It is the season of the reboot! Well, the remake? The soft reboot? The retcon? Whatever. But in HALLOWEEN you have a film that manages to trade off nostalgic riffs as premise, without ever overdoing it or being too lazy in formula. There is an understanding that viewers might know the iconography of evil Michael Myers (a crazed, masked and mass murderer of most preceding ‘Halloween’ films). But also a clean slate of sorts that allows one to ignore everything that came before in the way of inferior sequels. This is lean, mean, relentless.
A scary thriller, with minimal filler.
Plot, such as it is: Michael Myers is a Nutcase. He has been living in an institution for 40 years, having enjoyed a killing spree on the titular costume themed feast night in 1978. He escapes. Goes on new rampage. Local Police try and take him down to prevent Myers’ murdering every single teenager in the area. His ultimate target however is the one girl that survived him 40 years previously: Laurie (Curtis). She’s readied, having devoted her whole life to preparing for the worst. This is a survivalist Grandmother, as able to take on a violent killer as cheer her perfect daughter and family to success and safety.
So: it’s a horror/thriller/slasher film. And also: a beautiful character study from Curtis as Laurie, supported ably by the ever adorable Judy Greer as a dutiful daughter and young Mom herself.
Jamie Lee Curtis is superb. She has aged, of course. If you are expecting a replay of the lap dance from True Lies circa 1994? You will be disappointed. But if you want a vital, dynamic role for a woman / older person that is not simply a token mentor/villain/victim: then hello and welcome! Curtis plays this with subtle shades of irony, tragedy, humour, warmth and above all a kick ass conviction for an inevitable showdown with the baddie. She should be in with an Oscar nomination for Best supporting if not lead Actress come 2019.
This whole affair is played fairly straight and frankly it’s the better for that. The filmmakers resist any temptation for in jokes or smug send ups that would compromise the tension. No scene in which there an innocent trick-or-treater is dressed IN a Michael Myers mask on the Halloween night and gets mistaken for the killer (spoiler? nah.).
Indeed, it feels like a period piece to an extent, as though entire generations of reinvention had never happened in horror. Simplicity is virtue and it’s refreshing to watch something that is happy in its own skin, never trying to reinvent a wheel or repackage something old as new.
There’s a great music score from John Carpenter and I am sure he must be pleased with this latest iteration of his original movie. It certainly qualifies as the best sequel to the original and in its way allows for further follow-ups without compromising any sense of this being its own self contained entity. And no that’s not a spoiler.
It’s by no means a perfect film. There are certain characters about whose fate one could not care less, given that they are not all that well drawn in some cases? A poor man’s Heath Ledger wannabe, a deutero Johnny Depp type and a kid that seems to be doing a Seymour Hoffman impression all irritate. Some comic relief is set up yet falls flat on its face (the babysitter/kid dynamic: awful). And yet some great talents are underused here. Will Patton: wasted / miscast. Rhian Rees: nowhere bear enough screen-time! The social politics are outdated, especially in a middle America of today that would surely shun the notion of ‘getting laid’ being in any way appropriate as a target for either boys or girls at school?
And whilst it’s nice to see technology downplayed (no ‘there’s no signal in the phone!’ type tropes), it does stretch credibility that the baddie poses such a threat in today’s era of apps and instant access tools. I was reminded less of Straw Dogs /the original Halloween and more of SKYFALL in the ever so slightly stretched credibility climactic set-piece. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
The Bigger Picture?
Two journalists set the plot in motion. They are obsessed with the past, as is the psychiatrist they approach for an insight to the Myers’ psyche. IE: the prurient need to look back at something long dormant opens a Pandora’s Box of evils. And so it is now, in our world. We have enjoyed a generation in effect free from the evils of the far right; in part due to weaponising the word ‘nazi’. And yet? Under our noses, at time of writing?
The world is facing a resurgent extremism infecting mainstream politics, across the board. A self fulfilling prophecy that feels at once inevitable and entirely preventable. And so it is in HALLOWEEN. Whilst it’s an apolitical movie: there is at its core, an old evil, that could and should be left to rot as a relic yet is instead reactivated, through an initially academic interest and social complacency.
But that’s a thematic stretch on my part. This is, prima facie, a simple and self contained thriller / slasher flick with a hint of supernatural imagery and some soap operatic domestic drama / coming of age conflict and even, comedy.
Nonetheless, this is a film ABOUT fear and its power to at once divide and unite a community, from a small family unit through to an entire town and beyond. To what extent is it healthy and necessary to confront our trauma; vs. a very real need to move forward in life and bury the past for the sake of our loved ones? And equally, examine our most innocuous rites of passage as kids, from the illicit yet accepted and expected first explorations of sexuality through the academic examination processes and seasonal dances etc and thereby see them, in their own way, being just as scary as any face-off with a real threat to life and limb.
It’s all ‘there’ but snuck in with subtlety and finesse, never undermining the pace or fabric of the film as a whole.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS: Is it a trick or treat? HALLOWEEN is a bit o’both. A solid entertainment that will thrill, scare and enthral, thoroughly without modelling innovation as such in any particular area. Solid sound, lighting, score, pace and a great performance by Jamie Lee distinguish this effort from many counterparts and inevitable imitators that will follow. Worth a look, certainly and a satisfying night at the Cinema. Obviously: adults only (Rated 18; a 15 year old COULD probably handle it as the gore is well managed but best not, just to be safe!). B+