David Gordon Green, 2018, USA
Without being remarkable, David Gordon Green’s continuation of the vast ongoing franchise has a little to please everyone. Although this leaves it open to accusations of being baggy and overstuffed, this is probably a canny move as - as is usually the case with these franchises – it seems an audience doesn’t really want something so different: regard the greatly maligned Myers-less ‘Halloween III’ and the much hated Rob Zombie ‘Halloween’* which, if nothing else, were truly taking a different tact. Green’s entry – written with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley – leapfrogs over the other sequels and versions and gleefully dismisses the sibling twist of ‘Halloween II’, starting with as clean a slate as possible. Producer Jason Blum prefers the term “reinvention” rather than “reboot”, but contorting over semantics is unlikely to really fool anyone. Endorsed by the return of Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter himself – executive producing and reprising his seminal score – and coming with a distinguished indie director, this certainly comes with as much creator approval as possible for a decades-old product.
So it’s clean and bright and a little shaggy around the edges, as typical of American indies; meaning it replaces the precision tooling of Carpenter’s original – which, of course, is a genre masterpiece – with a more loose-limbed vibe. This means that there isn’t the sustained stress, suspense and squeeze Myer’s first appearance, but it would surely be foolish to expect to imitate that. Even so, the sequence where in more-or-less one take Michael strolls around the suburbs, wandering into houses and slaughtering residents is a set-piece that comes close. The many call backs to the first film mean fans can have fun spotting Easter eggs, but these are often more than just homages: the Michael-Goes-About-His-Business sequence also mirrors the lurking p.o.v. from the original; and when Laurie is shown mirroring Michael’s poses from the first ‘Halloween’, it goes to indicate how much she is claiming that story as a survivor. She’s been preparing to fight back this time.
Laurie Strode** has been busy training and arming herself for Michael’s return at the expense of healthy relationships with her family. But this is far from only Laurie’s story: there’s a lot of subplots and a lot of characters where it seems this time Michael’s story is trying to cover as much slasher ground as possible. There are three generations of women to deal with: Laurie, her estranged daughter and her granddaughter. As with most slashers right now, it comes loaded with post-modern self-awareness of Clover’s Final Girl which leads the action by the nose and means to get maximum play. Curtis has certainly been on the promotional circuit highlighting this as a film very much attuned to the #MeToo movement and relishing the kickback, making this very much a film of the moment. But although he was always a threat of male violence, unlike many of the slasher sub-genre he helped inspire, Michael was surely a symbol of The Unstoppable Killer Out There rather than of rampant misogyny (he has always been indiscriminate with his kills). But there is no doubt that this one stems more from revenge fantasies than fear of the bogeyman.
The film begins with a couple of obnoxious podcasters that come to provoke Myers, the kind of critique of a mercenary media that ‘Natural Born Killers’ traded in; then there’s a somewhat off-centre subplot with Dr Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) which certainly fulfils the Gothic protestations that Dr Loomis brought to the original. But mostly what will stand out from this grab-bag of pleasures and diversions is the humour. This is the kind of casual humour that has run through much of Green’s work, not least his work on the amiable series ‘Red Oaks’. The scene where the boy complains to his father that he’d rather really be at dance class than going hunting is a nice nod to how far expectations of gender roles have moved on since the original was unleashed; and it’s not the only humorous moment that then segues into horror that means business. Many audience criticisms I have read seem to object to this, but slashers and horror have always run close to humour, just perhaps not so overt comedy: the criticism is that the humour undercuts the horror, but perhaps the only ill-judged moment is when the smart-mouth of the babysat kid undermines the horror of the closet scene (which is a great scare that is spoilt anyway by being in the trailers).
There’s a moment when a youth shrugs that Michael’s original kill count isn’t so remarkable in an age when horrific mass killings seems like a monthly event (fortnightly? weekly?); the hoopla around Myers seems like hyperbole. In the original ‘Halloween’ he newly represented the fears that Something Unspeakable was out there threatening the cosy suburbs; indeed, he was bred in the suburbs. But this ‘Halloween’ forgoes the supernatural slant of the original, the move into The Shape: here, he is the returning trauma that must be confronted. It’s entertaining, if not particularly scary, but with enough of a nasty streak and kills to be occasionally unsettling and with humour to keep things on their toes elsewhere. Ultimately, it heads for what, in this scenario, ends up being a happy and triumphant ending. This is the age where getting your own back is in vogue, and that’s always been as prevalent in horror as bad luck. But, of course, there is a just a little ambiguity… there's a franchise to think of, after all.
• ** John Kenneth Muir painstakingly decodes Laurie Strodes name to argue that she was always going to be a winner.