John Carpenter’s Halloween was a minimalist masterpiece with an effortlessly versatile central antagonist. He was as much an unconscious manifestation of male aggression to the central heroine, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), as he was the proverbial bogeyman- walking among the unsuspecting denizens of (every town) Haddonfield. Commonly credited as Michael Myers (or The Shape to the attentive viewer), the slasher villain would go on to appear in over a dozen instalments; including a remake, several reboots, and even a reality television plot starring Busta Rhymes.
The 2018 entry is a clear-cut separation from the franchise’s past, instead choosing to pick up forty years after Carpenter’s 1978 film. Strode is now an overbearing and ultra-paranoid elderly woman who lies in wait for Myers’s return. The babysitter killer has been incarcerated for a considerable amount of time and is due to be transferred to a maximum-security prison, along with a large assortment of inmates. Unsurprisingly, the bus of inmates is let loose and Myers returns to the humble town he once wreaked havoc upon. Laurie’s relatives: including estranged daughter- Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter- Allyson (Andi Matichak); as well as a new generation of teens are the unsuspecting victims that stand between Laurie and Michael’s final confrontation.
The 2018 iteration occupies a strange middle ground between the sense of mystery that permeated Carpenter’s film, and the streak of sadism that defined many of its imitators. The result is an often safe feeling film that attempts to harmonise subgenre thrills and homage. In some cases, this results in some inspired scenes. Through an extensive lack of cuts and a literal fog-engulfed atmosphere: one extended sequence depicting a young boy and his father stumbling upon the bus of inmates is as effective as Myers’s escape scene from the original picture.
However, for every chilling depiction of Myers, there exists a pointless sequence of gruesome carnage that feels like it belongs in a cheap knock-off picture. These sequences are particularly egregious when they are serving the film’s clumsy attempt at keeping the mystery of the Shape alive.
In the wake of Dr Samuel Loomis’s death (Myers’s longstanding psychiatrist in the first film), Dr Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) takes over. While Loomis was obsessed with the idea that his patient was the epitome of evil, Sartain is fixated with finding out the impulses that drive Myers’s desire for killing. Before his death, Sartain is trying to get Michael to speak and asks him to say something. This is met with a boot to the head and a squashed bloody head.
The character made me feel as though I was watching a performance from a latter-day Boris Karloff- slumming it as a sleazy, mad capped eighties parody of a psychiatrist. His death is the film’s way of wearing the sadistic clothes of its subgenre brethren in an attempt to desperately keep the motiveless Myers alive. As much as the original picture had an undeniable belief in the supernatural figure that could exist in the corner of your eye, Halloween (2018) emphatically bludgeons anyone who asks for meaning.
In other instances, this tendency plays like a post-modern response to the original film’s tamer (by modern standards) death count. At one point, a teen character says “A couple of people getting killed by one guy with a knife is not that big of a deal.”
Elsewhere, the film has the promise of a fulfilling dramatic story involving the effect that the traumatic Myers’s Halloween incident has had on Laurie’s life. However, the screenplay never reconciles the disparate (fragile, paranoid and eventual resilient) qualities of the character. It’s a credit to Curtis’s touching and tough performance that some semblance of humanity is wrung out of what feels like an interesting series of sketches for an aged Laurie Strode.
In spite of all this, the film has some clear merits. There is some fun to be had from the playful cinematic callbacks to the original film that usually frames Laurie in the places that Michael was. The score: Composed by Carpenter in collaboration with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies wonderfully adds an element of time to the established themes. The music also excellently blurs the line between sound design and symphonic score. And there are a few instances in which some of the secondary characters are written with a rare authenticity that reminds you of director David Gordon Green’s independent roots.
Ultimately, the 2018 film has the most in common with Halloween II (1981), insofar as its virtues exist in the small and quiet moments that are deeply embedded within the main narrative. Crucially, they both indulge in the worse instincts of the slasher genre. Whereas Rick Rosenthal’s picture was a clear embracing of the trend for commercialism, Halloween’s (2018) swim in the subgenre pool is an unnecessary anachronism.