‘Halloween’ Draws Out The Shape But Casts a Poor Shadow [Review]
Editors note: Minor spoilers lie ahead.
As horror fans, we know what we’re entitled to on Halloween, right? One good scare. We pride ourselves on the optimism, acceptance, and support we wholeheartedly put into this genre and usually expect an equitable return, especially this time of the year. The faith we put into filmmakers and our experiences is unmatched. We can easily turn any release into the opening day of Woodstock, that includes driving so much traffic to a streaming site in one evening that it causes a temporary malfunction. The horror genre existed for decades before John Carpenter’s low-budget slasher, Halloween hit theaters in 1978, but I do believe it is one of the pinnacle pieces that began the cult following we are proud members of today. There’s a reason Halloween is included in everyone’s ‘top’ lists, it’s always an undeniably obvious choice.
In all of the glorious hype leading up to release, fans were shocked and intrigued to learn about another Halloween reboot to be written and directed by David Gordon Green (Our Brand is Crisis) and comedy actor Danny McBride (Pineapple Express) and produced by the industrial horror juggernaut, Blumhouse Productions. What took it from intrigue to shock? The blessing, and score production, from our stubborn godfather of horror, John Carpenter. What took it from shock to hype? Jamie Lee Curtis, Laurie Strode herself, announced her highly anticipated return with scream queen gusto. Bonus! Nick Castle would also return as The Shape. All of the elements would not only present, but fortunately supercharged.
The biggest surprise; however, came to me when the end credits rolled and I was left not only dissatisfied, but very bitter. I’m an avid fan of everything under the umbrella of horror. This is not my first rodeo when it comes to giving reboots and remakes an apprehensive chance, but rarely do I find myself angered by them the way Green and McBride’s Halloween did. It’s filled with so many jarring highs and lows that by the time it was finished, I felt as if I was the one Michael Myers had thrashed around a bathroom stall. I’m not sure what I expected, but I subconsciously set my bar a little higher than what was produced—given all of those aforementioned magical elements. So many miscellaneous subplots circle around the beating hearts of the story, Michael and Laurie, that I couldn’t help being anything other than distracted. Every time comedy slashed into the middle of a terrifying scene, I was annoyed for minutes before my attention could return to the screen. The unnecessary characters and storylines brought into it only detracted from what could have been an incredible modern retelling.
When Laurie Strode comes to face the fact that the homicidal babysitter killer she survived 40 years ago, Michael Myers, is back on the streets the night before his favorite holiday of the year, she is forced to put aside her fear and family trauma and replace it with the tactical preparation she’s built up over decades in hopes to combat him one last time. Her daughter, Karen, played by Judy Greer (Cursed) remains estranged and traumatized by Laurie’s lifestyle, while her high school granddaughter, Allyson, played by Andi Matichak (Miles), strives to repair the remaining familial ties that have eroded over time. Meanwhile, investigative podcast hosts, played by Rhian Rees (The Lears) and Jefferson Hall (Vikings) and Michael’s new doctor, played by Haluk Bilginer (Ben-Hur), try to force their understanding on Michael as the town of Haddonfield is traditionally brutalized on Halloween night. These are just the major plot points I’m touching on here. I haven’t even mentioned the minor ones involving Allyson’s teenage friends, boyfriend, and the local law enforcement. See what I mean?
While the podcasters are a relevant way to harness some background into the story, anything that needed to be done with their characters could have been handled in a long cold open. Like Allyson’s friends and father, they were unlikable and disposable. Dr. Sartain, Halloween’s poorest character, tried to jump on the obsessed physician arch as a successor to Donald Pleascence’s classic Dr. Loomis, and instead of enforcing it with class, collapsed it beyond repair. Simplicity is key, Michael Myers is just evil. Dr. Loomis figured that out way before Michael picked up his knife in adulthood and he made sure to let everyone know. He stopped figuring out why Michael is the way he is and, smartly, turned to figuring out how he could be stopped. It makes The Shape scarier knowing that even an intelligent professional abandons the allure of the secret in hopes to just get everyone out alive in the end.
This Halloween’s purposeful attempt to figure out Michael’s motives answered its own questions a few times even when the audience is already privy into the reasoning: He’s a murderer. He doesn’t speak, and that doesn’t matter. Any psychologist knows that communication comes in many forms, so I was troubled with wondering why this man drove himself to the point of insanity by fixating on getting Michael to speak even one word. The amount of time some of these erroneous characters spend trying to get him to speak is so obnoxious and tedious it made my skin crawl. As a viewer, I don’t necessarily want to be smarter than all of the characters and writers. They stole screen time away from characters that needed the development most, and that made me bitterly hate them even more.
As much as I’d like to say Laurie Strode is the one redeemable character in this mess, I sadly have to digress into uncertainty and disappointment. This was not my favorite version of Laurie and was not at all what I expected to see in a day and age where women in horror are finally being depicted to be more than washed-up victims. I don’t want to see this off-the-rails Laurie where everyone belittles her choices, and she’s drawn as a bitter (I guess I can identify with this trait), cynical, doomsday failure. This is Laurie Strode, the scream queen and final girl we’re supposed to be seeing. Jamie Lee Curtis is not only a horror idol an inspiration, she’s a real life advocate that women embrace with trust and comfort. I want to see her as a powerhouse with an admirable, realistic level of vulnerability. I want a woman scarred by her past, but prepared for the worst. Someone strong enough to maintain value and persistence in her life despite her past tragedies. I want a survivor and, I didn’t get that from her.
What we do get, in the few scenes that quite literally save the day, is three generations of women pulling together to defeat the monster in great, feminist strength. Michael preys on weak, unsuspecting women. And surprisingly, Laurie’s indifferent daughter, of all the characters, uses that to her cunning, keen advantage. Allyson resembles Laurie’s quiet, conservative demeanor at times, but I still don’t know who she is as a person. Being one of the main characters means I should get a feel for her personality, and in totality she fell flat for me. She is bullied by her boyfriend, Cameron, played by Dylan Arnold (Mudbound) and attacks his friend Oscar, played by Drew Scheid (Boy Erased), who innocently tries to make a move on her. The bully boyfriend becomes a disappearing loose end and survives the night while we eagerly wait for him to meet the edge of Michael’s blade, but it winds up being the friend zoned Oscar who becomes a victim (in one of the franchise’s best kill scenes I might add). We look to horror, especially now, for anecdotes, social commentary, and moral lessons, so you tell me what kind this one sends.
While the characters and careless subplots are what drives the story into the ground for me, the tone, setting, space, and most of the cinematography in Halloween is, admittedly, stunning. The camera work and points of view throwback to Carpenter’s eerie suburban atmosphere with such skill that I can see where this would please a lot of viewers. It has all of the visual effects we can ask for; effectively instilling the Halloween spirit at all turns–even in the third act (where I think all of these wonderful factors get a little sloppy).
The opening credits showing the slow reanimation of a jack o’lantern combined with the intensity of Carpenter’s contemporary take on the legendary score ignited my nostalgic nerve endings. This new Michael Myers is pretty excellent; executed perfectly by James Jude Courtney (The Grey In Between). He stays true to our original villain, but he wields a little more pent-up violent power that the current desensitized demographic needs to see. Green and McBride preserved the monster well, crafting him with heart and respect. They were able to take some of the elements from an untouchable classic and work them into current triumphs, that is no easy feat. My only qualm here is that I wanted more of this. I wanted more of the elaborated, modernized original Halloween flair.
When it comes to horror, I don’t usually yearn for a happy ending or expect one, but we’re thankfully gifted with one here, the Strode women come out on top. I was pleased the writers deemed this a crucial point and refrained from attempting to shock audiences by killing one of them off. This kept me from going beyond the point of bitter. The cut-scene at the end, and at the film’s beginning, combined with Carpenters powerful 5/4 time score created solid bookends to hold this uneven installment in place. For many it satisfies a craving, for others it inspires a new one. There is no denying what these talented filmmakers did for the genre with this extremely bold endeavor, something I respect regardless of the personal issues I have with their Halloween rendition. It will be very interesting to see where Green, McBride, Curtis, and Carpenter go from here.
All in all, this has the anatomy of a Halloween movie; all of the big factors are present and strong like the bones of a decaying corpse. Most of what makes this a ravenously great film among the masses are preexisting themes and elements within the Halloween series such as the score, the villain, the female lead, the nostalgic atmosphere, even the diverse camera angles and credits style. All of the newer ingredients like the secondary characters, the subplots, and the writing weighed it down like a rotting pumpkin. Green and McBride inject it with their juices in an attempt to reanimate this beloved franchise and do so with a little fan support and interesting shock factors jolting it upright. However, if it were not for those original bones to hold it up, this being would cave in on itself within seconds–if it even had the power to get up on its own in the first place. We were entitled to our one good scare on Halloween, and it turns out that one good scare began and ended with John Carpenter. When standing, Halloween ultimately resembles the shape of the original so closely that we can mistaken it for the real deal, but after allowing my own eyes to adjust to the dark and seeing the parts for what they really are, I can easily see it is, unfortunately, just a shadowy imitation.
‘Halloween’ Draws Out The Shape But Casts a Poor Shadow [Review]
David Michael Green and Danny McBride’s spin on Halloween is equal parts excellent and detestable. So much of the existing franchise is utilized as identifiable strengths, but all of the additions fail to work comprehensively causing this to be a respectable, yet poor imitation of a horror classic.