Critic’s Notebook: 2018’s HALLOWEEN and the curse of the annoyed fan
James C. Clay // Film Critic
Full disclosure: I did see and review this film at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September (which you can read here), and I stand by the words I wrote and the feelings I felt. But one can’t help but recognize the gripes that may accompany subsequent viewings. It’s a tough headspace to navigate once the rose-colored glasses of film festivals are removed.
For genre fans, Michael Myers belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of icons that have crossed over into mainstream consciousness. The HALLOWEEN series has gone through 11 films, and I believe four different timelines. It really is the “choose your own adventure” of horror films.
2018’s HALLOWEEN has had immense success and is legit, a fun movie-going experience with veteran filmmaker David Gordon Green (STRONGER and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) behind the camera. The franchise hasn’t had a filmmaker with this level of skill since Rick Rosenthal directed HALLOWEEN II back in ’81. There is cause for celebration for the sequels. Many of these films do have half-baked ideas and plot holes, but there is much to discuss if you decide to take a deep dive into the mythology – and you should!
The new HALLOWEEN is the third film in the series to share this title and the first to outright ignore all of the sequels. No brother/sister connection between Michael and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). No Satanic cults and, thankfully, no Busta Rhymes (That’s for all you HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION lovers out there).
Telling a generational story about survivors coming to grips with their trauma is a welcomed thread that falls by the wayside so many times in the film’s narrative structure. There is a blueprint within the framework of the narrative that allows horror, comedy and social commentary to operate on the same spectrum, yet as the film progresses, the splintering becomes abundantly clear. Living up to a legacy is tough for any sequel/remake, especially when the creators are tied to their own fandom (but are looking to tell their own stories). Separating those two notions of artist and fan is likely incredibly difficult for creators to navigate through.
The thing is, if you are going to bring back Jamie Lee Curtis (again), it better be the best film in the franchise since the original. In my typical film reviews, I have used the phrase “all dressed up with nowhere to go” a few times, and this is a project that embodies that notion. It has the artistic talent behind the camera – including horror producing maestro Jason Blum funding the project and John Carpenter bringing a new vicious score – but this is a film that suffers an identity crisis and a porous plotting that echoes the same problems as other entries. It’s irksome when the hype train leaves the station before anybody can even get their peepers on the final product. Liking and being annoyed with this film simultaneously has become a three-month long struggle between the head and the heart.
Being a fan of these films is tricky business. It’s easier to forgive the shortcomings of HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS, for example, due to budget constraints and just the overall tone of horror films at that time. Despite that, the film found its own identity, and it legit has one of the best horror endings of all time. It’s frustrating for a self-proclaimed “Halloweenie” such as myself to have all of those films exorcized from the cannon by the new crop of artists who are coming in an claiming that those previous entries “didn’t even happen.” This was essentially a marketing tool to get butts in seats and to make the claim that this is the definitive HALLOWEEN sequel. It’s Hollywood, so the fake veneer of the present tense will always take precedent over the past. Personally, I think HALLOWEEN: H20 was the perfect send-off for Laurie and Michael’s story, one that captured the trauma of survivors and provided catharsis for those affected by the blade of the Shape. But at the same time… Give me more Michael Myers and give him to me now!
For all the quibbles and knits that accompany 2018’s HALLOWEEN, the creative team did a lot of things well. You can see every dollar on screen. It’s a luscious film that embodies the autumnal glow of late October and will be a film that will be rewatched. However, there are setups with no payoffs and odd tonal issues with comedy bits. Those moments of laughter happen in inappropriate spots and nearly undercut all the horror that was set up in previous scenes. And let’s never mention Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) again.
When I reviewed the film back in September, I commented on the brutality of Michael Myers. You see that on screen and parts of the film surprisingly harken back to the violence of the two Rob Zombie films. It leads me to think that, for better or for worse, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Co. wanted to make a hodgepodge of all of the films right down to a scene that calls remembrance to the “Keystone Cops” from HALLOWEEN 5. It features two patrolmen on Halloween night discussing Bahn-Mi sandwiches while a slew of murders are plaguing Haddonfield. Yet, the filmmakers are instructing the fanbase to “forget the sequels.”
You lose a certain satisfaction when you try to please everybody and, even though this is just one person’s take, directors must manage tone. The line of dialogue, “There’s peanut butter on my penis!,” doesn’t really belong in a movie where a thunderous score is playing as a preteen is being murdered by a 61-year-old murderer who is supposed to be evil incarnate.
HALLOWEEN (2018) exists and ,by and large, it can be a fun viewing experience. I know that I did enjoy sitting at home with my loved ones watching this film. As much as it pains me to say this, at some point the shape must evaporate, never to be seen again.
HALLOWEEN (2018) is available today on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.