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September 9, 2018

‘Halloween’ Reinvents a Classic With Thrilling Results [TIFF]

halloween review

David Gordon Green‘s Halloween is a love-letter to horror fans – a brutal, scary and sometimes funny sequel that gives the long-running franchise the respect and adoration it deserves.

After 40 years, Michael Myers is finally coming home. David Gordon Green’s Halloween takes the legacy created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill and rebrands it for a whole new generation. Fans will not be disappointed. Green has created a film that is alarmingly brutal – a relentless spook show where the boogeyman runs rampant, obliterating everyone and everything in his path. Can this new Halloween hold a pumpkin-scented candle to Carpenter’s original? Heavens, no. This film lacks all the chilling efficiency of Carpenter’s classic. It has no interest in the slow burn mood building that made the 1978 film the masterpiece that is. Instead, the 2018 Halloween has only one goal: to scare the wits out of you, and have fun doing it.

Ignoring virtually all the other sequels, Halloween finds Laure Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the final girl from the original, a damaged woman. Forty years ago, Michael Myers escaped from an insane asylum and slaughtered her friends on Halloween night. Ever since then, Laurie has let that one fateful All Hallows Eve define her life. She’s gone through two failed marriages, and become estranged from her daughter (Judy Greer). Only her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, charming in her feature debut) seems to have any sympathy for Laurie and her past.

Laurie remains convinced that Michael Myers, who was recaptured after the first film and has remained lifeless in an asylum ever since, will escape again and come back for her. She’s right of course – this is a Halloween movie, after all. Michael is seemingly triggered when a pair of British investigative journalists (who later reveal they’re actually podcasters) show up attempting to interview The Shape himself. As bad luck would have it, this interview comes right before Michael is being transferred to a new facility. And wouldn’t you know it – he manages to escape, reclaim his mask, and head back to Haddonfield.

Here is where Halloween is most successful: it makes Michael Myers scary again. The masked killer is utterly inhumane here – he doesn’t just kill people, he destroys them. Heads are smashed against walls, knives are thrust through throats, skulls are stomped like rotten Jack-o’-lanterns. Halloween earns its R rating, and then some. Previous Halloween sequels were plenty violent, but none of that former violence was as brutal, and as primal, as it is here. It’s unpleasant to watch, as it should be. There’s aren’t the type of mindless slasher movie kills seeking to get a cheap thrill out of the audience. These are moments of terrifying savagery. It plays hell with your nerves.

halloween novelization

Curtis is phenomenal, slipping back into Laurie Strode mode and giving the character a sense of closure. She gets laughs early one when she chugs a glass of wine, only to later turn into an absolute badass. She’s trained for this night for years, and she’s not going to let Michael get the drop on her. Green has fun with this, playing around with some role-reversal. There are several iconic moments from the original film that involved Michael recreated here with Laurie instead. One comes early – Allyson, sitting in English class, glances out the window, just as Laurie once did so many years ago. Back then, Laurie spotted Michael. Here, Allyson spots Laurie. It’s a wonderfully staged moment, and only just the beginning of these clever recreations. The rest you’ll have to see for yourself. With these scenes, Green is effectively selling the fact that the hunted has now become the hunter.

The prospect of Laurie mending fences with her daughter, and for three Strode women to grow closer in the process, is appealing. Unfortunately, the film never quite delivers on this until the very end. The set-up involving Laurie and her estrangement from daughter Karen feels rushed, or maybe trimmed – as if there were more here that ended up on the cutting room floor to make way for the mayhem. If so, it’s a shame, because that extra emotional heft would’ve made Halloween all the better.

Halloween starts off strong, and only gets stronger. And then things start to go wrong. I’ll tread carefully here, because I don’t want to give away spoilers. Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis is long dead, and he’s now in the care of a new doctor – Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). To be blunt, this character is absolutely terrible, and he’s involved in a subplot that brings the entire movie to a screeching halt. It’s such a wrongheaded idea that I can’t believe it made it into the final film. Someone, somewhere, had to have noticed this character and his storyline wasn’t working, and that it should’ve been reworked or removed entirely.

This is Halloween‘s worst trick. Thankfully, virtually everything else is a treat. The script, by Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, is clever – full of subtle and not-so-subtle winks to the original film, and the franchise as a whole. It’s also surprisingly funny. Green, McBride and Fradley all have comedic backgrounds, but the trio had previously sworn in interviews that they wouldn’t be bringing those comic sensibilities to the film. Whether that was misdirection or an outright lie isn’t clear, because Halloween is loaded with some very funny moments. The humor never overwhelms the movie, though – this isn’t a comedy, folks. Promise.

Green’s direction is stylish and strong – this is the best directed film since the first. The director gets great milage from close-ups and moody, intense action beats. There’s a lengthy sequence near the end where Laurie stalks through her own house, sealing off rooms, that’s thrilling to behold – it’s a real nail-biter. Green is aided by cinematographer Michael Simmonds, who bathes Halloween in dark blues, bright reds and autumnal browns.

The true star of Halloween, though, is the new musical score. Green turned to John Carpenter to record the music for the film, and while Carpenter could’ve easily just repurposed his original soundtrack and collected an easy paycheck, he instead created something new and exciting, working with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. Yes, the classic Halloween theme is here, but so is a whole new style of music, a blend of synth and rock – pulsating, pounding, beating like a heart. It’s one of the best horror movie soundtracks in years, and without it, Halloween wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

I don’t know if this will be the last Halloween film, but I sincerely hope that it is. After several shaky (and sometimes terrible) sequels, the 2018 Halloween gives Michael Myers and Laurie Strode the respect, and closure, they deserve. It makes them seem real again, and concludes their 40-year journey in a satisfying, thrilling way.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10

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