Director: David Gordon Green
18 | 1h 46min | Horror , Thriller | 19 October 2018 (UK)
I've not seen every single instalment in the Halloween franchise, but the continuity there looks like it has got pretty tangled over the 40 years since masked serial killer Michael Myers - AKA 'The Shape' - slapped on a cheap Halloween mask and began hunting down youngsters in the sleepy American town of Haddonfield. Director John Carpenter presumably had little idea that his 1978 slasher flick would not only so come to define that genre, but spawn a huge and unwieldy universe that a multitude of directors have tried to grow and reboot. Now it is the turn of David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Joe) and screenwriters Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, and their anniversary-timed effort immediately commanded attention by not only securing Carpenter's involvement as both producer and composer (with Daniel Davies and Cody Carpenter) but by situating this new movie - also called 'Halloween' - as a direct sequel to the first film (maybe this is the first time in Hollywood history that a sequel has had a completely identical name to its predecessor). Selective continuity as a way of keeping franchises as un-killable as Myers remains a key trick in the filmmaker's magic box. Luckily for us, this pretty enjoyable new Halloween turns out to be more treat than trick, with impactful visuals, a game cast, and a moodily kinetic score that reminds us why Carpenter's self-penned scores are so mimicked today.
It is not unprecedented for a franchise to attempt to spring a female character- one relentlessly hunted by whatever antagonist - out of the box of 'victim' and into a more combative, competent role. James Cameron did this with the main female character in Terminator 2, and there is something quite 'Sarah Connor-ish' about the presentation of Halloween's returning heroine here; Laurie Strode, who is once more played by scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. With the new film's story acknowledging the amount of real time that has passed since the original, Laurie is now a combat-trained grandmother in her 60s still living in Haddonfield, a grey-haired and wiry 'town outcast' figure living alone in an isolated bungalow out in the rural suburbs, a grim fortress surrounded by barbed wire and CCTV, and with an interior loaded with booby traps and weapon racks. As played with clear relish by Curtis, this Laurie is armed to the teeth and ruthlessly single-minded in staying combat-ready, but not, as we learn, because she is paranoid about being killed by Michael Myers, who has been imprisoned in an institute for the criminally insane since the events of the first film. Laurie is sitting in this fort waiting for Michael to come and finish what he started, so she can kill him. She wants him to escape, and believes it will happen. This is an interesting twist on cinematic horror-flick victimisation that separates Laurie from Sarah Connor. Sarah never wanted the Terminators to come back.
Of course, Myers escapes in time for Halloween, when a bus crashes during a prison transfer operation, following which he duly reacquires his mask and heads back to Haddonfield. An introductory sequence to his status in the institute that has held him since 1978 nods towards the suggestion of a supernatural-like aura cloaking the man, as a duo of journalists attempting to interview Myers and get the real story on 'the legendary killer' only provoke any kind of reaction when they reveal they've brought the same mask he wore 40 years ago. Standing with his back to them (and us, as Green continues the tradition of keeping 'The Shape''s face hidden through specific framings and focus) and keeping rigid still, Michael doesn't speak or turn from his spot in the courtyard outside when the mask is removed from the awed journalist's bag, but all around him guard dogs start to howl and snarl, and the other prisoners in the yard become vocally disturbed. It is as if a live wire had started humming when the mask came close to returning to the only man who could ever wear it, as if it was the ring from Lord of the Rings. A bleak open yard bisected into various yellow squares, safe zones where visitors are warned not to step as they mark the lunge distance of the chained inmates, makes for an eerie place to get up to speed with Laurie's nightmare. Michael was never supposed to be possessed of any unearthly power in Carpenter's original film, but his silently implacable nature and ability to drift in and out of our sight as if on rails or as if he was only an inch-thick, made him seem so. Later films in the franchise played with this idea even as Myer's pop culture status grew in the real world, so the institute scene is an unsettling and understandably self-reflexive re-introduction, even if it is a bit silly to think that any journalist would really want to act this way or be allowed to.
But Halloween really gets into its stride when Myers gets into his. Myers is a creature of movement, a human shark. Once free and roaming in search of Laurie, Green shows Myers has lost none of his killer instinct via several invigorating long take sequences where a steadicam tracks 'The Shape' from behind as, re-masked and back in his boilersuit outfit, he strides unnoticed through the Halloween crowds of Haddonfield, gliding into various garages and houses to murder his way through the inhabitants until his shopping list of items that he needs to find Laurie is complete (item one being, of course, a huge knife). Tipping the hat to modern sensibilities, the kills are far more gory than the 1978 version, but generally each is stylishly done though the gruesomeness is not lingered on too long. Playing Myers, actors James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle have the necessary height and give the sense of solid bulk, but as with Carpenter, what Green understands is that it is as much framing and editing as the mask and knife that makes 'The Shape' so potent a figure. Though I would argue Halloween never gets scary, Green works up several visually inventive sequences that nod to Carpenter's flair, in which slivers of darkness or sharp-angled corners allow Myers to glide spookily in and out of sight. One scene featuring a motion-triggered light in an empty yard, with a drunk high schooler terrorised by the sight of Myers closing the gap between them in between every moment of tripped illumination, is particularly memorable and generated a good jump scare or two. Appropriately for a killer named 'The Shape', Myers is often seen by POV characters only through door cracks or the shards of broken windows. There are some very atmospherically lit locations to savour too, from pumpkin-decked streets where the candlelights within each cast weird dances of light on the porches, to spooky forest roads in fog lit only by car headlights.
Green's film can be enjoyed as a competent slasher as well as a warmly familiar homage (needless to say, the film is laced with callbacks), but those wanting more might enjoy the meta sprinkles on top of the cake, particularly where the idea of the final girl, which the original did so much to enshrine, is given a little bit of a prodding. There is a sense of acknowledgment in the screenplay that this is a new decade which demands a few new chords slipped into an old tune. Symbolic of this, as Laurie and her female family members (Judy Greer plays her daughter Karen, and Andi Matichak granddaughter Alysson) finally face the final showdown with Myers out in the woods, is one well-known reveal shot from Carpenter's original being mimicked, but with a twist. This time it is Laurie who vanishes unexpectedly from Myers's sight when he looks over a balcony to the spot where he expected to see her lying. The predator-prey dynamic is destabilised on this particular all-Hallow's eve, and Green's film musters up yet a few more pleasing surprises after this little beat. Though Halloween 2018, inevitably, does not feel revolutionary because of its indebtedness to the original and does not dive as deep into its characters as it could have, it does things that feel satisfying and right. That will more than do for me as I look for something to watch on future All Hallows Eve's.