Movie Review: “Halloween”

24 Oct

As longtime readers will know, I don’t usually review horror movies on this site. In this case, I’m making an exception for two reasons: first, it’s not so gruesome that I feel like I can’t recommend it to anyone (just as in the original, nothing here is much worse than your average episode of “Supernatural”), and second, it’s the rare installment in the genre that has some real, objective merit.

David Gordon Green’s new flick picks up precisely 40 years after masked killer Michael Myers’ first rampage through the town of Haddonfield. (All prior sequels, reboots, and forays into increasingly convoluted internal mythology are disregarded: instead, “Halloween” 2018 is a direct sequel to the original 1978 film.) Myers (Nick Castle) has spent the last four decades under psychiatric observation in a heavily guarded hospital facility. Not once, in all those years, has he uttered a single word.

Not far off, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)—now a grandmother—has never been able to shake the specter of her last confrontation with Myers. She’s become a survivalist, training her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) to defend herself since childhood and outfitting her home with a secret basement and plenty of guns. But these efforts have come at a terrible cost: the breakup of her marriage and estrangement from her daughter, who has a teenage daughter of her own (Andi Matichak).

Inevitably, Myers escapes from custody, grabs a knife, and starts killing again. This time around, though, Grandma’s packing heat.

It’s a great setup—and true to that strong vision, this is a very high-quality production across the board. Following one of the best opening scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie like this (and opening credits scored by John Carpenter), we’re catapulted straight into a narrative that feels both familiar and novel. Yes, lots of the same ideas from the original are still there (including a particularly gratuitous homage during the climax), but they hold up quite well: in particular, “Halloween” doesn’t overrely on startling moments to build and release tension. (At this point, I’m increasingly convinced that only James Wan can do jump scares properly.) Instead, we get some cinematographic innovation—most notably, an extended tracking shot as Myers’ onslaught begins.

Maybe the most interesting dimension of “Halloween,” though, is its curious political subtext. Given that it was billed as a horror film for the #MeToo era, it’s surprising to find that “Halloween” shares very little in common with the dominant feminist discourse. (Intersectionality? Get outta here. In this movie it’s white folks all the way down.) If this version of “Halloween” indeed has a feminist ethos (and it does), it’s one that draws heavily on the sharp-elbowed second-wave feminism of Camille Paglia and Germaine Greer, stressing women’s independence and autonomy without necessarily entailing a commitment to left politics. Quite the opposite: the film takes remarkable joy in demolishing various modern progressive pieties.

For instance, one of the film’s central questions is whether Karen, a (probably liberal) suburban mom, must wield firearms to protect herself and her daughter. The movie’s answer is crystal clear—indeed, the NRA itself couldn’t have made a better argument for gun access than this movie. Likewise, Laurie’s early pronouncement that the world isn’t full of sunshine and light, but profound danger, is vindicated in a very bloody way as Myers storms across Haddonfield. “Rehabilitative” approaches to criminal justice similarly come in for skewering: clearly, forty years of treatment have done nothing to help reform Myers’ proclivities toward carnage. The answer to this problem, “Halloween” declares, is self-defense.

It’s worth mentioning here that the film roots its justification for retaliatory violence in the nature of its antagonist. While Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake explored Myers’ backstory at great length—essentially, blaming a bad childhood for his bad character—the 2018 reboot takes precisely the opposite tack. Here, Myers is the same emotionless, wordless force of destruction he was in the original film.

Why is this so frightening? Consider this: in traditional Christian thought, sins have sometimes been understood as disordered means of pursuing some legitimate good. For instance, even though his conduct is wrong, the boy who sneaks into a movie theater without paying is seeking something objectively valuable—perhaps an aesthetic experience of beauty and creativity. So too, someone who kills out of anger at what has been done to him is still pursuing some “good,” albeit a very muddled one—a scale-balancing rooted in an idea of justice, however twisted.

Myers’ violence is upsetting because it reflects no disordered orientation toward some good. One is reminded of an old adage: the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And indeed, the killings Myers commits indifferently are purposeless, pointless, acts of absolute life-denying negation. We’re told early on that despite his confinement in a treatment center, Myers isn’t really mentally ill: he’s an agent of “pure evil,” fully aware of what’s going on around him and fully in control. Here, “evil” feels like a misnomer, insofar as it suggests some possibility of redemption.

When confronted with that sort of horror, what can one do but fight back? And fight back Laurie and her family members do.

As should be obvious, “Halloween” is not a movie for everyone; this is a film for people with strong stomachs. But for those with an appreciation for this sort of thing, the movie is a remarkable achievement, one that melds technical proficiency with some genuinely interesting ideas. Heading in, I didn’t expect to reach this conclusion, but “Halloween” is a very strong contender for the year’s best film of its genre.

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Posted by on October 24, 2018 in Thrillers


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