Review: 'Halloween'

Audiences come to see a horror film and stay to see
the drama in latest Michael Myers flick
Michael Myers returns in the latest edition of the 'Halloween' franchise.

Slasher films never seemed particularly frightening, even in their heyday circa 1975-85, which David Gordon Green's Halloween tries to commemorate. Like flaunting the silly Satanic emblems of heavy metal, it was more of a tribal custom—and the deeper you were in the country, the more their paraphernalia repelled boors and evangelicals.

John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) flaunted the same old Knifey McKniferson that all later sequels and ripoffs came to use. But it was better looking than it needed to be, and keyed up with an unsettling synth score. It's blase star, Jamie Lee Curtis, had a haunting air of trauma, getting viewers into the proper frame of mind even before the bodies started falling.

This 2018 version ignores the many sequels, suggesting that killer Michael Myers has been in a dormant state since he was arrested at the end of the first Halloween. We see him in a mental hospital courtyard, where maniacs are chained to cement chunks the size of car engine blocks. The beast is awakened by a pair of dunderheaded British podcasters calling themselves investigative journalists. To try to break him out of his catatonia, they wave Myers' now rotted pale mask at him.

Curtis' Laurie Strode always knew he'd be back. She's now a 60-ish hermit hiding in a rural fortress she built. Dealing with the visiting English idiots, Laurie shrugs off the guilt about how her own daughter Karen was taken away by protective services when she was 12: "If she's prepared for the horror of this world, I can live with that." Being stalked by an unkillable maniac might be hard to imagine. It's a little easier to understand the horror of being raised in a bunker by a prepper.

Now grown up, Karen (Judy Greer) is a woman trying to keep everything normal, and failing at the job. It's clear the white-masked beast's last opponent will be Laurie's granddaughter Allyson (the promising Andi Matichak). The men will be out of the game—from Alyson's father (Toby Huss), a fountain of dad jokes, to Cameron (Dylan Arnold), Alison's boyfriend, who is in drag this Halloween as Bonnie Parker to Allyson's Clyde Barrow. Green and his co-writers are aware of the gender-switch in this slasher for 2018: the men die, and the women turn the tide.

Green (Pete's Dragon, et al) isn't a brilliant pop-up engineer, but he provides a great deal of texture, and a credible idea of how the cycle of violence turns. The vivid autumnal colors give this a chill, and the titles are played over a reverse time lapse of a jack o'lantern rotting: coming back from the grave, or at least the compost heap.

Myers, nicknamed "The Shape" to make an already abstract threat even more so, is full of the usual contradictions. He lumbers like Frankenstein's monster and yet he's faster than the eye can see. Green gives the film some air with relaxed moments, such as the cozy dialogue between a young babysitter (Virginia Gardner) and the bratty kid she's minding (Jibrail Nantambu). Two lazing cops on stakeout discuss sandwiches. One insists that it's the bread wrapping that makes it a sandwich; inside could be anything from Vietnamese tidbits to peanut butter. As critic J. Hoberman once noted, the slasher audience was the most democratic audience in the world: They didn't care who got it, as long as someone got it.

So per Hoberman, the killings are the bread. But what fills this sandwich is Curtis' particular strength and her shame at the way she makes a loud scene at a celebratory dinner for Alyson. Her Laurie is both vulnerable and formidable.

It's easy to see why some fans were disappointed with this: They went to see a horror film and they ended up with a drama. Some of the murders have pathos to them. Some of it is a little exasperating. Laurie, who turned her house into a stockade of closed-circuit cameras and floodlights, nevertheless keeps the interiors dark; most people wouldn't give that monster a square inch of shadow.

Halloween isn't scary, but like the film that started it, it's moody. What does survive is the malice endemic to the genre. Here is the pessimistic side of the ancient cinematic pleasure of watching Buster Keaton or 007 bouncing back from certain death. Here, instead are a series of morbid resurrections, featuring the unkillable quality of motiveless, mute, faceless evil.

Halloween (2018)
R, 109 Mins.

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