By Noel Vera
Directed by David Gordon Green
PART of what makes Halloween (2018) remarkable: the return of John Carpenter (helped with music); the return of Nick Castle (he provided the heavy breathing and at one point plays masked killer Michael Myers); the return of Jamie Lee Curtis (reprising the role that made her famous, Laurie Strode) but what for me really sets this sequel apart from the 10 other sequels reboots remakes and so on is a new name: David Gordon Green.
Oh some details do leave an impression: the blocky orange font (ITC Serif Gothic) on black background; the flattened pumpkin swelling back up to life (as handy an image as any of this resurrected franchise); the different shots recreated from Carpenter’s 1978 original, albeit with a twist; and, of course, Carpenter’s music, that familiar piano-and-synthesizer score with (on occasion) a clever twist when things get busy.
Green moves away from the Rob Zombie 2007 reboot, abandoning the abused childhood subplot — here, as in Carpenter’s film, he’s simply The Shape, and named as such in the credits (James Jude Courtney, who did the more strenuous bits). I suspect Carpenter had reasons for keeping the “character” so abstract — one being that it saved him the need to write extra dialogue — but possibly to free him to build up the figure (via camera movement and mis-en-scene) into something terrifying and mythic. “[N]o reason, no conscience, no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong,” Michael’s doctor Sam Loomis (a wonderfully unhinged Donald Pleasance) muttered in the original. On occasion he’s referred to as The Boogeyman, which is about the closest to an explanation of the character that you’ll ever get.
Which brings up the debate as to whether or not Zombie’s decision to explain Michael was right. Personally I thought the move reductive; Michael diminished into being yet another serial killer in a genre already crowded with graceless stumbling examples. The 2009 sequel to this reboot had nowhere to go but give the siblings (Oh, did I mention? In Halloween ll Michael and Laurie were revealed to be brothers and sisters) a telepathic link (an idea recycled from Halloween 5), and an excuse to splatter the screen with surreal imagery — Zombie, in effect, ran out of ideas about traumatized Michael and fell back to doing what Carpenter had been doing from the beginning: pure filmmaking dazzle and style, and to hell with substance (Carpenter did it with elegance and grace; Zombie — well, he dazzled, sometimes. Sometimes he induced a migraine.).
What Green brings to the table is a shift in focus. Jamie Lee Curtis’ former babysitter 40 years later is now a “twice-divorced basket case,” estranged from daughter Karen (Judy Greer), desperate to maintain contact with granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). She drinks too much; she’s also agoraphobic. When invited to a dinner with the parents and Allyson’s new boyfriend, she picks up Karen’s wineglass and takes a sip while her daughter looks on in dismay; they spend the rest of the shortlived dinner bickering. For a horror movie/slasher flick this installment of Halloween sure likes to take its time getting to know the cannon fodder.
To spoil matters a little — it’s about Laurie; it’s all about Laurie all along. The Shape is an unstoppable force, come out of nowhere, that assaulted a young Laurie — why? Who knows? Green does away with the longstanding (and frankly tiresome) franchise lore about siblings (when asked Allyson responds “that’s something that people made up”) — assault in this film is random and unexplained, as it is for many women. Laurie has been bent out of shape ever since, moving into a small fortress of a house complete with perimeter fences and surveillance cameras and a basement arsenal. Curtis, in what may be the role of her career, looks suitably formidable, but underneath that fierceness is a haunted quality, as if a figure stood before her that she can flinch away from or rail against but simply won’t go away. There’s an economy to her movement, the way she rams in deadbolts and drops crossbars in place, pumps a shotgun or sweeps a room with revolver in hand — Green repeats these sequences over and over till they become a delirious cadenza of survivalist poetry.
And like other forms of poetry, you recognize what’s being alluded to, or evoked: the economic grace of John Carpenter’s gliding camera; The Shape’s own minimalist predatory stride.
The dollhouse in Laurie’s room — a replica of the Myers house — is a dead giveaway, an undiscussed unemphasized detail suggesting The Shape’s sway over Laurie’s life: presiding over an exclusive corner in her bedroom, inside her head.
A bit of a sidenote: Judy Greer as Laurie’s daughter Karen performs ably enough in the comically embarrassing mother-daughter-grandmother scenes but little else — till the point when she’s unwillingly brought to Laurie’s house. There her face becomes a mask of stricken recognition — she knows this house; it’s in fact her childhood, an existence so intense Social Services took her away and declared Laurie an unfit mother. Karen, like her mother, has suffered in the past, not from The Shape but from her own mother; this homecoming is also an awakening, not into real life but into nightmare. Daughter Allyson isn’t half as interesting despite the disproportionate screen time — basically your levelheaded teenager suddenly in over her head — but Green’s concept needs her, as the rookie Strode ready to experience her own trauma, a generational rite of passage.
Suddenly Green’s callbacks to the original make sense. Each time we see a familiar pose — a face in a darkened doorway, a figure across the street, a body curled on the lawn — and each time it’s Laurie, not The Shape. They’re not so much telepathically linked (silly idea) as visually, a victimizer who failed to catch his prey and a victim who failed to die; over the years they’ve obsessed over this failed relationship, one preparing and the other — well who knows what he’s been doing all these years (Resistance training?).
Curtis has been criticized for being a gun control activist who here wields a Winchester rifle — only I’ve known a few gun collectors and she doesn’t act anything like them. They talk lovingly about their toys; they discuss cartridges and stopping power and smooth bolt actions. Curtis’ Laurie uses guns but they give her no joy — if anything they form the bars of her selfmade prison. Why is she so obsessed with confronting The Shape, after so many years? Because — aside from the need to protect her loved ones — she wants her life back, the life that he stole long ago. She finally wants to be free.
MTRCB Rating: R-16
By Noel Vera