Friday, October 19, 2018

'Halloween', Trick Or Treat?

I told you! My house isn't on the trick or treat map!!

If your two best friends were murdered as teenagers by a masked killer who had escaped from a mental institution, and you yourself barely made it out of that massacre alive, how do you think you'd fare in life?

There have been six sequels to the original 1978 Halloween. Three of them--Halloween II, Halloween H20, and Halloween Resurrection--also featured final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). But this year's Halloween, coming 40 years after the original, is the first to seriously ponder how much an attack by a knife-wielding maniac can fuck up your life.

Which, sure, isn't exactly an uplifting premise for what's supposed to be fun slasher movie. But director and writer David Gordon Green, and his co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, manage to inject some humor into the sequel, and Jamie Lee Curtis only briefly allows her Laurie to delve into self-pity. For the majority of the film she's a fiercely competent, gun-touting, basket case; the final girl turned vengeful grandma. Curtis steals every scene she's in.

It's been 40 years since the Night He Came Home, and Laurie Strode has weathered a few divorces, and is semi-estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), though still in contact with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). She lives in a tricked-out fortress in the woods outside Haddonfield, Illinois, forever preparing for what she assumes (hopes?) will be the inevitable return of Michael Myers.

This Halloween cleans the slate, erasing all the events and myth-building of the previous sequels, including deleting any relation between Michael and Laurie, ("Wasn't that her brother?" Dave, a friend of Allyson's asks; "No, that was just something people made up," she replies), returning Michael to his mysterious, stunted roots.

Giving Michael Myers some kind of backstory, with ingrained intent, never made him scarier, and it's something the previous sequels and reboots all needlessly did. He's a guy who murdered his actual sister when he was six, and he's remained a stunted, murderous six-year-old ever since. He came home was home. And he chose Laurie and her friends because she was the first girl he saw when he got there. And now? He just wants to pick up where he left off.

That's scary enough.

Director David Gordon Green has had an eclectic career, beginning with lyrical, Terrence Malick-esque dramas like George Washington and All the Real Girls, before moving on to the stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness. This is his first horror film, and I think his experience with quieter movies serves him well here. While he never mimics original director John Carpenter's fluid, Steadicam cinematography, he does keep his camera blissfully still when its most important, building suspense with longer takes and quiet unease.

He also scatters tension-relieving humor throughout, letting frequent collaborator Danny McBride's comedic voice come through in some very funny offhand exchanges from characters both minor and major. This humor is also important because the message at the heart of the film is pretty bleak, and much more introspective than anything in the previous sequels: Trauma begets trauma, and it can have an affect on families for generations.

Still, this is a Halloween movie, and it knows it has the please the fans, which it does, to a point that some might even call pandering. Along with Jamie Lee Curtis's return, we've got original Michael Myers actor Nick Castle donning the mask for several scenes as The Shape, and a voice cameo from P.J. Soles. Carpenter's famous score is also reprised by the man himself.

New characters also basically mirror those in the original, from an obsessed doctor dubbed "the new Loomis" (Haluk Bilginer), to a babysitting friend (Virginia Gardner), and her wisecracking ward (an absolutely hilarious Jibrail Nantambu). I also appreciated the callbacks to some of the original's minor characters.

If I have one complaint, it's the choice to up the body count and the gore this time around. One of the best things about the original was how once Michael set his sights on his target, he never strayed. It was Laurie and her friends he was after, not any other townspeople, and certainly not any kids. (Dogs on the other hand...) And the violence was relatively bloodless. Gore wasn't the goal, scares were.

Alas, we live in different times,  and even though Michael is now a man in his sixties, he's killin' like a twentysomething, leaving a trail of blood and brain matter in his wake. Luckily, Laurie Strode's no longer fighting like a scared teenager. Welcome the grandma's house, Michael.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a huge fan of this franchise and have been looking forward to seeing this film for months. I found it to be among the best of the sequel bunch, just behind H2O, IV and II, in that order. Of course, seeing Jamie Lee back in the role was a pleasure. I preferred her damaged but determine H2O character arch over her damaged but determined 2018 take on the same PTSD-driven neuroses. I'd like more Ripley, and less Eileen Brennan's Jeepers Creepers cat lady. That notwithstanding, the movie provided plenty of scares, some appreciated tips of the hat, the right amount of slasher gore without being Rob Zombie-grotesque and a strong, satisfying third act. So I'd say it's certainly worth seeing, but maybe not worth all the hype.

    What I really found interesting - and here come the spoilers - was the way the movie pushed the gender buttons. Interesting buttons to push in the era we're hopefully surviving. How often do you see a slasher flick, and come away with an in-depth discussion about the male/female roles in modern American society. It goes without saying that this was a celebration of the strength of women, with three generations of Strodes banding together to do battle with - and of course ultimately prevailing over - pure evil. Women rock! An obvious under current - no, rip current - through the film.

    But keep a close eye on the guys and the thoroughly interesting way the three male writers and director chose to develop them. The husband/father character is perfectly nice, but spinelessly benign and ineffective (making one of the more boneheaded slasher film mistakes in the third act). Typical, and by itself, not noteworthy. But add dad to the rest of the males in the movie and a gender-bending, masculinity-minimizing theme emerges. Maybe to make the women appear even stronger, or maybe to signal the decline of the manly-man mandate that used to corse through the veins of the America male.

    Take, for example, the boy begrudgingly riding with his dad in a pickup truck heading out to do some hunting. The boy would rather be at dance class. Dance, you see, speaks to his heart. I assumed he'd survive. He's a gentle soul who likes dance. And when was the last time a slasher film killed a 12 year old. On screen. I was wrong.

    Then there's boyfriend #1. He and Laurie's granddaughter go to a costume party as Bonnie & Clyde, with a twist they don't want to reveal to her parents. She's going as Clyde, and he's going as Bonnie - skirt, scarf, hat, the works. It serves the plot not at all, but it certainly assists in the deconstruction of the movie's gender roles.

    Finally, as far as I noticed, there's boyfriend #2. Blink-and-you'll miss-him Dave, the kid that blew up the pumpkin with the firecracker and later pops in on his girlfriend while she's babysitting the movie's only black character (A: one social discourse at a time, and B: he steals the show!). Anyway, Dave's character is interesting not because the guy runs when the going gets tough - which he does, though he doesn't get far - but because of a curious bit of casting that seems to fit the film makers' narrative. Dave, you see, is played by Miles Robbins - son of actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon - who has a penchant for walking the red carpet in a dress. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Turns out, the guy just doesn't like ties, doesn't care about society's self-imposed gender roles and finds dresses pretty comfortable.

    Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe this is a movie just about strong women, and not at all about the deconstruction of men. Or maybe the most pivotal character in this new Halloween isn't Laurie or Michael. But instead, boyfriend #2.