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Halloween (2018) - Movie Review

Halloween (2018)
It's like the mask wrinkled just like a human face

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of the "soft reboot." Taking a long-running franchise, discarding the entries you don't like, keeping the ones you do, and then writing a new story as if only certain entries are in continuity is not only potentially confusing, it's lazy writing, a cheap way out of narrative cul-de-sacs created by those who came before you. That said, the state of the Halloween franchise (which I've previously reviewed in its entirety) is definitely a mess, with one earlier soft reboot and a full-on remake already in place. Trying to make a film set in any of the three existing continuities (or four, if you include The Season of the Witch) would be foolish and problematic on multiple levels, and thus, the Halloween fan in me has been content to let Michael Myers remain dead and buried for years now.

Enter this year's annoyingly titled Halloween, the second soft reboot of the seminal slasher series. This time around, only John Carpenter's original film is considered canon, with every subsequent film erased from the timeline. Jamie Lee Curtis once again returns as Laurie Strode, the survivor of Michael's rampage forty years ago, who has gone full Sarah Conner in the intervening years due to the trauma she experienced and her certainty that, one day, she would have the opportunity to face her bogeyman one more time. As the Smith Grove Sanitarium that houses Michael is preparing to move him to a different facility, Michael inevitably escapes, dons his iconic mask, and begins his holiday killing spree anew.

There's a lot more going on, of course, with several different characters thrown into the mix. There's a pair of investigative journalists doing a Serial-style podcast on Myers, a new doctor named Sartain who trained under Dr. Loomis to become Michael's current psychiatrist (Haluk Bilginer), an aged police officer (Will Patton) with his own history with Michael and Laurie, Laurie's largely estranged daughter and step-son (Judy Greer and Toby Huss), and Laurie's granddaughter, Alysson (Andi Matichak), with her insufferable teenage friends who serve as Michael's primary slaughter fodder. This is probably the film's greatest weakness: despite trying to stick to the simple premise that made the original so haunting, it stuffs so many characters and so many side plots into the mix that none of them are given enough time to properly develop before being unceremoniously forgotten in the rush to get the body count rising.

Halloween (2018)
Not good survival instincts on this guy

Without spoiling too much, there's one character in particular who takes a very bizarre turn late in the film. I understand why it was done, at least from a narrative point of view, but it's jarring enough to ruin the suspension of disbelief. The writers (David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley) surely could have come up with a better way to explain Michael's escape and get their primary characters to the necessary climactic confrontation. Instead, they include a plot beat that is so outlandish and weird, it will likely turn off many viewers and become this film's albatross in the long run.

Still, as Halloween sequels go, such a plot beat isn't the worst decision writers have made over the decades, and it shouldn't take too much away from what is otherwise a successfully logical narrative. While there are several characters and subplots that should have been streamlined out at the script stage, a lot of effort is put in to make the main plot realistic (or at least as realistic as a Halloween film can be) while still delivering the guilty pleasures slasher aficionados have come to expect out of the franchise. It also delivers the dread that many previous entries in the franchise have lacked, mostly by having a surprisingly young child be the first on-screen death.

Director David Gordon Green does a good job balancing the competing interests of the script as well. He brings his more comedic sensibilities to the table, which mostly works (one stereotypical kid and a brief conversation about sandwiches are admittedly pretty entertaining), but he knows when to pull back on that and keep the tension going. Granted, there are a few too many jump scares, but nothing like what you'd find in most other contemporary horror films. For someone who's never directed horror before, Green does a good job, especially in the first and third acts, where keeping the proper tone is essential. Still, he's no John Carpenter.

John Carpenter
Then again, John Carpenter's not really John Carpenter anymore, either

Speaking of which, John Carpenter returns to do the music, along with his son, Cody Carpenter, and longtime collaborator Daniel A. Davies. It's nice having so many of the familiar themes present, but there are one or two moments where the 80's synth tracks feel a bit out of place. On the whole, though, it's a far sight better than the forgettable score and woefully misguided musical choices of Rob Zombie's remake and the pale imitations of the majority of the original sequels. Musically, this is probably the most cohesive of the lot, and it doesn't overload you with the main theme the way most of the films do, especially the original.

The cinematography has its ups and downs, though. There are some brilliantly framed shots--like one where a character stands backlit by impossibly bright headlights on a foggy road--but also a lot of weird, close-up camera angles with things blocking the foreground. One thing I have to point out is the use of shaky-cam, which is done sparingly and correctly here to highlight a few tense moments without going overboard and making audiences reach for the dramamine.

The stand-outs of the film have to be Michael himself and, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis takes another stab at an older version of her character, this time replacing the PTSD-addled prep school headmistress version from Halloween: H20 with a far more intense and broken woman in her late fifties. Laurie is a two-time divorcée whose survivalist schtick of training her young daughter to shoot mannequins and build panic rooms caused the state to take custody away and leave her alone and isolated in the woods just outside Haddonfield. She gets along relatively well with her granddaughter, but she still suffers from paranoia, alcoholism, and a dark desire to get revenge, no matter the cost.

Halloween (2018)
Laurie's pretty messed up, but she's still something of a badass

Meanwhile, Michael Myers is made a bit more interesting, too. Gone are his supernatural powers from other sequels (though he does still teleport occasionally, the way all good slasher villains do), but the oddball playfulness he so famously displayed in the original film when he wore that ghost costume is highlighted here, something the writers can get away with as they are able to ignore the other films in the series that stripped that character trait out of him. While most of the kills aren't particularly memorable, he does some things with the bodies that are really creepy and twisted. Going into the film and wracked by Texas Chainsaw 3D flashbacks, I was concerned about the prospect of a sexagenarian slasher, but within the context of the movie, Michael's age never seems to be a problematic issue. (If they decide to continue the series with this continuity, though...)

If I can put my critical film-school analysis pen aside for a moment and just write to you as a fan of the series, I love this flick. It's easily one of the best sequels in the franchise, and I'll happily watch it again. Still, it never justifies its own existence, and it is plagued by a handful of disappointing flaws. The one film it invites the most comparisons to is Halloween: H20, but it's a better movie in nearly every respect. It honors its roots and has a few clever callbacks (though it doesn't beat you over the head with them), and it does one thing almost none of the sequels have ever done: it gets the mask right. If it's taught me one thing, it's that a soft reboot, when done well, can be a good thing after all.

FINAL SCORE:

It has too many characters and one unforgivably weird plot beat, but it's a stellar Halloween sequel that should please fans of the franchise.


-e. magill 10/20/2018

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