A promotional image from Halloween (2018). Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Review: Halloween (2018)

Michael Meyers is back again, but is he still as deadly?

The Halloween series is an odd beast; The original Halloween from 1978 is such an amazingly good film that it managed to prop up seven sequels, a remake, a sequel to the remake, and a spin-off. Along the way there was Celtic witches, family curses, babbling hillbillies, brain-dead reality shows, and a trove of other nonsensical additions added in the following entries, with none of them coming anywhere close to being as effectively terrifying and tonally agonising. Much like 1998’s Halloween H20, 2018’s Halloween seeks to strip back the superfluous and and resurrect the biting tension that made Michael Meyers a household name, and this time it is successful. Not entirely and not without stumbling, but this Halloween is the first in a long time that really captures that ever-present menace and even manages to bring up issues on trauma in organic manner.

The biggest problem with the film is it’s having a clear identity crisis, not entirely sure if it want’s to ape the style of the original or move in it’s own direction. The film at times mirrors John Carpenter’s with the com positioning featuring heavy shadowing and abundant use of negative space and the audio dropping out almost entirely to create a tangible fearfulness, but there’s also points where the camera goes handheld and there’s a lot of movement and a very busy frame. To director David Gordon Green’s credit both of these styles work in their own right, though to varying degrees, and when the movie sticks with one for long enough the effect is noticeable, but they’re too often mixed and don’t function in tandem which often results in confusing progression and stunting the violence. The violence is another element which works very well at times but then fails completely at others. For the most part it’s actually quite subdued with Michael opting more for blunt force trauma or quick stabs than anything with too much flourish, but there’s a few kills which are cartoonishly gruesome and are clearly there to serve as fan-service. It’d be fine if they wren’t so tonally jarring, but while the film does a decent job of re-creating the quiet tension of the original it kills it with some big musical sting or played out death. There are a few nods to the original with some re-created shots and echoed plot points, but they work thematically and don’t stand out out as references.

The best parts of the film are the slower more pronounced sections, specifically the first and last third of the film and in particular the section which focus on Laurie Strode. Jaime Lee Curtis is fantastic here as a much more lethal Strode who manages to express deep vulnerability without sacrificing the agency of her character, and her scenes in the film’s climax are far and away the best parts. Her daughter Karen, played by Judy Greer, also has a rich characterisation and a real beleivability and agency to her, and while she’s not utilised as much she works well with Laurie. The rest of the cast are serviceable, but the writing is spotty when it comes to the minor characters. The teenagers are teenagers, and while the parts are well acted and they’re not the hyper-stereotypes of the Friday the 13th series they don’t serve much more function than being murder fodder. Will Patton is underutilised as Officer Hawkins, giving a solid performance despite not being given much to do except be part of a particularly egregious plot point that reeks of writers David Gordon Green and Danny McBride getting themselves out of a hole. Nick Castle’s movement work is phenomenal, and he again demonstrates that indelible rigidity that’s come to define the character. The soundtrack is among the film’s best elements, and Carpenter infuses his stark original score with some modern dance elements that fit the pace of the film to a tee, and do wonders for the tone when the film slows down.

There’s far too many flat attempts at humour and far too much genre fare for Halloween to be more than a good slasher, but when the film works it works to an outstanding degree. With a tighter edit and some more focused direction it could’ve been among the better horror films of the decade as it captures some of what made the original great while confidently mixing in it’s own ideas, but ultimately there’s too many things that go wrong. It’s almost definitely the best Halloween sequel, but that really isn’t saying too much. Worth seeing for the climax alone.

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