Review: The Night He Broke Box Office Records: Halloween (2018)
By Alex Romano, Associate Editor
Now there is a title that someone should lose their job over. It makes the movie seem unsure as to what it is. Is it not a sequel? It is definitely not a remake; that would be so mid-2000s. It is a reboot, but it does not start from scratch and drag the audience through the events of the 1978 film again. It is not a mere spiritual successor; more than just the essence of the original is reproduced here. This movie is actually a little bit of all of these categories: a rebooted sequel that resurrects the spirit of the first film through inspiration and homage, with throwbacks to more than one previous entry in the franchise, while taking some elements of the remakes and fitting them into a new, different narrative.
Traumatized by the events of the distant night that ended with her friends dead, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now a full-blown paranoiac, living in a house rigged with heavy-duty security mechanisms of all sizes and surrounded by miles and miles of stark woodland. She is waiting for the day that her nemesis returns so that she may finally kill him. Her estranged and resentful daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) and son-in-law Ray (Toby Huss) live in the suburbs with their own daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). A pair of British true-crime podcasters (Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees) unsuccessfully interview Laurie in her home and inform her that Michael Myers (Nick Castle), or “The Shape,” is set to be transferred from his current mental hospital to another one that night.
During the transfer, something goes wrong (unheard of!) and Myers escapes to inflict more grief, mayhem, and destruction on his quaint Midwestern hometown. A sheriff’s deputy named Hawkins (Will Patton), who is revealed to have stopped Dr. Samuel Loomis from killing Myers on Halloween 1978, teams up with Myers’ new psychiatrist (“the new Loomis”), Dr. Sartain, an odd little man preoccupied with what he considers his biggest failure in all of his time working to help Myers: he has never gotten his subject to speak. Not a single word.
In addition to being a scary and suspenseful movie worth the underwhelming sequels, it is a fun film. Homages to the original are sprinkled here and there, and help to relieve some of the tension. These little winks at fans come in forms as blatant as Laurie standing outside of her granddaughter’s classroom window as the Shape did in the first film, and as subtle as the father mentioning to Allyson that her boyfriend is the son of a man named Lonnie. Lonnie was a kid who bullied one of the kids who Laurie babysat in the first movie, a reference that I admittedly did not catch on to until reading another review. But there was a reference that I did instantly get when no one else in the theater laughed. At one point, during a trick-or-treating scene, a group of children can be seen running on the sidewalk wearing the masks that the villains manufactured (and the movie’s studio relentlessly advertised) in Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982), the franchises’s cult gem whose absurdity and bright color have spared it the scorn with which many view the series’ other entries. Also, not only is the movie fun for its references, but it is funny in its comedic moments, most likely courtesy of Eastbound & Down’s Danny McBride, who cowrote the script.
On the topic of borrowed items, it should be noted that the movie has learned from past projects and understands that there are salvageable elements from some of them that have worked to the franchise’s benefit. Along with pulling a number of ideas from the original, one can see in a brief poignant scene at the end of this movie the slight but effective humanizing that H2O (1998) applies to the villain, and in the movie’s in-your-face brutality that shocksploitation expert Rob Zombie brought in his two remakes. Even some of the music, written and performed by John Carpenter, marking his first direct involvement in a Halloween production since Season of the Witch, sounds to have been influenced partly by Zombie, with jarring guitar lines and rhythmic intensity.
It is not a great horror film. Though polished and refined on a large budget, this rebooted sequel is crass in comparison to the original. Skulls crack, tracheas crunch, swearwords fly, the nicest and most adorable characters are brutally murdered, and all of this seems somewhat effected after a while. There is an annoying, glaring inconsistency in the Myers character that does have a reasonable explanation, but that explanation is difficult to point out right away. It is only more frustrating when the viewer realizes that this inconsistency is a by-product of a gratuitous stab at shock value on the film’s part. Some alterations to the storyline of the previous sequels may not go over so well with fans, and I personally do not approve of all of them myself.
Even on its own, the movie has some substantial issues. The narrative is all over the place, and there really is no one character followed long or intently enough to be considered a main character, which denies the viewer full investment in anybody. Subplots appear and then disappear without supplying any resolution or justification for their existence in the first place, and the story is crawling with disposable characters. There is potential squandered for some of the more plot-essential characters. There is a twist that goes nowhere, and considering the small amount of time spent on it, that is not a spoiler. The twist exists with the sole purpose of getting a character from one place to another.
The latest Halloween succeeds, though, when all is said and done. It pleases the crowd. It rewards its fans. It reassures critics and consumers that the slasher sub-genre is not yet dead. There are just as many laughs as there are screams, and I will admit that for a standard slasher flick, the kills are rather unique, as unique as one can get with a knife. In keeping with the season, Myers destroys several of his victims with methods inspired by the various uses of pumpkins during the month of October. And the overall Halloween vibes are strong with this one, stronger than in the original, with more celebration and more illustration of the night’s festivities. David Gordon Green, the director of this movie, Washington, Joe, and Pineapple Express, can add another laudable entry to his eclectic filmography.
I am not a huge fan of the original, despite that I respect it as a groundbreaking work of cinema and look forward to watching it every October. I really only like the very beginning and the very end of the 1978 film, but I like these parts a lot. And I am able to sit through the whole middle without complaining because, even if I cannot get fully into it, the movie casts a spell on the audience that makes it just so engaging without very much having to happen. Little tidbits of trivia, like the extra who portrayed Myers for the one moment that he takes off his mask was just some kid who agreed to appear on camera for that one shot, and that no one involved in the production even remember the kid’s name, are just so curious to ponder.
The first film is commented upon in the new reboot. One tactless character mentions to Allyson that the slaughter of the Halloween 40 years ago pales in comparison to the present time, when mass shootings occur practically every other week. This nice bit of social commentary signals early on what the makers of this film strove to accomplish with their work, and what future installments should strive to do: elevate the terror, the suspense, and the violence in the new movie to make it just as horrifying today as the original was in 1978. It’s a new time, so we need a new kind of movie, and this one is a good start.