Saturday, October 20, 2018

Halloween (2018) Review

Last year during the Halloween season I did what every good movie critic is essentially required to do at some point. Review John Carpenter's classic 1978 film "Halloween." This Halloween I followed that up with a review of Rick Rosenthal's not-so-classic 1981 sequel "Halloween II." I have both of those reviews linked there if you want to catch up on that before getting my thoughts on this current movie, which is the 11th movie in the Halloween franchise. If you don't feel like reading both those reviews, the cliff notes version is that I think "Halloween" is one of the most effective horror movies ever made, but I have plenty of nitpicks on the character of Michael Myers, who I don't think is the most interesting character. There's a lot better horror villains out there. "Halloween II" is a decent follow-up, although it takes a LONG time to get interesting, which is unfortunate because the movie itself isn't very long. If you are interested in my reviews of the other movies in the franchise, well, I'm sorry. You're probably out of luck. I've never cared to watch the rest. I've only seen "Halloween 5" because I met the guy who played Michael Myers in that movie (Don Shanks) and the first half of Rob Zombie's 2007 "Halloween," which was so awful that I couldn't finish.

But, hey, that's OK. Because in order to fully understand the timeline in "Halloween (2018)," the only required viewing is the first "Halloween." Because this movie decided to retcon the rest of them. Which I hear was certainly not a bad idea due to how awful most of those sequels apparently are. I recently watched Screen Junkies' Halloween Cram It video where they summarize every movie in the franchise in 25 minutes. And, yeah, there's a lot of strange things that happen. So if we're going to continue these movies, we might as well wipe everything clean, right? A second remake of the original would've been dumb. But a movie that is a direct sequel to the original, but taking place 40 years later while pretending the other movies in the timeline didn't exist, is a pretty smart idea. Yes, I know, "Halloween: H2O" in 1998 also retconned the previous sequels as it was the seventh movie in the franchise, but completely eliminated movies four through six while being a follow-up to the first two ("Halloween III" has nothing to do with Michael Myers). So that means this current movie's idea isn't completely original. But I think it was the right idea and the box office numbers seem to agree with me as it's set for an opening weekend north of $80 million domestically.

The reason I wanted to review "Halloween II" this month, even though it also got retconned, is that I wanted to know which direct follow-up to the original was a better movie. We have two completely separate avenues for a direct sequel. The first idea is to pick up exactly where we left off as "Halloween" and "Halloween II" take place on the same exact night. The second idea is to pretend that, right after Michael Myers escapes at the end of the first movie, he got caught and was thrown back in prison for the next 40 years. On paper I think the idea that "Halloween II" had was a much better idea than "Halloween (2018)." I do take issue with claiming he got caught because that makes the ending of the original movie a bit anticlimactic. It means that we have to accept the idea that after Dr. Loomis shot him six times, followed by him falling off that second-story balcony and mysteriously walking away, that he walked around the corner and got caught by police? That's dumb. And if the movie itself was bad, then that means everyone would've agreed that this plot device would've been borderline offensive to the Halloween fans. But... SURPRISE!!! This movie is actually pretty good. Better than "Halloween II" in my opinion. So we'll just label that as a nitpick and move on.

OK, maybe you aren't THAT surprised that this movie is good. The trailers were extremely effective and the movie was released last month at both the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest, getting solid reviews out of both. So I went into this movie really excited. Which is crazy since I was one of the millions of people rolling my eyes at the idea of Hollywood not letting this franchise go. But that's the power of a good marketing campaign combined with a movie that's a worthy successor to a classic. Although even though I do claim that this movie is a good movie, I will admit that it did suffer from some of the exact same things that "Halloween II" suffered from. It took forever to get started. The idea here is that Michael Myers is being transferred, but the bus crashes on Halloween and he escapes. We could've let that event happen in the first 10-15 minutes of the movie. But that didn't happen until we were 30 minutes in. Instead, we spent that first half hour setting up a whole slew of side characters that were ultimately useless to the plot. We have a psychologist, a team of investigative journalists, Laurie Strode's family, her granddaughter's friends from school and a whole bunch of red coats that are only there to get killed by Michael.

On that note, one of the reasons why the original "Halloween" is so effective is the simplicity of it all. Michael Myers escapes and hunts down a trio of friends. That's it. His escape happens pretty quickly and a good portion of the first half of the movie is spent on him creepily stalking this trio of teenagers before eventually making his move later on in the evening. With Laurie Strode being our main character from that trio of teenagers, the kills leading up to the final chase sequences are effective because it was her friends that got killed, thus the tension is slowly building up to an excellent climax. So spending 30 minutes setting up a whole bunch of ultimately useless characters was disappointing to me. We could've focused specifically on Laurie Strode's family, because they were all good characters. The idea of Laurie becoming psychologically messed up following the events of the first movie was a great idea. She's spent 40 years preparing and perhaps over-preparing for Michael's return. The tension that followed with her, her daughter Karen, played by Judy Greer, and her granddaughter Allyson, played by Andi Matichak, was great. Jamie Lee Curtis knocks it out of the park with her performance as do the other two female leads, Judy Greer and Andi Matichak.

But I really didn't care for anyone else. I didn't need a sub-plot involving two investigative journalists. I didn't need a sub-plot with Michael's new psychologist. I didn't need to know so much about Allyson's boyfriend and all the high school drama involved there. It was just too much for me. The movie unnecessarily spread itself too thin just so we could have a whole bunch of gory slasher-flick sequences. Which is the other problem. After we spent the first 30 minutes setting up all this unnecessary story, we spend the next segment of the movie killing everyone off after Michael finally escapes. If you are one of the people who loves slasher flicks, you might be entertained by all of this. Personally, though, I hesitate to call myself a huge fan of the slasher-flick sub-genre of horror because I don't go to horror films excited to watch a whole bunch of gory deaths. I don't find that scary or all that entertaining. When it comes to horror, I care about story and characters. The themes from a horror film that come with a well-written story can often be much deeper than any other genre. And I'll be much more scared of the evil villain if said villain is chasing around characters I care about. If the story is nothing but a random villain killing random people, then I check out.

Interestingly enough, this is also a similar issue that "Halloween II" had. That movie spends most of second act killing a bunch of random people in a hospital that don't even have a connection to Laurie Strode outside the fact that they are in the same building together. I found none of it scary or interesting. But that's what a lot of these slasher flicks end up reverting to. Our villain wandering around killing a bunch of random people. The further along you get in the franchise, the less and less the franchise will focus on story and characters and the more it will focus on an endless stream of gory death sequences that mean nothing. So I found it really disappointing that "Halloween (2018)" decided to go for the cliche slasher flick route in its second act. Granted, when comparing the "Halloween II" and "Halloween (2018)," the random side characters that get set up just to get killed by Michael are much more interesting in "Halloween (2018)," whereas "Halloween II" was filled with awful acting and horrible characters. But still, I was expecting a bit more out of this than a simple slasher flick. On the note of the second acts of both movies, everything regarding the doctors discussing the psychology of Michael were redundant.

Unfortunately for the sake of my review, what DID work quite well in "Halloween (2018)" was the final act of the movie. And how am I supposed to talk about that? With "Halloween II" being released 37 years ago, I felt at ease discussing the fact that the reason the movie worked so well was Michael chasing injured Laurie around in the empty hospital. But with a movie that was released to the general public this weekend, I feel like I can't openly discuss this movie's ending. But I'm going to tip-toe around it anyways because I feel that you all knew that this movie was going to end with a Michael vs. Laurie showdown. I mean, that might be the end of EVERY Halloween movie. But the advertising of this movie was centered specifically around the idea of Laurie wanting Michael to escape so that she could get her revenge and kill him. And even if you've not seen any of the trailers, you'll know in the first act that this is exactly where the movie is going, so is it really spoiling anything if I say that Michael eventually finds Laurie and the two go toe-to-toe together in an epic duel? And is it really all that surprising if I tell you that THAT is why the movie works so well? When the movie stops killing useless side characters that we don't care about and gets to the point, it's pretty great.

In summing this all up, the big word here is focus. "Halloween" was great because it was a simple story that was very focused. Every sequence in the movie had a specific purpose and each scene slowly built towards a dramatic ending. Each death in the movie meant something to the plot and built the tension. The movie wasn't scary because people died by an unstoppable killer. The movie was scary because the deaths meant something. "Halloween II" veers away from that and spends most of the movie killing random people that no one cares about, but gets good when Michael is chasing Laurie around in the empty hospital. I wish "Halloween (2018)" would've put more care into having a focused film like the original, but unfortunately it spends much of the time being unfocused like "Halloween II." But there is enough of Laurie Strode and her family spread throughout the film to keep your interest and when the movie finally stops dragging its feet and focuses in on the family, the movie is excellent. And it's much better than "Halloween II" in this aspect because Laurie and her family aren't damsels in distress. They're armed, prepared and ready for war. Because of that, I'm going to be nice with my final grade because I walked out satisfied. Thus I'll give this an 8/10.

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