[Review] "Halloween" attempts to distract the audience from its various flaws with heavy-handed fan service
(By Matt Konopka) This past weekend, Michael Myers finally made his long-awaited return to the big screen with the Blumhouse “requel”, Halloween. Fans have anxiously awaited this moment ever since Rob Zombie’s porous Halloween II hit theaters in 2009. We’ve spent years hoping that someday, Michael would be returned to his roots. Blumhouse made it happen, even going as far as to bring back John Carpenter as a producer/composer, and star Jamie Lee Curtis to do battle with Michael one last time! Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for…
…Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) with a script from Green, Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down) and Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals), Halloween chooses to rewrite history by ignoring every film in the franchise except for Carpenter’s original classic. Picking up forty years after those tragic events, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is a broken woman, suffering from PTSD, unable to forget the horrors she witnessed. Her obsession with the past has alienated her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) and has left her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak) confused and heartbroken over her families struggles. But when Michael Myers, during a transport to a new institution, breaks out and heads for Haddonfield, Laurie’s fears are finally realized, and she must once again face Michael on Halloween night. Only this time, she’s ready for him.
Typing out the above synopsis, I can’t believe I walked away from this film feeling the disappointment that I did, but here we are. Many fans are already raving about this new entry into the franchise, and I wish I was one of them, because on paper, this sounds like the Halloween film I’ve always dreamed of. Unfortunately, what should be an epic, powerful story about Laurie Strode becomes nothing more than a glorified fan film with all the depth of a hollowed-out pumpkin.
Once we’re past the emotionally over-the-top intro, Green eases us into Halloween with a feeling like warm, pumpkin pie, as the “Carpenter font” from the original Halloween appears, along with a seriously excellent new score from Carpenter. There is a real sense of ecstasy and excitement, as Green understands the value of a good intro, even showcasing a smashed pumpkin inflating back to life, representative of the proud return of the series. The opening credits is a lost art in horror that Carpenter perfected during his career, and so Green does right with the fans by going old school here. That delight quickly wears off though.
I get it. This is a nostalgic generation. I’m guilty of it myself. The world tends to suck, so we enjoy remembering our past and how great that was. But nostalgia alone does not a good film make, and the filmmakers seem hell-bent on nostalgia as their main focus. All throughout Halloween, there are various references to the franchise (mostly films 1-4), with Easter eggs like kids walking by in the masks from Halloween III. These little nods are fun to go through and pick out, but at a certain point, it begins to feel as if too many shots/moments are just recreations of moments from the other films, many of them forced with laughable twists on those scenes, that it feels less like the filmmakers are paying homage, and more like we’re watching a big-budget tribute film without any ideas of its own (at least not ones that make sense). Seeing a late fifties Laurie run around and recreate iconic images that belong to Michael in the original is blatant fan service at its most frustrating. I expected a stronger Laurie. Not the Terminator.
Jamie Lee does what she can to carry Halloween as a traumatized survivalist doing her best Sarah Connor impression, but what should be genuine emotion is often undercut by extreme melodrama and teeth-grating dialogue. Characters constantly yelling at each other and saying exactly how they feel is not how you create sympathy, nor does it feel natural whatsoever. Laurie’s post-traumatic symptoms are indeed realistic, and it is wonderful to see a horror film tackle the idea of what happens to the survivor after they’ve survived, but the writers fill their characters with so much on-the-nose dialogue, that I found it impossible to buy into anyone as a real person, because real people simply don’t talk this way. An emotional connection to the audience should be earned through actions, but here the filmmakers have the characters constantly reminding us how they feel. I can only have so many scenes of Laurie saying that everyone needs to protect themselves, or Karen whining about how crazy Laurie is, or Allyson complaining about how they each lie to her, before I scream I get it and am begging for another emotion out of them that isn’t just anger. And while it’s great to have three women taking on the fighter role instead of lining up as victims, the rest of the characters in the film are beyond stupid, even for a B-movie slasher. Hey, Michael is after us, what should we do cops? You should go to Laurie’s house, who we deem crazy, instead of, I don’t know, the police station? Come on. And don’t even get me started on the massive plot hole of how Michael figures out where they are.
I would love to say that Jamie steals the show, but for me, Michael is the most fascinating character once again. The filmmakers do an excellent job of modernizing Michael from a slow, methodic killer to an angry, violent force that should effectively scare most audiences. Michael kills in this film with more disregard than we’ve ever seen, and does so with such brutality that the few kills which actually remain on screen are shocking and gory, making this Michael somewhat of a mix between Carpenter and Zombie’s versions. What’s most interesting is how Michael compares to Laurie in this film. While Laurie has spent forty years dealing with her own rage over the events of that fateful night, Michael seems to have spent forty years building up a rage himself. He works almost as a representation of Laurie’s mind, cutting his way through anyone and everyone, blinded by an insatiable need that no one can ever fully understand. The mask may also be the best we’ve seen since part 2. Reflective of Michael himself, once pristine, and now ravaged by age.
While this version of Michael is even more frightening than the last, there is one inherent issue: Michael has no purpose. I know, I know, Michael technically has no purpose in the original film either, and that’s true, but isn’t necessarily a hundred percent accurate. Because Laurie stops to drop off that key at the Myers house in the original, Michael sees her, becomes infatuated with her and her friends, and spends the rest of the film stalking and killing the group, saving Laurie, his prized trophy, for last. This time around, Michael just wanders aimlessly, killing whoever. That’s fine, except this leads to far too many eye-rolling coincidences with Michael running into key characters, that Halloween asks the viewer to stretch their imagination much tighter than the average slasher film. Add in the multiple storylines of our three heroines and Michael’s doctor, Haluk Bilginer (who Laurie casually refers to as “the new Dr. Loomis” in case the audience hasn’t figured it out yet), and Halloween becomes a choppy mess of a script juggling so many Jack-O-Lanterns, its only inevitable that they all fall and smash to pieces.
The filmmakers don’t seem to have any grasp on balancing tone either, as the
film could probably be twenty minutes shorter without abnormally long exchanges like a random father and son talking about how the kid “just wants to dance, dad”, or two cops discussing Bahn-mi sandwiches. These sorts of purposeless rants offer absolutely nothing to the plot and come off as the dirt-poor man’s version of Tarantino-esque writing. Green and McBride have both made their careers in comedy, but this sort of pointless forced humor runs rampant throughout the film and serves only as a distraction since it is, frankly, about as funny as Michael Myers himself. Sometimes, horror is at its best when it is silent. We don’t need these conversations to fill the quiet, but like two people on a first date, the filmmakers are terrified to leave more than a few seconds of dead air, going for meta comedy instead of tension building.
Halloween is full of undercooked plots, one wildly disruptive twist that has no business being in the film since it goes nowhere, irritating dialogue, and enough instances of mood-killing comedy that it should be a crime. Even the ending is a disappointment, all things considered. I won’t spoil it here, so let’s just say that, we’ve been waiting forty years for Laurie to have her justice, and the film is STILL left open for a sequel, meaning that this, possibly the last time we see Curtis in the role, still leaves things unresolved. Give me Jamie chopping off Michael’s head in H20 any day. At least that had some finality to it.
Halloween is now playing in theaters.
By Matt Konopka