Review – Halloween

Michael Myers may very well be the single most frustrating villain in horror. Here’s a man who won’t speak (unless you count Rob Zombie’s first Halloween film, and I choose not to), whose face we never see, and who never changes. He is neither a repulsive, unhinged cannibal like Leatherface nor a wise-cracking showman like Freddy Krueger. Even Jason Vorhees has a vague “avenge Mommy” agenda that can be called motivation; Myers displays none. He just walks and kills. Narratively speaking, he is a dead end.

So it is a testament to the genius of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic movie, a master class in visual storytelling, that filmmakers have been chasing the man in the Captain Kirk mask for forty years, attempting to unearth new layers, motivation and mythology, largely to no avail. Michael Myers has, for these subsequent filmmakers, become a walking, slashing Rorschach test: he hates his sisters; he is connected to some kind of satanic cult; he grew up in an abusive, chaotic home (ok, I’m choosing to acknowledge Zombie’s efforts, just this once). Nine sequels served only to dilute and remove what made him so terrifying in the first place: namely, that there is no reason for the carnage he commits; he just does.  He just . . . is.

The new Halloween has one goal: to bring things back to square one. To that end, the film flat out ignores the events of all the previous sequels; they never happened and are waved off as silly folk tales. So no, Michael Myers is not the brother of our hero Laurie Strode. He is simply the monster who traumatized her. Even the decision to just name this film Halloween – no numerals, no subtitle – speaks to the idea that this is simply the continuation of the original story, as though both movies are, in fact, one epic tale of trauma and survival, split in half.

Even though the story is essentially the same as before – maniac escapes asylum, returns to his hometown, kills people – director David Gordon Green, working from a screenplay he wrote with Danny McBride, has opted to also make this a tale of how far off the path Laurie Strode has wandered over the course of four decades. The shy, quick-thinking teenager has hardened into a doomsday-prepping, gun-wielding survivalist who has cocooned herself in a heavily fortified compound, making sure to be absolutely ready for the eventuality of her tormentor’s return. Her trauma has defined her entire life, and has alienated her from everyone in her life, particularly her daughter and granddaughter.

I cannot overstate how much I loved Jamie Lee Curtis in this. She returns to the first movie character she ever played and convinces us that she has never stopped being Laurie Strode. The same vulnerability and fear are very much alive in her eyes, but they have been layered over by time, hatred and post traumatic stress disorder. She wears the horror of that forty-year-old nightmare like a flack jacket, but make no mistake: she is a fierce mother trucker who would love nothing more in this world than to put Myers down for good. “Force of nature” is overly used in describing exceptional performances, but man, when Curtis snaps into action she is Hurricane Jamie, reminding us why she is such a beloved entertainer.

Speaking of forces of nature: as for Michael Myers, Green makes the wise decision to leave him an enigma, with neither agenda nor backstory. If it’s Halloween, and if he’s not locked up somewhere, he will kill, simple as that. As for motivation, Green addresses the question of why with, “Does it matter why?” Michael is basically portrayed as a natural disaster in human form, and nobody ever stops to consider whether a tsunami was abused as a kid. And even though that leaves Michael narratively flat as an antagonist, the movie compensates by demonstrating how utterly catastrophic he can be. Decades of incarceration seem to only have made him exponentially more savage. And though the slasher genre has, over the decades, adopted a kind of gallow’s humor sensibility, whereby it has become a cheap thrill to see the villain creatively murder unlikable or uninteresting victims (they are less victim than cannon fodder, really), the kills in Halloween are particularly brutal and awful. The script does such a good job of getting us invested in this world that each death hits a lot harder than they would in a lesser film.

On the subject of the killings, that was, for me, the weakest aspect of the movie, but purely from a story standpoint. The film goes a little slack once Michael ramps up the carnage, because it seems to forget Laurie’s story altogether for a time, and I may as well have been watching any of the lesser sequels. Let me be clear: if you’re a so-called gore hound, these sequences may very well be the highlight for you. But for a film that does such a good job of developing its story and characters, it seems to pause for the sake of satisfying horror fans’ bloodlust for a hot minute or fifteen while the actual story is getting its third act set up elsewhere. Again, this is a slasher film, so your expectations from this genre will likely determine how much you enjoy the escalating body count.

I am probably not in the demographic that this film aims for – I watched Halloween II in a theater if that gives you any indication – so maybe I’m just a cranky old “get off my lawn” kind of HeroMonster. But overall, Halloween is a rousing, nerve-wracking entertainment. Like the best Disney cartoons, it has a little something for everyone: spectacle for the young ones, and something substantial for the older folks to chew on.

Lastly, even though I’m certain Green and McBride did not set out with this in mind, the timeliness of Halloween’s themes adds another layer of impact to Laurie Strode’s story. In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, this serves as a powerful parable about how much of a struggle it can be for women who have survived assault to return to any kind of normalcy. Laurie becomes a primal screaming emblem for the need to retake control of one’s life; again, Jamie Lee Curtis proves herself a national treasure with this role (not that that ever needed proving).

Halloween has got a lot going on, and even if it stalls a little bit in spots, it is nonetheless a strong and distinctive addition to the franchise canon, all other sequels be damned (well, all except Halloween III: Season of the Witch; that thing is bug-nuts insane, but that’s a spook story for another time).

HeroMonsterMatt

Raised by a TV, schooled in the deadly art of Sketch Fu, and fueled by a thirst for justice, and Newcastle, HeroMonsterMatt dons his purple cowl and turquoise cape, descends from his belfry and, armed with an iPad and man-bag, dishes out hot takes and trivia on an unsuspecting online community, striking fear into the hearts of trolls and haters everywhere!

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