Halloween (2018) by David Gordon Green
Review by Lydia Creech, Andrew Swafford and Zach Dennis
LYDIA: This is one of the Midnight Madness movies that everybody seemed to be anticipating the most (including me!). This is a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original--basically dismissing every other sequel with one line of dialogue. It picks up 40 years after to find Michael Myers locked up in a mental institution, but he still haunts Laurie Strode, the original Final Girl. She’s built her life around the trauma of that night, which has had ripple down effects to her own daughter and granddaughter (transgenerational trauma -- see also: Hereditary).
To me, exploring the PTSD of the Final Girl(s) sounded like a excellent place for such an iconic horror franchise to go (I always think about Sally and what the rest of her life was like after she escapes Leatherface in the back of a pickup in Texas Chainsaw Massacre). While this informs part of what new Halloween is doing, it’s also very much responding to other films in the slasher genre that were responding to old Halloween. The word I used on the podcast diary was “clever,” and I still am a little ambivalent about those aspects.
ZACH: I was both happy and disappointed by the PTSD of the Final Girl(s) concept that you mentioned, Lydia. The final act of the movie is this multi-generational assault against the figure that has haunted their family and caused so much harm for many years, but leading up to it, there are times when it attempts to play like the original 1978 movie and times when it wants to almost do its own thing and follow a more traditional modern horror route. The latter yields some decent results, and the addition of Danny McBride as a screenwriter allows these small moments of humor that were actually very well done.
But at the end of the day, I almost felt like Laurie wasn’t used as much as she should have been? Like we are introduced to Michael all these years later and the same to her, but it never felt like she was given a center stage approach. What did you think, Andrew?
ANDREW: I definitely agree that Laurie is sidelined for too much of the film--it really comes alive in the final act when the movie gets to be more of a cat and mouse game between her and Meyers in Laurie’s booby-trapped house. From the first trailer, I was excited about the idea of a new slasher narrative butting up against a rape-revenge-style narrative driven by Laurie and her many newfound guns (there are so many guns in this movie, y’all, and they all follow the rules of my video essay. It’s almost too much.) But unfortunately, I felt like we got too little too late in that department.
And to go back to your thought about that pick-up truck from Texas Chain Saw, Lydia, I thought it was a interesting detail that we see some girls get in a very similar truck at the end of the new Halloween. The movie seems to leave it’s theme of trauma fairly ambiguous and maybe even underexplored: we see how a person can be negatively affected by never feeling safe (Laurie) and how a person can be equally negatively affected by having too many safety measures put upon them (Judy Greer’s character--Laurie’s daughter). It ends up advocating for some sort of happy medium that just is just a little too vague to be interesting? Just watch Martyrs, please.
To come back to Zach’s point about the addition of Danny McBride as a screenwriter...I don’t think any of us can say for sure where the film’s sense of humor stems from, but this is certainly a movie that goes out of its way to be funny in a way that the original Halloween didn’t. So much of the original movie’s power comes from the unknowability of Meyers’s evil, and now we kind of know too much--so the movie has to be a little knowing in order to be compelling. In that way, it felt to me like a sequel to Scream just as much as it did the original Halloween; it feels an obligation to point out the tropes it’s rehashing as it’s rehashing them, but with very little of Scream’s critical eye. More of a “I understood that reference!” approach to genre traditionalism.
I will say that this is a very handsomely lit movie--I appreciated how eerie it looked, using a lot of movie-world objects like headlights and porchlights to light the scenes, often cutting through fog in the process. But that classically beautiful mode often felt like it was clashing with the cutting jokiness of the script. Felt a bit hollow in that respect. It totally works and I had a good time, but I felt a little underwhelmed when it was over?
LYDIA: Exactly, and I think that is what left me cold about new Halloween’s inability to play straight. I guess I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m conspiring with the movie (or being pandered to). I don’t think it’s quite fair to say the original Halloween isn’t funny (Carpenter has a twisted sense of humor), but it had to work harder to surprise the audience with moments of levity (important in horror movies!), rather than fall back on a pointed reference. Regarding rehashing without critiquing, Myers kills more people in the first sequence around the neighborhood (a floating camera over the shoulder instead of first-person Panaglide) than the entire original, and I got the sense I was supposed to be into it?
ANDREW: The midnight movie crowd certainly was, and like I explained in the podcast, it felt like seeing the theory laid out in Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws made flesh before our eyes. The audience roots for both teams: first the killer, then the victim. Throwing in a lot of winks makes people not question that equation too much, I guess.