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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Review: Halloween (2018)

It's been 40 years since the original Halloween graced the screens of theaters across the nation, giving us a boogeyman like no other in Michael Myers and creating a popular horror film franchise that has endured throughout the years. However, it has been almost ten years since the last entry and the second attempt to revitalize the series so the presence of the Shape has been sorely missed on the screen.

For those just joining us, the first attempt to discard the unwieldy continuity of the Halloween series (discounting Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, which was an attempt to create an anthology series out of the brand) was Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. Said movie (which also happened to be the last one I saw in theaters) discarded the later films and picked up after Halloween II with Michael Myers still on the loose and Laurie having faked her death only to find that her brother has found her and is hunting her once again. This spawned a follow-up film that was widely derided, even with Busta Rhymes performing kung-fun on Michael Myers. The second attempt was by Rob Zombie and remade the first film and added more backstory as to why Michael was the way he was and resulted in a movie that had a mixed reaction amongst fans. The sequel had the same reaction and the series went dormant after that.

This new iteration follows the same route as H20 but goes even a step further and serves as a direct follow-up to the original Halloween. Forty years later after the Haddonfield massacre, Michael Myers is locked up securely in Smith's Grove Sanitarium and Laurie has never quite gotten over the night a stranger came into town, killed her friends and tried to do the same to her. As a result, she's been preparing herself and her family for the inevitable night that the Shape once again comes home to Haddonfield. What makes him decide to escape after so long? That can be attributed to the appearance of two Serial-esque podcasters showing up to interview him (he doesn't say anything) while working on an episode based on the Haddonfield Murders, even bringing along the mask to show him. That was a mistake, as during a transfer to a more secure facility, Myers escapes and a new night of horror begins that will lead to a showdown between the killer and the victim who escaped him so many years ago.

The director of the new movie, David Gordon Green, as well as his co-writer, Danny McBride, are known more for their comedies. However, they bring the horror this time around and do it well in a tightly directed piece that lovingly homages previous films in the series but doesn't go overboard with it. Fans of the series will notice these Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film that enhance and never distract, which helps to not alienate newer viewers. But Green doesn't just ape what has come before and creates new scenes to go down in a series full of iconic shots. One particular standout for me is in the sanitarium when we are introduced to Michael. It's a beautiful and eerie courtyard made of a red and white checkerboard that looks like it could be something out of an Argento film. The sound design in that scene is as unsettling and alien as the location, culminating when the mask is revealed and the inmates all around Michael know that evil is stirring once again.

Halloween's cast is superb. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the role she originated and plays it well and with more depth than she was given in the script for H20. Her Laurie Strode is a traumatized survivor and it has affected her own life and those of her daughter and granddaughter. But that doesn't mean she's running scared. No, this Laurie Strode isn't so much hiding as she is waiting for that day she knows is an inevitability and has prepared for it as such. Judy Greer plays her daughter and does what she can with an underwritten role and shines in it. Newcomer Andi Matichak does a great job as the youngest Strode, Allyson, who finds herself and her friends caught up in the mayhem of Myers' rampage and learns that her grandmother wasn't overselling the menace. Will Patton plays an officer who knows as well as Laurie the horror Myer's is capable of inflicting on their town and vows to stop it.

The violence comes fast and furious in this film. Gone is the almost playful Michael who will stalk his victims for hours and toy with them. This Michael Myers is full of pent up rage and he lashes out with it indiscriminately, sparing few from the fruits of his madness. The brutality brings to mind the original Halloween II, where he displays a similar viciousness, and also the Zombie remake. Myers is a superhuman force to be reckoned with, using his bare hands and his trusty knife to savagely dispatch his victims. That's not to say there isn't suspense. Interspersed are some truly terrifying and tense moments where he closes in on his next target, leaving us unsure of where he might pop up and if they will escape. Once scene in particular involving a security light is particularly harrowing along with the scene in the restroom that you might have seen in the trailer.

John Carpenter, who scored the original as well as directed it, returns with his son Cody and Daniel Davies to supply the music and it is fantastic. Old cues and themes are remixed and new ones added, all featuring the trademark Carpenter sound but with more depth the them, reminiscent of his Lost Themes album. The tracks never overpower and serve to heighten the action on screen, a welcome change from movies that are looking to sell a soundtrack instead of a scare.

All of this adds up to a solid entry in the Halloween series and creating a film worthy of being a direct successor to the original. The story is solid, if a little light on some backstory elements, with scares that come at a regular pace but never enough to overwhelm. Some levity is injected into parts, no surprise considering the authors, but these moments never overpower the horror or turn it into a farce. There are a few missteps in the film that make it stumble, such as a reveal late in the second act that is resolved nearly as soon as it arrives and doesn't serve much purpose. It doesn't derail the movie though and we are back on track soon enough on our way to the final showdown.

Also, for those interested, the mask is damn near perfect. After years of getting masks that seem progressively worse, its nice that they can finally get it right.

Check it out at a theater near you.

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