Review: Halloween (2018)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton
Rated R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity
Universal Pictures and Blumhouse, opens Oct. 19
There is a carefully mapped-out and deliberate hype machine surrounding the latest Halloween sequel that’s unfolding right now. Don’t fall for it.
If you’re looking for a standard, gory slasher with a high body count and an unusual amount of comedy, you’ll likely be entertained enough. If you’re looking for something genuinely frightening, much less something that even remotely measures up to John Carpenter’s classic 1978 original, recalibrate your expectations or prepare for crushing disappointment.
This is one of the boldest cases of retconning ever; it’s the eleventh installment in the Halloween franchise, and it pretends like every inferior entry since the highly esteemed first one never happened.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, who on Halloween night in 1978 was the sole survivor of the Haddonfield, Illinois “babysitter murders” committed by masked madman Michael Myers. In this revision, Michael was taken back into custody that night, and Laurie has lived with PTSD for the past four decades, isolated in a heavily fortified home. She’s a shotgun-toting grandma, estranged from daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) preparing for Michael’s inevitable escape from captivity and return to Haddonfield.
The confusingly titled Halloween (2018) was written by Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley and David Gordon Green, and Green directed it. There are at least three movies in here; they’re all underdeveloped and they never mesh. There’s an appealing but ultimately half-baked female empowerment narrative about three generations of Strodes bonding to take down Michael after he does, indeed, escape. There’s lots of run-of-the-mill slasher fare, with some of the goriest kills ever in this series. Most problematically, McBride and Green can’t help but overindulge in pervasive snarky humor and goofiness that make it impossible to take any of the horror elements seriously.
Oh, and there is a bizarre subplot that’s nothing short of a disaster concerning Michael’s new psychiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a lame stand-in for Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis. This side plot stops the movie dead in its tracks late in the second act, and I’m shocked it wasn’t left on the cutting room floor.
Halloween (2018) is suspense-free, and it is not scary. As was to be expected, the body count here is between three and four times that of the first film, but we never feel it. Green has directed stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) and stale indie dramas (Stronger). His filmography is eclectic to say the least—but scary thrillers are obviously not his thing. Judging from this, he can’t create tension or stage a set piece to save his life.
The nearly bloodless, fully gripping original film was never about the kills; it was about everything in between—the atmosphere, the incredible music, the likable characters, the stressful buildup. There can be no payoff if there’s no setup. For all the talk of how this is the movie to take Halloween back to its roots, it has far more in common with the sleazy, derivative blood-soaked sequels than with the patient, more chilling and terrifying original.
There’s one scene that really stood out to me as a point when I stopped caring about this movie, and it also might be of interest to Instinct readers:
Mild first-act spoilers for Halloween (2018) in this section only. Skip ahead to avoid.
About thirty minutes into the movie, just after Michael has escaped captivity on a transport bus full of inmates, we meet a young boy of twelve or so and his dad, who are driving down the highway. The boy is telling his dad how much dance lessons mean to him. It’s kind of funny and cute. Is this little boy supposed to be gay? It certainly seems possible.
Anyway, the boy and his dad pull over to investigate the wrecked bus, and Michael kills them both mere moments after we’ve met them. Michael strangles the little boy onscreen.
This isn’t going to be a Social Justice Warrior rant, but I will say that killing a little kid like this in a Halloween movie feels out of place, in poor taste and cheap. It’s not edgy to kill a little kid in a slasher movie; it’s cheap and shows a lack of creativity and resources. Green just doesn’t have what it takes to make this movie, or the boogeyman, scary.
More broadly, the scene I’ve mentioned is exemplary of what a tonally uneven, overstuffed and confused mess this movie is.
The last fifteen minutes of Halloween (2018)— when Laurie Strode and The Shape finally fight it out in close quarters after 40 years apart—are undeniably pretty fun, but the sequence doesn’t have anywhere near the impact it could and should have. There’s nothing here as nerve-jangling as that simple scene in the closet in the original. If the screenplay were much tighter and the narrative more stripped-down and focused, this could have been a brawl for the ages.
Let’s wrap things up with the positive: Jamie Lee Curtis is, unsurprisingly, flat-out terrific here, way better than she needed to be, and better than this script deserves. Her heart and grit are the takeaway here, the only thing you’ll remember after the end credits roll. She—and Laurie Strode—deserved better.