New Review: 'Halloween' (2018)
Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton, Andi Matichak, Virginia Gardener, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, Toby Huss, Nick Castle, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, Drew Scheid, Jibrail Nantambu, James Jude Courtney
Prior to seeing David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween, I did get a chance to see the original 1978 classic in theaters thanks to Flashback Cinema. While that film did have some cheesy acting, the film’s ability to shock and terrify is just as strong now as it was back then. Nobody talks about the “cool kills” in that film (except for maybe the character Bob’s, which features the iconic shot of Michael tilting his head as he looks at Bob’s hanging body) because the film was more about atmosphere and the characters than it was having a high body count.
It was also extremely well-written. There was real warmth in the scenes between Laurie Strode and the young boy she babysat, Tommy Doyle. There was that genuine “Oh s**t” moment involving a car door that was locked one second but then mysteriously unlocked the next. There was that chilling long shot of Michael carrying Annie’s body into a house, which was scored by music from the 1950s film The Thing From Another World as it played on the TV. The monologue delivered by Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) was just so fantastically acted and written. Even the scene where Laurie tries desperately to get Tommy to open door while Michael walks after her still gets under my skin, and I’ve seen the movie too many times to count.
Then, there was Michael himself, who was scary not only because there was no reason behind his madness, but also because he was very unpredictable. He took his time with many of his victims, and we would see him the background of some sublimely composed deep-focus shots watching his unaware victims going about their daily lives. It added to the film’s atmosphere of dread and unease, and the atmosphere was so strong that it made it all the more jarring when Michael finally went in for the kill.
There were many sequels that followed (one which didn’t even feature Michael in it) and two wholly unnecessary remakes, and while I did enjoy Halloween II from 1981, the others movies were either forgettable or just plain awful. When critics started singing their praises for Green’s movie (which ignores every sequel after the original and starts over from scratch) and called the movie "the true sequel that fans of the original have been waiting for," words could not even begin to describe how excited I was. I went in expecting to join both the critics and audiences in celebrating what was sure to be a new horror classic. What I got instead was a gruesome, unscary, and bland slasher effort.
There are things about the movie worth praising. Jamie Lee Curtis is damned good as a PTSD-stricken Laurie Strode, and she’s given many opportunities to show her considerable acting talent (like a family gathering at a restaurant where she breaks down in tears). There’s also a side character named Julian, played by Jibrail Nantambu, who not only scores a couple of very big laughs, but whose scenes between him and his babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardener) do bring to mind some of the aforementioned scenes between Laurie and Tommy in the first movie (unfortunately, they don’t last very long).
Had the movie given more focus to Laurie Strode (who’s in and out of the movie quite a bit), or at least more scenes between Vicky and Julian, I might have found the movie to be more engaging. Unfortunately, this is just another teen slasher movie with the same boring and unlikable characters that we’ve seen in films like this, with story threads that end exactly how we would expect them to. Take the subplot involving Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold), which payoffs rather predictably with a scene at a prom. I didn’t care about the payoff because I didn’t care about the characters, and it doesn’t take Oscar-caliber screenwriting to make an audience care about characters in a slasher film.
The film begins with two podcasters Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees) visiting Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to interview Michael before he’s transferred to another facility that’s described as hell on earth. In order to get Michael to say something or react in some way, Aaron pulls out the exact same mask he wore 40 years ago, which he got because he “has a friend in the Attorney General’s office.” (uh-huh) The next night, the bus transferring Michael crashes, and Michael heads back to Haddonfield to go on a far more vicious killing spree.
His first scene back in Haddonfield is incredibly disappointing. After two trick-or-treating kids bump into him on the street, Michael walks into a tool shed behind a house, grabs a hammer, and goes inside a house and kills a woman. Then, he grabs a butcher knife, exits the house, enters another house, and kills another woman there. There’s no build-up, no suspense, and no thrill. It’s just the camera following Michael around as he kills two random women. It’s a case of violence over atmosphere and scares.
Judy Greer is unusually miscast as Laurie’s estranged daughter Karen, who was taken from her mother when she was 12, and talks about her troubled childhood with her daughter in a shockingly poorly acted scene (although to be fair, Greer does have one admittedly neat moment during the climax). Toby Huss plays Karen’s husband Ray, an extremely annoying character who’s introduced setting up mouse traps and talking about accidentally getting peanut butter on his penis in front of his wife and daughter. I think this was supposed to be funny, but it really wasn’t. Will Patton plays a police officer on the hunt for Michael, but his character doesn’t really go anywhere.
The worst of the new characters is hands down Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), Michael’s new doctor and a protege of Dr. Loomis (at one point, Laurie refers to him as “The new Loomis”). For the most part, his character exists to provide some heavy-handed exposition, until the movie reveals a very bizarre twist with his character that goes absolutely nowhere, and features a shot of him that actually made me groan out loud (it would have been unintentionally funny were it not so cringe-worthy).
Some of the best moments during the second half of the movie are the ones that pay tribute to the first (there’s a shot that pays homage to the first film’s final scene, but with a new twist), but even those scenes are not at all scary. In fact, all of Michael’s attacks are not only not scary, they’re just very gory. There’s one scene where Michael flattens a man’s head with a single stomp of his foot. There’s another scene where one character thinks he sees a lighted pumpkin inside a cop car, and it turns out to be...well, it’s not a pumpkin. If there was any effort to build any suspense or tension, I wouldn't have cared about the excessive gore and would've just gone for the ride. But Michael is not the patient man he once was. He’s far too eager to mutilate, strangle and decapitate his victims this time, and the filmmakers are a little too eager to see him do it.
There’s even a moment where a young boy gets brutally murdered by Michael in this film, but again, it would have worked if there was any suspense. Even Halloween II made more of an effort than this movie does. Instead, Halloween 2018 just goes for the gore, and all of it is directed at characters we really don’t care about. I wanted so very much to love this movie. I was even thinking about how I would start what I assumed would be a 3-½ or 4-star review as I took my seat in the theater. Sadly, in the end, I hated this movie so very much. I would rather watch the Rick Rosenthal directed 1981 film ten more times than an eighth of this movie one more time.
Final Grade: * ½ (out of ****)
Rated R for strong violence, gore, profanity, brief drug use and nudity, and some scenes of teens making out.