SPOILER WARNING: We don’t often review movies that are still in the theater, so usually don’t bother with worrying about giving away major plot points. Seeing as how this one is in the theaters right now, you may want to see it. We’d rather not be to blame for giving away plot points, twists and turns or influencing your decision to see it. Movie watching is an incredibly personal experience and we respect everyone’s opinion, even when it’s wrong and we laugh at you in the privacy of our own home about your lack of aesthetics and taste.
Nearly every review of the new Halloween starts out by stating the problematic nature of the franchise. In my perfect world, Halloween 2 would have been the end, with Halloween 3: Season of the Witch starting off a yearly anthology of pre-Samhain related mayhem. But my wife has so much love for this series that she endorses everything save Halloween Resurrection and the second Rob Zombie film. And even then, she’ll still watch those. We can’t hide the fact that we are fans — our shelves speak to it, with multiple versions of the first film and every cut of 6.
That’s why the possibility of a new Halloween film with a major budget, nine years after the last abortive attempt to make one of these films, raised such hope. David Gordon Green, the director of Pineapple Express, along with frequent collaborator Danny McBride would create the film along with the participation of the original creator, John Carpenter and the acting skills of Jamie Lee Curtis. For the last year, we’ve been inundated with the assurances that these creators are people who get what makes Halloween work. This would finally be the sequel that fans had been craving since, oh, 1981.
The first chink in the hype armor, for me at least, was the knowledge that this film would invalidate Halloween 2, being seen as the only sequel that counted. The convoluted history that we mentioned earlier may keep some from understanding the series, but I’ll be honest. There’s no reason why this movie had to erase the second installment. It could have still happened and it wouldn’t impact this film at all.
There’s really no nice way to say this, so let me jump in feet first. Beyond being a movie that fundamentally doesn’t comprehend what made the original Halloween such a great film, the 2018 version of Halloween is a movie with no understanding of what makes a great horror movie, either.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a great set-up. Forty years after the 1978 Haddonfield murders (referred to as “The Babysitter Murders,” a nod to the film’s original title), a Serial-like podcast team makes its way to the area to investigate the story and try to see both sides. The first mistake the journalists make is to show Michael Myers’ mask his iconic mask. This scene is pretty chilling, as the entire yard of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium rises up in chaos, dogs barking, insane men screaming, Myers just silent and not turning his back. Let’s not let the logic of how two podcasters got such a crucial piece of evidence out of police custody or how any hospital in its right mind would allow this interview to happen this way get in the path of the movie.
The podcasters then make their way to the fortress home of Laurie Strode, who has spent the last forty years preparing for Michael’s return. If this seems like 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later twenty more years later, we should be so lucky. After a quick interview in which the British duo shows that they just don’t get it, Laurie kicks them out.
That night, Dr. Ranbir Sartain and a maximum security crew transport Myers and other prisoners from Smith’s Grove to a maximum security prison. Of course, the bus crashes. Of course, Michael escapes. And of course, the footage echoes the escape from Halloween 4 while simultaneously telling us that that movie no longer exists. There’s a moment here, where Michael kills a young boy, where I felt like this was this film announcing that it wasn’t going to play by the traditional slasher rules. If young kids were fair game, everyone was. Sadly, this was one of the last surprises that the film would have in store.
Michael then finds and kills the podcast team, which has no real emotional heft because we have no reason at all to care whether they live or die. Sure, they tempted fate and must be destroyed in order for him to get his mask back. It’s a brutal scene, putting over the power that Michael has, but if we follow logic, The Shape should by 61 years old. Co-writer McBride stated that “I think we’re just trying to take it back to what was so good about the original. It was just very simple and just achieved that level of horror that wasn’t turning Michael Myers into some being that couldn’t be killed. I want to be scared by something that I really think could happen.” I haven’t seen many 61-year-old men that can throw people around like this. The refusal to embrace the supernatural evil of Myers is one of this film’s first failings.
Back to Laurie Strode. She’s had two failed marriages and had her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) taken away from her at the age of twelve. Today, they have a tenuous relationship, with Karen’s daughter Allyson working the hardest to understand her grandmother. Learning that Myers is loose, Laurie breaks into her daughter’s home and warns her and her husband Ray that they need to be ready. This is another narrative misstep. Are we supposed to believe that Laurie’s PTSD and constant battle readiness has cost her way too much? Or is she the only person who is right in this whole film? The way it plays out, as she’s pretty much the only protagonist who actually does something, proves that she’s correct all along.
That’s one of the critical flaws in this movie. Outside of Laurie, there isn’t a single character that we get to know or care about. Her daughter is someone who has given up connecting with her. That’s her one note. Her granddaughter is in a crappy relationship and wants to get to know her grandmother a little better. And that’s it. Every single other person we meet — save for Dr. Sartain and we’ll get to him later — is just fodder. Contrast this with the original, where we get to know Laurie, Lynda (P.J. Soles shows up so quickly here you don’t even catch her, by the way) and Annie really intimately before the first hint of bloodshed. I defy you to tell me one character’s motivation or reason for being beyond words on a page here. For a movie that aspires to be above and beyond the slashers of the 1980’s, even the worst of those had a character you wanted to root for other than the final girl.
Meanwhile, Michael has started to kill people all over again. Allyson’s friend Vicky is babysitting instead of attending the school dance and she gets slaughtered. The scene where Myers is hiding in the closest was so much better effect in the trailer. Here, the way it’s framed, it loses any narrative punch. That’s when we get to the next flaw in this film: it has no idea how to be suspenseful. There is no moment where you get that heart pumping feeling where the killer is stalking his prey, where you feel compelled to yell out words of help to the hapless victim onscreen. We saw this movie in a totally sold out environment of people ready to shout, scream and shriek. You could have heard a pin drop during this movie.
The only character that seemed to get a reaction was Julian, the young boy who Vicky is babysitting. Now, I’ll be honest. The kid was hilarious. And I’m not one of those people who can’t deal with a little comedy in my horror. But I’m also of the belief that once the horror truly begins, humor becomes a release valve that isn’t always necessary. In fact, Julian is so funny that he breaks the movie here, although he gets off a great line as he exits the film, telling one character that he shouldn’t even go into the house because he’ll definitely get killed.
At this point, Laurie has become Dr. Loomis, patrolling the streets on her own, gun in hand. This is something that the cops have seemingly no issue with. Maybe it’s because Sheriff Frank Hawkins was the cop who stopped Loomis from killing The Shape when he was in police custody. That’s probably better than the original script for this that had Loomis being killed before the police could stop Myers’ original rampage.
For all the time the movie spends in setting up the leader of the police, Sheriff Barker, he never appears again once the carnage really starts. No, instead of the police doing what makes logical sense — putting everyone in protective custody in a location far from Haddonfield — they allow everyone to go to Laurie’s fortified house while they search for Allyson. Keep in mind that Laurie has been wantonly shooting handguns off all over town, so she seems like the most level-headed solution, right?
Allyson is on the run, having found the body of her boyfriend’s geeky best friend impaled on a fence. She doesn’t have to run all that far or all that long. There’s literally no pretense of suspense, as Sheriff Hawkins quickly finds her and they set off for Laurie’s house, while Dr. Sartain makes a miracle recovery after being shot in the heart earlier. Seriously, the guy is near death in one scene and somehow shows up with just a sling and band-aid twenty-five minutes later. Seeing Myers on the way, Hawkins hits him Ben Tramer style with his squad car, due process and Miranda rights be damned. As they inspect the body, the “new Dr. Loomis” reveals himself to be evil, killing the cop and locking Allyson in the squad car along with the stunned Myers. That’s the only other surprise in the film, as the now mad doctor dons The Shape’s iconic mask.
“I realized right then that if this guy was the bad guy for the rest of the movie and that was it for Michael, I was going to just have to walk out of the theater.” That’s a quote directly from my wife, probably the biggest Halloween superfan I’ve ever met.
Luckily for everyone but the characters in the film, Myers survives and makes his way to Laurie’s home, stopping to stomp out Sartain’s brains all over the backyard and kill off Allyson’s dad, who outside of being cool to her boyfriend about doing drugs and bad at baiting mousetraps has no discernable character traits or reasons to exist.
As Laurie puts her daughter into the saferoom she feared as a child, she battles Michael throughout her house in a war that fanservice echoes the initial film. Instead of Michael falling off the balcony and disappearing, this time it’s Laurie’s turn. That said, there’s no real dread or worry for any of the main character’s safety — even Karen ends up having no issues shooting Myers and helping her mother trap him in the basement, which was the goal all along. They blow the house up and drive away in a truck that made me wistful for the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the second movie this year after The Strangers: Prey at Night to totally rip off the ending of a much better movie.
What makes the first two Halloween films work is the atmosphere — from the first frame, you realize that something inhuman is coming after Laurie Strode. The second film just amps up the pace and makes The Shape into an inhuman force that cannot be stopped. In this film, he’s just there. At no point do you feel tension from him or worry for the people he has come to kill. Things just happen. It’s sloppy, slap-dash and for all the insults lobbed at the other sequels in this franchise, much closer to parts 5 and 6 than I’m sure the filmmakers would like to admit.
This may be the first Halloween modern filmgoers see. And as such, there is no moment in it that points to what makes Michael Myers special. I can name several from the original, such as the moment where he watches Bob after he kills him or slowly rises up after we’re sure Laurie has killed him. And the end, where his body is just suddenly gone, is the stuff of nightmares. Early in the new version, Vicky’s boyfriend Dave echoes the voice of millennials, saying that Myers’ five murders aren’t such a big deal anymore in the grand scheme of things. I feel for anyone whose initial exposure to this franchise is with this film, one where Myers fails to do one remarkable thing or elicit one moment of fright.
I’ve seen plenty of reviews that state that this is the best sequel in the franchise and a return to greatness. I think that those reviews were written before anyone even saw the film, preordained so that the feel-good story of the return of a much-maligned franchise could come true. I tried to remove myself from the hype, to attempt to be surprised and enjoy Halloween 2018 on its own merits, but it really has little to none.
The sound of Michael’s breathing over the end credits signifies more than the fact that The Shape has survived. No, it means that in two years, we’ll be lining up all over again, hoping that this time perhaps someone can get what seems to be such a simple idea right.