Numerous reviews of the confusingly-titled new Halloween movie following its festival circuit debut a few months back really leaned hard on the “Halloween for the #MeToo movement” line. Jamie Lee Curtis herself has even been saying it on the press tour so it’s completely understandable. Themes of victimized women achieving empowerment in the face of past traumas are present and accounted for, but to reduce the movie to that hashtag elevator pitch actually sells it short somewhat. The new Halloween is, miraculously, a new slasher film in a very long-running and inconsistent series that manages to hit just about every note right on the head. That to me is more remarkable and interesting than any connection to 2018 gender politics if I may be brutally honest.
And speaking of brutality, there’s no shortage of it in this Halloween. It’s not nearly to the pornographic levels of Rob Zombie’s infamous pair of remakes, with its towering, rage-fueled Michael, but the tame, relatively bloodless quality of the 1978 original that earns it so much praise simply wouldn’t cut it in today’s desensitized landscape. The script even takes a few moments out to have a character commenting (virtually through the fourth wall) about how a single guy with a knife and a single-digit killing spree isn’t THAT horrifying in an age of mass shootings. Michael Myers is as robotic and emotionless in his slaying as ever, but in this Halloween he has an unhesitating efficiency that’s never been reached before in this series. A randomness, too. During the centerpiece Halloween night rampage, he selects victims seemingly on a whim, sparing others with the same ambivalence. No longer do we get the small comfort of victims that were “asking for it” by being obnoxious loudmouths while standing around alone with all the lights off. At one point, Michael even walks by a crib with a crying baby in it and you could feel the air in the theater contract as the audience wondered, “WOULD he?”
As much as the film achieves towards refreshing the scariness of Michael Myers for a new generation, this is in fact Jamie Lee Curtis’s show. She’s better than ever here – able to somehow simultaneously convey extremes of hardened toughness and vulnerability and make both equally believable. My biggest fear going into this Halloween was that the focus on Laurie Strode’s 40 years-in-the-making revenge would rob the movie of its fright factor. It doesn’t. Four decades worth of single-minded preparation and paranoia only puts Laurie on roughly equal footing with the legendary killer. Plus there’s a daughter and granddaughter in the mix who refused to buy into the fear of the boogeyman, placing them directly in harm’s way.
Elements of the structure of Halloween 2018 fall prey to that chic “reboot-quel” mode in which a sequel also serves as a stealth remake by way of events, characters, and relationships echoing the familiar original film a little too closely in spite of the “new” setting. The Force Awakens was an extreme example. Halloween ’18 doesn’t go that far, but it does have new teenage babysitters, new incredulous police officers, and in probably the film’s weakest element, a new Loomis. I felt that this character could have been excised completely from the story in the edit bay and resulted in a tighter, more focused film. It seemed rather clear that “new Loomis” was written in solely for the sake of subverting our expectations of the Halloween Ahab, but he ultimately added little to the plot.
You like references and callbacks? Keep your eyes and ears peeled. Nine Halloween movies may have been written right out of existence by this film, but some of them live on in the form of easter eggs, ranging from obvious (the Silver Shamrock masks) to obscure (um, Laurie’s hat?). Of course, the 1978 Halloween is still the primary source of these references, and you’re best served discovering them on your own. Repeat viewings are certain to reveal many more of them in my case. I will say, the updated opening title sequence gave me the warm and fuzzies.
My primary emotional response upon leaving the theatrical showing of this Halloween was satisfaction. I previously wrote about 2018 being a banner year for horror film. The September-October season was uncharacteristically ripe with options, some good, some not so good. But the year 2018 as a whole has just pulled off a hat trick. A Quiet Place, Hereditary, and now Halloween. All very different horror movies, all remarkably high quality, all receiving the kind of acclaim that has eluded the horror genre from the very beginning. We’re at the peak of a golden age, and here in late October where it belongs, we finally got the Halloween sequel we’ve been waiting 40 years to see.