“Fate is immovable, like a mountain. It stands where man passes away. Fate never changes.”
These words, spoken from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), are spoken by a teacher while Laurie Strode observes her fate standing some distance away, next to a station wagon; all the while, Michael Myers peeks inside a classroom to observe his fate staring right back at him. This is the first time Laurie and Michael lock eyes with each other, and fate has determined that it would not be the last. Halloween always finds its way back into the public consciousness. Be it through countless sequels, alternate universes, or reimaginings, the dance of its two main characters has become a perennial occurrence. Sure as the leaves change in October, it’s going to happen eventually.
Getting to the dance can be a bumpy road. Nine years have passed since the last installment, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009), and in that time there have been a couple of sequels announced that never came to fruition (Halloween 3D and Halloween: Returns). The latter’s idea was to throw out most of the sequels and continue on from one of the earlier, Carpenter-involved films. Of course, this isn’t the first time the series has gone down this road; Halloween: H20 (1998) ignores a number of proceeding sequels. Despite the chance of confusing general film audiences even further, this is the path that writers David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley chose for Halloween (2018).
The man himself, Executive Producer John Carpenter, has served as a shepherd for this project ever since the first planning stages. This is not a Carpenter film, though, make no mistake. Instead, the film belongs to Green, along with his writers. Before being signed, they had to get Carpenter’s approval, and after hearing their proposal, Carpenter was sold. The agreed direction for the production was to grab from the past, specifically Carpenter’s original film, in a sort of course correction to bring the franchise to the present. Every single sequel has been tossed aside in order to focus on the themes and elements that make Carpenter’s film so effective. The question is, were they successful? The answer is yes, but with some caveats. Halloween (2018) is not a copy of Halloween (1978). It’s very much its own beast that has infused many of the original Halloween’s core concepts and components into its DNA. In other areas, though, it stumbles. However, one of its crowning feats is the 40-year progression of its main characters.
Returning to the series is the outstanding Jamie Lee Curtis in a wonderful, brave performance that is quite timely in its social relevance. Laurie Strode was once the innocent, shy teenager who longed for the dating experiences of her friends. That version of Laurie died during her initial confrontation with Michael Myers 40 years ago. Living in her place is the obsessive, self-proclaimed basket case who chose paranoia over her family. She still loves her family; she loves them so much that her daughter Karen (played by Judy Greer) spent her childhood being prepared by her mother for the worst the world has to offer. This involved combat drills and survival exercises. Karen resents her mother for passing down that trauma and tries to keep her own daughter, Allyson (played by Andi Matichak,), from experiencing it, too. This generational trauma provides the film with its heart. Allyson is just a regular teenage girl who loves her grandmother dearly, but can’t identify with her pain and paranoia. Instead, she is concerned with going to the upcoming school dance with her boyfriend, hanging out with her friends, and finding some sort of normality in her life. To her family, Laurie is the girl who cried wolf.
Her friends represent part of a huge crop of supporting roles that flood the film. The storytelling is overly ambitious in regard to its supporting players, however. Some are random characters that just popping in for a scene and may not even have any lines, while others, like Allyson’s friends, have much more screen time. This leads to the biggest problem of Halloween (2018): the characters are spread too thin in the amount of time given to tell this story. Some of these characters are wonderful to spend time with, while others don’t add up to much. The issue is that they are constantly stealing time from each other and taking away development that more important characters or subplots need. This also creates pacing issues, particularly in the second act.
The film speeds through scenes to compensate, which makes it seem like there are pieces missing that would strengthen the overall experience. Compared to the original film, there are too many Lyndas and not enough Annies. The film, already running at 104 minutes, is begging to be extended or at least have some scenes replaced with more pertinent moments. The biggest casualty is Allyson. While she excels and feels crucial when sharing moments with her family members, she is often straddled with the usual bland, slasher-cliché types who don’t offer much to her character arc and also stop the film flat in its tracks. We’ve had decades of slasher films, and yet the same mistakes still get made. Another character with plenty of unrealized potential is Dr. Sartain, or “the new Loomis” as Laurie calls him in a meta moment. He does bring something new to the role of Michael’s caretaker, but when a voice recording of Dr. Loomis provided by a Donald Pleasance sound-alike contains more power in its short time of existence, then that’s an issue.
There is a major component to the numerous supporting players that elevate the picture and is also a lesson taken from the original Halloween. These characters collectively represent a collage of Haddonfield. Not all of them exist for the purpose of fulfilling some trope or slasher check-list like the few weak roles already mentioned; instead, many of them are just regular people living their lives. Whether it be playing pinball with some townies, getting excited about revving up a motorcycle, or babysitting, it’s just people being people, which increases the audience’s ability to relate to them. The concerns of Laurie mean nothing to most of them, nor does the evil that she claims exist. Laurie is just the girl who cried wolf, the town crackpot that spends her time barricading her house or telling ghost stories about her one bad night. Why would they care about one guy that killed a few people decades ago? Little do they know that the wolf is real, and it’s been waiting.
First things first: stuntman/actor James Jude Courtney plays Michael Myers, not Nick Castle, as many critics’ reviews have reported. Castle, of course, played Myers in the original film, and there were some misleading articles announcing Castle’s return to the role here. Castle is involved, but on-screen he gets a cameo in one scene and he also provided ADR work for all audible sounds that come from Michael. As a personal aside, throughout the entirety of the Halloween franchise, I have never been able to connect the multiple versions of Michael from the sequels to the original interpretation of the character. Of course, some of those films wanted their own stamp on the iconic boogeyman, but many had the intent of going back to the original performance of the character and all of them failed. What Courtney and the filmmakers have accomplished with the portrayal of Michael here is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. Courtney channels Castle’s nuances and the Michael Myers displayed here is, without a doubt, the very same creature that stalked the suburbs of Haddonfield all of those years before and has haunted the countless dreams of viewers since 1978.
The ambiguity of the character remains intact: on one hand he’s a man and on the other he’s something more that’s been dropped in an environment he doesn’t belong in. It’s because of him that the supporting characters work on any level, because he violates the security they feel in their regular lives. There is no real rhyme or reason that triggers him; for him, killing is like breathing. This isn’t simply a fantastic mimic of Castle’s work from the original either. It also feels like a sort of progression for the character. He is a force of nature that is on a mission to prove his relevance, and the aggression he unleashes has been building for 40 years. He relishes in his acts of terror. Early on, when he closes in on his prey in a public restroom, the camera stays in the perspective of his would-be victim. As he steps closer to the bathroom stall where the victim is located, a quick shot of his face (sans mask) can be observed through the cracks by the door. You only see his face for a second before it is obscured again, but in that short time, despite his movement mostly blurring his facial features as if they were as blank as his mask, a smile can be seen through the cracks.
Castle stated that if his interpretation of the character was that of a panther, then Courtney’s is the lion. The common theme is cat-like movements and that’s indicative of how Michael responds to the world. He is an animal on the loose, curious as he is callous. He holds no prejudice towards anything, although his motivations are speculated by many. Contrary to the usual Halloween sequel M.O., Michael is not targeting Laurie or anyone specifically, so imagine his surprise when Laurie steps back into his life. She’s the “one that got away” and this time she is the one doing the hunting.
Halloween (2018) will not fulfill the desires of those looking for the escalating dread of the original thanks to issues with the supporting characters mentioned earlier. The film has trouble keeping momentum, especially in the second act, and the chance of building dread disappears with that. However, it is selectively scary. There are nail-biting sequences spread throughout that build to a finale that is an exercise in tension and suspense. Despite reports of the film being overly funny, the humor is well in-line with its 40 year-old predecessor, although a joke or two could be misplaced and intrude on possible suspense. The editing is inconsistent, with the flow from scene to scene suffering at times, but in others, transitioning well. The camera cuts are dynamic, but longer takes aren’t used as frequently as they should be, almost as if the filmmakers were conscious about losing the attentions of audiences. There are a couple of exceptions, however, including one movie-stealing moment when Michael, the Shape, gets back in action. The style of composition is its own beast as well. Where the original made great use of space and background, the focus here is tight, which makes things feel claustrophobic. There are some moments where the background space is used, and they’re wonderful enough to make the viewer wish for more. The color palette feels autumnal, with some homages to original’s use of blue lighting and shadow. This is reflective of how callbacks from the original are used as well, with an example being the classroom scene mentioned earlier; this time, however, while the teacher is lecturing on fate, Allyson looks out the window she sees her grandmother.
Another concept straight from the original is the orchestra of jump scares. The intent of this movie isn’t to make the viewer jump every couple of minutes with an overly-loud, out of place, jump scare. Instead, the sounds are earned and Green even makes use of silence, which is a wonderful for building suspense. This, of course, leads to one of the film’s most wonderful assets: that musical score. Oh man, it’s so good. However successful Carpenter’s contributions were during the planning stages and production, his greatest is by lending his signature atmospheric style over the soundtrack. Most of the tracks are made up of new compositions, while older older themes have new life breathed into them through a mixture of synth, piano, and guitar. There is a slight industrial twinge going on, which makes the music sound as sinister as it is beautiful, and the sounds are perfectly married to the images, which is the best thing to ask for when it comes to film composing. The soundtrack is honestly one of his best.
Halloween (2018) is a film with obvious flaws, with some that are so obvious it’s a wonder that they weren’t fixed. It’s also a film with many strengths, some that have been strip mined from the bones of Carpenter’s original classic and serve as a nice companion to the original film. Films can be elevated solely on the power of their strengths, and that is the case here. The slow, escalating pace is gone, but there has been plenty of room left for tension, especially during the last stretch of its run time. It’s not quite the Aliens (1986) to the original Halloween’s Alien (1979), but it definitely heads in that direction. Despite its problems, the main focus of generational trauma and fate are well-developed and executed. There will obviously be sequels, but the hope that the stars align to bring this caliber of talent to (and back to) the Halloween franchise is doubtful. If this is the last showdown Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie has with her old adversary, then it will serve as a wonderful cap for the actresses’ history with the character. There is a funny thing about fate, though…