"Halloween" (2018) Review
It’s the best sequel in the series.
That’s not exactly a high bar to clear though, especially when you consider that this newest film is technically the eleventh one of these (including the Rob Zombie remakes). The Halloween franchise is a total and complete mess, one that I’m not going to unpack here. I’ll briefly say for the uninitiated that it’s one of the most confusing franchises ever, with some sequels ignoring specific movies and others retconning a movie while still saying parts of another happened. It’s all very silly, but what this movie does right out of the gate is the smart move: It ignores every single movie except for the original Halloween from 1978.
It gives David Gordon Green, the film’s director, the room he needs to make the kind of sequel that was attempted twenty years ago with Steve Miner’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, a new and improved showdown between the original film’s survivor, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and legendary serial murderer Michael Myers (played in the newest film by Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney). But where Halloween H20 was shackled by Laurie Strode being Michael Myers long lost sister, this newest film throws that out the window since that was introduced in Halloween II.
In this film, Laurie Strode is a mess. She’s alienated her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and the community of Haddonfield, Illinois completely as she’s dedicated her entire life to prepping for Michael Myers’ wrath should he escape. The forty year long obsession has ruined her life, her only visitors being the occasional conversation with Allyson (without Karen’s knowledge) and recently a pair of true crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), looking to investigate Michael Myers’ psyche before he’s transferred to a new facility.
But the transfer goes wrong, and Michael Myers is on the loose, forty years to the day of his previous killing spree. And this time, Laurie Strode is not going to let Michael be captured. He will die, no matter what it takes.
The most surprising thing about this movie for me is how much care and attention is put into establishing the relationships between Laurie, Karen, and Allyson. The film is about a slasher on the loose, but it’s just as much about how trauma bleeds into generations, how the actions of evil men wipe out hope for years to come. A bit more time focused into this aspect could have made this a truly incredible horror film, but there’s enough in here to make the plot line incredibly effective.
Another surprising aspect, assuming you don’t pay attention to the opening credits, is how damn funny parts of this movie are. Believe it or not, Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride) is one of the screenwriters, and the laughs are not poorly placed. The funny scenes are fantastic, and there’s one bit of comedic relief in the middle of the movie that might be the best of its kind that I’ve seen in a long time.
What might not surprise you though is that this movie is violent. The kills are absolutely brutal and the make-up used to achieve them is superb. One sequence in particular, a long-take that follows Michael through several houses, is gruesome and horrifying in a way that feels like it’s paying homage to some of the better parts of the bad sequels that this movie ignores. The scares that back up the gore are here too, with some truly nail-biting sequences throughout, but especially when the inevitable confrontation between Michael and Laurie kicks into high gear.
This all backed up by fantastic cinematography (especially for that long-take scene) and great music from John Carpenter himself, backed up by his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies. In fact, this movie leans on a lot of Carpenter’s legacy period, even showing some footage from the original movie. Shockingly, the movie has plenty of fan service and references to the previous films this movie ignores (including Halloween III: Season of the Witch, strangely enough), but none of it feels badly placed or over-the-top. It’s the good kind of fan service where it actually makes sense for the scene to go the way it goes all while tipping a hat to horror fans.
Now, from reading all of that, you might assume that I’d put this on the level of the original movie, a true new horror classic that builds on the original. And it does build on the original in ways that preserves that film’s simplicity and its antagonist’s pure vision of mischievous evil.
There’s a catch though.
There is a character in this movie that only exists as a screenwriting shortcut to set up confrontations throughout the film, and to say which character it is and why it’s a problem would be a massive spoiler. The character is well performed, but it’s not quite enough to distract from what feels like a fairly large misstep in the overall movie. I wish they’d found another way to tell this story without leaning on a screenplay shortcut like this, and it’s a bit disappointing.
But I’m not going to lie when I say that the screenplay shortcut is worth it to get to the film’s third act, the previously mentioned showdown between not only Laurie and Michael, but with support from Karen and Allyson. The ends justify the means here, but just barely. If the subplot was even a smidge worse, it could have torpedoed the whole movie, and I’m willing to bet that most negative reactions you’ll see to this movie are going to hinge on that, and honestly, I can’t blame anyone for being mad about it.
For me though? I had an absolute blast with Halloween, despite its one major flaw. It has the horror, it has the kills, it has the gore, it has the unexpected humor, it has the supremely confident filmmaking, it has the committed actors, and it has the music. It’s so close to complete greatness, but falls just short of that by taking a few too many cheap shortcuts to get to the ending we’ve always wanted.
Happy Halloween, Michael.