloween, the 2018 horror film that is now the third movie in the franchise frustratingly by that name, is one with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For indeed, Halloween ’18 (as I shall refer to it from here on in this review as this movie skips over all the other movies between it and the 1978 original but calling it Halloween II doesn’t work because there’s ALSO two other movies by that title) does more than a bit to imply a new future direction in the story of emotionless masked Shape of murderous evil Michael Myers’ (OG Nick Castle for special moments and James Jude Courtney for most of the screentime) and his semi-random focus on tormenting Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), one with final beats that imply that if Myers is to continue, he shall be focusing on someone new. And like The Force Awakens, Halloween ’18 sets this up by blatantly repeating the beats and greatest hits of not only John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece (who returns with his son Cody to score this iteration – I honestly think the difference is not all that remarkable but it was a perfect score to begin with), but at least giving the first three sequels knowing winks as well (as well as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).
And like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Halloween ’18 opts to forego a steady core story with unnecessary tangents that are mostly dead ends and one of which seems like a contrivance to facilitate a result that already felt inevitable. I am particularly dismayed that Halloween ’18 opted to be a two-hour slasher film when a 90-minute version of itself would have sufficed just as well. This does not bode very well for Halloween ’18 in my heart because those Star Wars movies are ones that I mutedly enjoyed on first watch and slowly decayed the more I thought about it. But to give Halloween ’18, the benefit of the doubt I ask significantly less of my slasher movies than I do of my space operas and I DID end up satisfied nonetheless.
For one thing, the fan service that is littered throughout the movie is of a gleeful sort that argues the soul of Halloween is how Myers’ actions are just as much consistent as they are relentless. For another thing, this film is in the very capable directorial hands of David Gordon Green who I am more fond of than J.J. Abrams (I cannot say I prefer Green to Johnson but I did think about it a lot), who should be returning to form any day now.
This is not that return but the two of these elements – the fan service and Green’s presence – mix very well in my eye. The familiar patterns within the kills (at least the ones where we don’t see the act, only the grisly results) and the shot styles as his rampage aligns us with the characters as they recognize what’s going on this Illinois Halloween night. Even if Green does not utilize the widescreen spacing as well as Carpenter, though he does have a knack for creating pools of shadow and distressing that with the harsh blues and reds of police lights when shit goes wrong. Green and Carpenter also share the ability to transform a far from Midwestern town (this film was shot in Charleston, South Carolina) into feeling breezily autumnal in a Midwest way. Green’s direction is particularly much better at selling the subversion of Strode’s previous role as victim than Green or Danny McBride’s half-baked and overgluttoned screenplay did, such as a set of shots that is so exciting in how it reversed the roles between Myers and Strode that it made me cheer in the theater.
Perhaps the best surprise out of the entirety of the film is Green’s happy intentions to make the carnage and any aftermath we are lucky to walk in on really count for something. I can’t honestly decide which is the bigger standout: a hovering duo of long-shots (there’s a cut between them but one so intelligently placed that it doesn’t kill the momentum at all) where Myers stalks into homes, stealing weapons and murdering the matriarchs without any pause, promising to us that he has no intentions to hunt Strode and simply kills because he kills. Or a messy explosion of blood as we witness Myers’ boot slam into the skull of a character, a gauche and cartoonish end to the film’s most harebrained character.
It is perhaps most unfortunate that the best elements of these things take a while to get there because Halloween ’18 thinks it has a complex plot to set up. One that thinks it needs to set up the high school life of a teenage girl or the disinteresting investigation work of annoying podcasters, the elimination of both of these solving most of my problems with the movie (particularly that the character most easy to hate is never even in danger of being murdered). McBride and Green particularly. want to explore the concept of Laurie’s PTSD but don’t really do much of the work to cut into it – they turn her into Sarah Connor without giving much of a clear psychological path between the girl crying against a wall at the end of the 1978 film and the stonefaced woman living in her personal fortress of guns, traps, and panic rooms 40 years later waiting for him to try again*.
Most of the heavy-lifting is put upon a game Curtis, who turns in a determination with cracking resoluteness and a deflecting refusal to acknowledge how her paranoia has broken her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer). In fact, practically any sense of character the movie gets comes from the actors present in the second half as Judy Greer plays Karen as somehow trying very hard to pretend her comfortable suburbia life can stifle memories of repressed childhood that her mother continues to bring and Andi Matichak as Karen’s daughter Andi, totally naïve about the threat out there and trying to retain a relationship with Laurie despite the strain between generations and Laurie’s emotional instability. If there is any reason I prefer Green’s Halloween to Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, despite finding both films thematically clumsy about trauma, it is because of these three women. Toby Huss and Will Patton aren’t nearly up to those three women but they maintain a rustic personability as men trying to take control of situations they should be responsible but aren’t equipped for. The only real loose end is sadly Haluk Bilgener as Myers’ psychologist Dr. Sartain (“the new Loomis”, Laurie sarcastically calls him), but he’s also saddled with a character that has no sense or logic to him on paper. The clear standout isn’t even a main actor, Jibrail Nantambu’s babysat child of Julian who feels like a mixed transient in his effortless naturalism and charm from George Washington and Eastbound and Down (my two favorite things Green and McBride have done).
Anyway, whole lot of fat is in Halloween ’18. Ignoring that part of the beauty of the original is its elegant simplicity. Simplicity that could have been recreated wholly from elements that are in Halloween ’18. So, it’s understandable why it’s been a disappointment to some. Hell, it’s already fading for me. I don’t see it holding up on rewatch where the deadwood will be prevalent and I have a remote that can fast-forward. But for right now, on first watch, I can’t lie and say that I got all I really wanted out of Halloween ’18: a functioning slasher film that delivered on the puerile violence I go to these movies for anyway. Even if I had to squint to get it.
*There is the attitude that this is a failed premise to begin with because Halloween H20: 20 Years Later… already had that fated reunion and just erasing the sequels doesn’t salvage the impact. It would be much easier for me to agree if I gave a fuck about H20.