If there was any horror franchise in desperate need of a continuity reboot, it would be “Halloween”. The iconic slasher series has had four false endings, two resets, a separate anthology film, an alternate timeline, and internal mythology so inconsistent and complicated that nobody can follow it. The goal with 2018’s Halloween, besides making more money off the franchise, was to erase all but the first Halloween film from the series. The latest installment is a direct sequel to the 1978 classic, rendering any other sequel after it null and void. The critical question, however, is whether it was worth it. Was this new installment good enough to justify the continuity cleanse?
The film takes place forty years after the first “Halloween” movie. An older Laurie Strode has become paranoid about the return of Michael Myers, arming her house with security measures, loads of weapons and booby traps with the intent of finally killing him. After Myers escapes, Laurie must protect her estranged family and finally put Myers behind her.
The idea of stripping away the convoluted continuity of previous films is a good idea in principle. If you’re trying to bring new fans to the franchise, then it’s wise to remove any barriers to entry. However, this decision removes a lot of the enjoyable absurdity that came with the franchise. The reason the first Halloween was so special was that it was the only good one in a long line of increasingly convoluted, messy movies. With this new installment making all those movies irrelevant, the fun has been largely removed from the meta experience of watching a “Halloween” movie.
It doesn’t help that the film itself takes itself too seriously. In its effort to recapture the magic of the John Carpenter original, the new sequel has been polished in the worst ways. The color of the film is primarily muted grey, with occasional uses of the same orange hue that’s used in every modern horror film.
The editing takes no chances either, with shots being cut off too quickly for a horror film. In a good horror movie, shots will often go on for a long time without a cut. This is used to emphasize an uncomfortable situation or to build tension in the audience. The makers of “Halloween”, however, seem to be afraid of losing their audience’s attention, so they cut it more conventionally, with quick cuts to keep the pace going. This takes a lot of situations that should be uncomfortable or tense and makes them less so, an unfortunate choice for a horror film, whose job is to make the audience tense and uncomfortable.
It’s not just the editing that lets down Halloween as a horror film. Most of the potentially tense scenes in the movie are ruined by their setting. For example, there’s a scene in a bathroom where Myers is searching the stalls one by one for his victim. This could be potentially scary, waiting for Myers to get to his victim’s stall. However, there are a few elements which ruin this in practice. Firstly, it’s in a bathroom with the victim sitting on the toilet, which is more funny than scary. Secondly, it’s presented as a mystery who’s in the bathroom with the victim, even though the whole audience already knows it’s Michael. Thirdly, you don’t care whether the victim escapes or dies. You haven’t gotten connected to them enough to care.
That problem is a chronic issue with the film in general. Even though none of the characters are unlikable, you’re not rooting for them either. The one exception is Laurie Strode, portrayed brilliantly by Jamie Lee Curtis. The audience is fully aware of the suffering she’s gone through, and we see how it has affected her. She’s estranged from her family, is constantly afraid and paranoid and is regarded as crazy by everyone around her. You want her to face and kill Michael, to get closure for the years of suffering she’s had. Her character and Curtis’ performance hold the film together.
Unfortunately, everything else on a narrative and thematic level is average to awful. I’m surprised no other reviewer has mentioned the on-the-nose screenplay that leaves no room for visual storytelling. The removal of the familial connection from the previous films takes away any reason for Michael to obsessively hunt Laurie, so the question of why hangs in the air unanswered. The thematic idea of Michael being irreversibly evil has never been fully explored in any of the “Halloween” movies and remains without impact here as well.
While a lot of the nostalgia for previous “Halloween” movies feels forced and unrewarding, there are some moments of welcome fan service. The opening credits, for example, are an excellent callback to the opening of the first film. John Carpenter’s original theme is used in appropriate situations and is welcome each time. There’s a brilliant visual reference in the third act that made me smile.
Halloween 2018 Final Thoughts:
Without Curtis’ performance or the few moments of happy nostalgia, Halloween 2018 would be nothing more than a generic slasher film with bad writing. In its attempts to bring the series back to its former glory, the new film has eliminated the uniquely silly glory the franchise already had. It’s worth at least one watch, but no more than that.
Halloween is currently available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray.