John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” released in 1978, is not a perfect film (as none really are), but I believe it has one major attribute that has allowed it to endure for the past four decades — restraint.
“Halloween 2018,” as we all may be forced to call it for the rest of our lives, does not possess that same restraint. For fans of the original, this film will largely be a mixed bag, in which those elements of the film that are interesting, and do work, suffer as a consequence of the film’s shortcomings.
It’s worth discussing the film’s strengths, because most of them are things the movie had to get right.
For starters, Jamie Lee Curtis is absolutely awesome in this film; so good, in fact, that most scenes she’s absent from are somewhat frustrating. The approach to Laurie Strode in this film was the huge marketing drive in all the trailers — what happens to a person that experiences great trauma, who is then bandaged up, sent on their way, and just told to “get over it”? What happens when a brain affected by trauma is never medicated or cared for properly? What measures will that brain take to fight against that trauma, delusional or otherwise?
That is the situation we find ourselves in with Laurie in “Halloween 2018,” and it’s fascinating. What they’ve done with Laurie here is a logical progression of the victim arc that horror sequels have never cared to explore, and Curtis is a strong enough actress to sell all the pathos and PTSD rage written for her. She’s the best part of the movie, and is easily enough to carry this story all on her own. Sadly, she’s not permitted to do that — more on that in a moment.
The look and portrayal of Michael Myers are on point in this film as well, maybe serving up the best portrayal of Myers since 1978. In a franchise full of interpretations of the character, this one felt most aligned with the original film, and it was very easy to believe this was the same man that terrorized Laurie Strode 40 years prior. He’s threatening in a way that isn’t lumbering or comical, which many installments in the franchise fail to capture.
The film’s score, composed by John Carpenter himself, is appropriately atmospheric and eerie. The film’s cinematography is well-composed and mostly beautiful to look at, especially the Halloween night scenes, as Myers prowls a street filled with trick-or-treaters. I’d also give commendations for the pared-down nature of the film’s final 30 minutes, which features the battle between Strode and Myers that everyone was paying to witness. It’s easily the strongest third act of any Halloween sequel.
Those are the film’s primary strengths, and when you think about it, they’re enough to put a great trailer together and get butts into seats. Unfortunately, the movie’s failings are all the things smartly excised from the trailers.
First of those failings is the film’s overabundance of characters. It’s understandable what the filmmakers were doing here — not only did they want plenty of bodies for Michael to stab, but they also wanted to appeal to those demographics who wouldn’t care about some crazy, old lady named Laurie. Those extra characters, which include Laurie’s daughter and granddaughter, the daughter’s husband, several snide teenagers, two investigative journalists, multiple law enforcement officers, a new doctor, children being babysat, and on and on and on, bog down the movie’s tone and pace considerably.
I can’t help but assume this was some kind of studio note — that we need a few teenage characters and such to appeal to young demographics, but a.) that’s really insulting to younger viewers, and b.) the film is rated R, so younger viewers mostly aren’t allowed in, anyway. Why bother with things the people don’t want OR need?
There are entire scenes with these new characters that could be cut from the film without any consequence. Not just a moment or two — we’re talking a good 20 minutes of the film that don’t even need to be there. That’s not something that can be said about “Halloween 1978,” which had a purpose for every character it featured and needed every one of its scenes to function.
Second of this film’s failings are strange comedy beats throughout that completely sabotage the film’s suspenseful momentum. I suspected these were due to the involvement of producer Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green, who both had a strong foothold in the world of comedy before taking on the property. The fact that Green has never directed horror before is very apparent in these moments.
“Halloween 2018” features jokes that hit literally as people are being attacked, which is completely dissonant from the tone established in the original film. There’s nothing wrong with relief when placed properly (though I admit, as a fan, that I’d prefer to never crack a smile once Myers starts killing), but “Halloween 2018” misses way, way more than it hits on that front.
And third of the film’s failings, perhaps worst of all, is that the movie’s never all that scary. This isn’t to say the movie is unengaging, but it does seem as though these filmmakers don’t have the maturity to build a natural escalation of suspense without losing focus within a few scenes. That’s part of the nuance that “Halloween 1978” had in spades — John Carpenter was smart enough to know that gore and jump scares weren’t the tasteful way to keep the viewer hooked, and that investment in the safety of the characters was. If you want to leave an impact in a positive way, concern outdoes carnage every time. On these terms, “Halloween 1978” keeps ratcheting upward until its very last scene.
“Halloween 2018” relies too greatly on splatter moments and unearned jump scares throughout most of its runtime to have such an impact. There are no less than four “gotcha” moments of characters jumping in from off-screen to startle the viewer, which isn’t a fair way to treat people who have paid for a horror experience. As far as the gore is concerned, it’s effective in the moment but ultimately doesn’t fit, considering that this is a follow-up to a largely bloodless original.
“Halloween 2018” is okay, and probably worth experiencing once, but it’s going to prove herky-jerky for true fans. The experience is a little like discovering the best burger in the world is served in your hometown by a very charming cook, but it’s inside a filthy dive bar with several very annoying patrons that won’t leave.
The ending of the film is admittedly conclusive, and frankly warrants that no other films in this franchise should be made (certainly not within this continuity, at least). Ideally, the franchise should be permitted to go out with, not so much a bang, but a modest pop, and be laid to rest with dignity. Something tells me, though, that evil will always find its way back home.