August 18, 2019

A Brief Review of Halloween (2018)

The original Halloween (1978) is one of my favorite horror films. Even though I could do without most of the sequels, I've always regarded it as a near-perfect example of the genre. When I first heard that they were going to release yet another Halloween film in 2018, I was far from eager to see it. Rob Zombie had already done his best to butcher the original with his 2007 version, and I wasn't interested in any more of this. Why put myself through yet another take on the classic when I could just re-watch the classic yet again? I decided I was going to skip it and avoid reading anything about it.

In a moment of weakness, I ended up watching Halloween (2018) recently, and I thought I'd share some impressions. Overall, it was better than I expected, but I could not shake the feeling that it was largely a pointless exercise. It wasn't scary or even particularly engaging, and it did nothing to advance the Halloween franchise. It was not a bad film. It was just a film for which there was no reason except that the studios decided they could make money by making it.

Speaking of the franchise, Halloween (2018) hit the reset button by placing the audience in an alternate universe where none of the sequels happened. We have to imagine that the events from the first Halloween film took place and then 40 years passed with the Michael Myers character locked up before the events depicted in this film. I thought this was the right decision; however, it asked a lot of the audience. For this to work, those of us who have seen all the sequels countless times had to deliberately try to forget them. I did not find that easy.

As the film opens, we learn that Myers has spent the 40 years since the original events in a secure psychiatric hospital where we are supposed to think he has been studied by experts even though he has remained mute the entire time. I guess that works if one doesn't think too much about it. We also learn that the Lorie Strode character played by Jamie Lee Curtis in both films is now a grandmother and has never gotten over the traumatic events to which she was subjected in the first film. She is estranged from her daughter's family, and they perceive her as paranoid. Curtis and those cast as her family all turned it adequate performances, but nobody really stood out.

The best exchange in the film happened toward the beginning, long before we see Myers or Strode. A small group of teenagers, including Strode's granddaughter, are talking about the Myers murders from 40 years ago. One says something about how he isn't sure what all the fuss is about. Five people were murdered by a guy with a knife. That was a big deal at the time but seems almost trivial by today's standards. He was right. Perhaps this struck a nerve with me because of the recent El Paso and Dayton shootings, but it would have had the same effect if I had seen the film when it was released in 2018 or even in 2017 when this dialogue might have been written. We never seem to be more than a few weeks from the next mass shooting.

As you would expect, Myers escapes during a transfer from one hospital to another, returns to Haddonfield, and does what he does. His kills are quicker and more brutal compared to the first film. I found myself thinking back to the bit of dialogue I mentioned above and wondering whether the filmmakers were struggling with how to affect modern audiences with a knife-wielding killer who seems harmless compared to someone with modern weapons. Unfortunately, the actors who played Myers were among the weakest aspects of the casting. Even with the mask on, the size and shape of his body just didn't look right. He was tall but too thin to be sufficiently imposing. This took me out of the film a couple of times.

Although the Strode character has supposedly devoted that last 40 years of her life training to face Myers when he returns, she makes so many mistakes when he returns that this premise collapses. Myers nearly kills her a second into their initial confrontation because she has her face pressed up against the glass windows in her front door. This was yet another example where things unravel. The audience is asked to believe that Strode is a bad-ass capable of setting up extremely complicated security systems to dispatch Myers while simultaneously accepting that she commits one horror cliche after another. They tried to have it both ways, and it failed miserably.

Effective horror sucks viewers into the story and allows them to temporarily suspend disbelief. This film failed to do that. There was little reason to engage with the film and far too many instances where something would take the viewer out of the film. In some respects, I felt like I was watching a movie about Halloween movies rather than a Halloween movie. There wasn't enough there with which to engage. The tone of the original was what made it so effective, and that was largely absent here. There was no suspense. Even the couple of shots aiming to show Myers stalking his victims fell flat.

In spite of everything I've said above, Halloween (2018) was not a terrible film. It was better than many of the sequels, although I would definitely put Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch ahead of it. It had some nostalgic appeal in the sense that it provided fans of the original with an opportunity to return to Haddonfield without all the sequels and to see Laurie Strode again. I think that might be worth something to some viewers. But in the end, Halloween (2018) still struck me as "pointless." It felt too much like something we'd already seen, did not contribute anything new to the franchise, and did not manage to be scary. It was a film we didn't need.