Synopsis: Laurie Strode (Jamie-Lee Curtis) has gone insane, and has spent the last forty years hardening herself and her home so that when Myers no doubt escapes, she is more than ready to deal with him.
Unsettlingly, this is not the first Halloween sequel to be called merely Halloween. So, as I anticipate comparisons aplenty, I shall notate the original as 1978 and this new entry as 2018.
What on earth would a therapist say about that impulse, to call themselves merely Halloween? It’s almost Oedipal. Or self-castrating. And what would that same therapist say about the worryingly common desire of these films to erase one another? Almost every new undertaking founds its own ‘time-line’, jettisoning the baggage of every mis-step taken before it. 2018, for example, denies the decades of familial in-fighting and self-abuse, and the existence of every film but the first. This is not the behaviour of a contented franchise. Friday the 13th seems positively nuclear in comparison.
One thing to be said for 2018 is that it goes some way to re-simplify the family name. Though it’s nowhere near as pure as 1978, I think it’s the closest yet. No mothers or brothers or visions of white horses (Zombie’s 2007). Its desire to entertainment is old-fashioned in that way. It is also worth noting, that 2018 is the first iteration since Season of the Witch (1982) that the patriarch himself, Carpenter, has condoned.
And yet, stood next to 1978, 2018 is shockingly flabby. 1978 achieved a Rear Window-level of lean – by which I mean the extraordinarily strict physical and dramatic architecture becomes the story. The majority of the action plays out within one hundred-metre radius of wide, tree-lined streets and white houses with porches, every inch of which seemed like an indispensable character. An atmosphere yet unmatched in horror cinema. See how the camera always stays back as Strode walks away, and lets the suburban pavement stretch out forever. And see just how many images of ‘normal’ houses Carpenter fits in. The expressionless, white faces of the houses seem to rhyme with Myers’ expressionless, white mask so that the whole of suburbia becomes him. Note the final montage houses, over which lies just the sound of Myers’ hot breath.
Whereas, here in 2018, all sense of torsion is gone. The film is loose and easily-distracted. The Bonny and Clyde and the cheating boyfriend; the sinfully ill-advised opening half-hour about two British podcasters who do nothing then die. Indeed, the whole of Strode’s extended family is a distraction. We are dropped into an array of scenarios, each with an entirely different tone. The threat is punctured by the rampant gore; the gore is punctured by the undercuts of comedy; and the comedy is punctured by remembering this is an Halloween movie. The most diverting scene involves an excellent child-actor named Jibrail Nantambu, who refuses to go to sleep before the babysitter checks his room for the bogeyman. But it’s so stunningly out of place in film paying homage to 1978, one wonders if Green wouldn’t have rather made Scary Movie VI.
This is not to say comedy and horror cannot overlap with happy results. But I kept remembering the stoic, stony face of 1978 and its version of Strode, and how noble and concerted their efforts were not to crack a single smile throughout. There is no humanity in 1978, which should, I suppose, make it a feeble movie, but indeed is the source of its radicalism. The human element of 1978 is totally unaddressed. Motive and behaviour remain totally unaccounted for (most notably, Myers’ obsession with Strode) – and this opens up the film as space for almost pure play. The joy of 1978 is its illogical, almost surreal sense of fatalism (note the subject of study in both 1978’s and 2018’s classroom scenes), and absolute, un-negotiable chaos. Ebert, writing on Halloween night of 1978, said of the original, ‘We aren’t seeing the movie, we’re having it happen to us.’ Yet we negotiate 2018 with ease, as we would any other movie. Highly un-radical.
Comparison is not a healthy method of criticism. But when a film compares itself constantly and un-ironically to its progenitor, I feel it is permissible to do the same. Particularly so, because some of the film’s most interesting moments revolve around the film’s troublesome relationship with its own history. Most puzzlingly of all are the shots that Green steals and mocks-up from 1978 – famous, traumatising compositions from the horror sub-conscious – but replaces Myers with Strode. It’s Strode who stands across the street from school staring into the classroom; and Strode who hits the ground from a height, but is gone the next time we look. I see what Green’s doing, but I don’t think it’s wise. The terror of Myers was his semi-supernatural thing-ness. But now that plain old Laurie Strode can behave and fight and survive like “The Shape”, now that the power-misbalance has been addressed, the thrill is gone.
This simple visual gimmick seems to me a silent sign that Green hopes this is the final Halloween movie. The decisive final movement. Myers is no longer the infallible mystery he once was. When the flames start licking at Myers trapped in the basement, it seems to be Curtis, rather than Strode, watching gleefully as the whole sorry ten-film box-set turns to ashes. Green, and indeed the franchise, needed to summon the presence of Curtis, to over-see the ceremony.
And the film closes abruptly. There is no last shot of a hand reaching out the flames. Though this is not a good film (not even the franchise’s best), perhaps it is an appropriate ending. A eulogy shouldn’t mention sticky, controversial periods in a person’s life, or go into family dramas. Nor should it leave the congregation with the idea that the deceased could spring back to life. Differences are to be put aside, and the things universally known and liked about them, brought to the fore; knives, masks, babysitters, America.
Horror, Thriller | USA, 2018 | 18| 19th October 2018 (UK, USA) | Universal Pictures | Dir.David Gordon Green | Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilginer