Sunday, February 10, 2019

Halloween (2018)

Given the blockbuster success of David Gordon Green’s sequel to the original first Halloween, I’m rather surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It’s not that I dislike big movies (frequent readers will remember me getting pretty excited about most Marvel movies, for example), but the mainstream horror movie franchises with the most mainstream success right now – The Conjuring and Insidious come to mind – really don’t do it for me.

Plotwise, like many of us probably like to do in our heads, too, the filmmakers pretend there were no Halloween movies made in between Carpenter’s original Halloween and this one, so there’s no idiotic non-mythology to cope with, no relation between Laurie Strode and Michel Myers, and certainly no Rob Zombie stripper-related backstory (hooray). Which, obviously, is the first thing about the film at hand that endears it to me.

As you can probably imagine, the encounter with Myers in the first movie and the ensuing trauma very much ruined Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) life, leaving her paranoid, suffering from PTSD and over prepared for every possible danger even decades after the fact. She somehow managed to get married and have a child despite all of this, but her crazy survivalist parenting style and her just being horribly difficult to live with because of how damaged she is have left the relationship between her and her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) in tatters.  Karen is having a teenage daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), herself now, and she’s obviously trying to not be her mother to a fault. Allyson has apparently turned out pretty alright despite all of this, and is doing her best to bridge the gap between her mother and her grandmother.

Which might even work out, if Michael, who has been kept in a picturesquely creepy and totally absurd movie mental “health” facility that seems to follow the Arkham Asylum rule book of patient treatment, didn’t use the opportunity offered by a transportation to what is apparently supposed to be an even worse facility, to break out and start right in with the killing again. This time, however, he seems purposefully drawn towards Laurie and her family.

Actually, I’m cheating a bit with this plot description, for I’m really describing the core of the Halloween sequel that intelligently uses ideas about Laurie from Halloween H20 but with more insight and less need to be a clever 90s style slasher, leaving out all the subplots and characters that the film grows around this core like weed. The script – credited to Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and Green though I suspect remains of a dozen other scripts and treatments being buried in it too – is messy to say the least, starting subplots that just stop when Michael needs to get another kill in, or dropping characters and their storyline half-way through the film when they’ve done their duty by, say, destroying Allyson’s handy. There are a few too many moments when the mechanics of the plot are really showing, too. Other elements included are just plain inexplicable, like the idiotic and pretty damn pointless evil mad psychiatrist subplot that seems to belong into Halloween V or thereabouts. Don’t even begin to think about why there’s a weird would-be Tarantino skit between two cops later on in the film.

These distractions also take valuable time away from the film’s examination of the way Laurie’s encounter with Myers has not only destroyed her possibly bright future but has indirectly made the life of three generations of women worse, with the youngest appropriately trying to fix the damage Myers has done. It’s easy to read this as a timely bit of #metoo commentary, yet it works just as well as something somewhat less beholden to contemporary politics and speaking to all kinds of trauma that have troubled all kinds of people for – one fears – as long as humanity has done horrible things to each other.

Given how often the film distracts from this part of its plot, it’s actually a bit of a surprise it does indeed work as well as it does, but the script isn’t just messy and peculiarly loaded with subplots, it also does its best – very much in the spirit of the original Halloween - to turn at least half of Michael’s victims into likeable or semi-likeable human beings we don’t actually want to see killed in the pleasantly horrible ways Michael uses here, lending much of the body count actual impact beyond a bit of the old red stuff.

As a director Green is genuinely great at setting up suspense scenes, sometimes using the audience’s knowledge of genre conventions against us, and often demonstrating a talent for visual storytelling that rubs weirdly against the often confused narrative of the script. In fact, Green’s direction is strong enough, and the emotional core surrounding the Strode women so involving, I find the film’s flaws much greater in theory than they are in practice.

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