Saturday, December 1, 2018

Halloween (2018)

John Carpenter, original Halloween director in 1978

Director David Gordon Green

Director David Gordon Green having a moment with Jamie Lee Curtis

HALLOWEEN                      C+                  
USA  (106 mi)  2018  ‘Scope  d:  David Gordon Green                    Official Site

If the way I raised your mother means that she hates me but she’s prepared for the horrors of this world, I can live with that.
―Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), speaking to her granddaughter

Since John Carpenter doesn’t make movies anymore, you’d think once American indie darling, now movie chameleon David Gordon Green, might be the right man for the job, as who else would pay such open respect to the original HALLOWEEN (1978), viewed as an essential work that started a slew of slasher films, yet few lived up to the utter simplicity and near perfection of the original.  Green is a man from Arkansas with a deep appreciation for the Southern gothic movie tradition and in particular the drive-in movie genre.  And while this is the 11th film in the Halloween franchise, it ignores all the sequels and follow-ups, avoids any abused childhood subplot, and instead bears a direct relationship to the original, often finding amusing ways to mirror what we saw, inverting what happened then to what we see now, using a playful choreography that seriously pays homage to the original.  It might even be said that the more one knows about the original might actually improve one’s appreciation for this film, as it’s like a variation on an original fugue.  First off, this trio of male scriptwriters, including the director, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley, feel like a team of fraternity brothers, never coming close to capturing the depth of the original, introducing characters only to be eliminated, like a zombie flick, while the female characters in particular are simply never fleshed out or developed, feeling criminally underwritten (noticeably lacking the influence of Debra Hill).  But one other hugely influential choice really alters the balance, and that is the prolific use of guns, which simply changes the game, altering the mood, looking like every other shoot-em up on the marketplace these days, making it all too easy.  One is reminded of Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones movies where he comes across a man in black robes going through a gyration of moves with a giant deadly sword until Indie simply pulls out a revolver and casually shoots him to death, Raiders of the Lost Ark - Knife to a Gun Fight - YouTube (32 seconds).  The presence of guns in a slasher genre removes any element of surprise, as we all know the deadly damage that guns can do.  It’s not a fair fight.  Accordingly, the film isn’t nearly as much fun, as it lessens the degree of heightened suspense.  The beauty of the original was the innocent naïveté of the young girls who were simply clueless to the presence of evil in their small town.  Nearly every move played off that initial theme until one of the girls summoned the power to fight back, creating a series of unexpected surprises, reaching delirious heights of anticipation and suspense, where the shocking ending is legendary, creating a cult figure in Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the babysitter who successfully protected the children from the bogeyman.  

With a nod to the original orange-on-black opening credits, this film picks up 40 years later, with Curtis again reprising her role as Laurie Strode, now isolated and divorced, an unhinged gun nut and blatantly obsessed doomsday survivalist bent on the coming Armageddon, whose hardened exterior is something of a shock, but her life has been one of utter turmoil since the initial event.  Traumatized yet still living in Haddonfield, she now lives in a heavily fortified house on the edge of town with an impregnable Panic Room basement built-in that might seem over-the-top, yet she lost custody of her daughter Karen (Judy Greer, overly shrill and whiny) at the age of 12, continually drilling her to prepare for Michael Myers’ return, an obsession with target practice and survivalist maneuvers that the state found unnatural and borderline psychotic, spending much of her time in foster care, but is now married to her mealy-mouthed husband Ray (Toby Huss), living a comfortable middle-class life raising Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) who is now in high school, about the same age as Laurie in the first film.  What’s immediately apparent is the focus on these three women, who are decidedly different from each other, yet each with a past that remains in crisis mode, even if Karen and Allyson have moved on.  The sympathy for these women is a different aspect of the film, as they come to represent the solidarity of the #MeToo movement, a reaction against sexual harassment and assault, whose sole goal is the empowerment of women who have been victimized by traumatic experiences.  Laurie Strode would seem to be the poster child for this movement, though nothing like it existed at the time of the event, lost in the faded memories of most Haddonfield residents.  A curious team of amateur podcast sleuths Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhain Rees) have dug up pretty much everything that exists on the subject, yet still persist on digging up still more hidden clues, contacting Michael in prison, who of course refuses to utter a solitary word, and Laurie at her ridiculously overprotected home that resembles more of a self-made prison, hilariously letting them in only when they agree to a $3000 payment for an interview, which she promptly hands over to Allyson.  By some strange act of fate, Michael Myers is being transported to a new maximum security prison on the day before Halloween, unleashing a world of possibilities that resembles the original, right down to a madly eccentric psychiatrist, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who turns out to be more of dirt weasel than Donald Pleasence, adding a bit of stylish overkill to the role. 

For the most part, the film centers upon the mundane world of Allyson and the shallow world that surrounds her in high school, where like Laurie at her age, she seems destined for college, likely out of state, and a seemingly better future.  While she easily catches her mother in a lie, pretending she invited her Grandma to a birthday dinner when she didn’t, overly protecting her whenever she asks about her Grandma, as if there are no consequences, with her mother still remaining a bit delusional.  That may as well be the theme of the extravaganza high school Halloween party that has it all in exaggerated costumes and attire except for the resurrection of Carrie, where Allyson catches her boyfriend stealing a kiss from a less than innocent female admirer, sending her into a swooning tailspin that happens to coincide with the arrival of Michael into Haddonfield, blending in seamlessly with the young trick or treaters parading up and down the block in colorful attire, all set in a ghoulish neighborhood atmosphere of unending fantasy and gore.   One of the better scenes of the film involves the clever interplay between a resourceful babysitter, one of Allyson’s friends, Vicky (Virginia Gardner), who has an equally brainy kid to look after, Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), matching witticisms with existing fears of a bogeyman hiding in the closet, beautifully rendering light comedic child’s play into the stuff of high drama, where the playful mood turns on a dime, literally setting this film in motion.  Nothing equals the haunting original score by John Carpenter himself, which is utterly simplistic, yet absolute perfection, becoming iconic over time, reworked here by Carpenter himself along with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies.  Will Patton is added to the mix as the anguished cop on the beat, Officer Hawkins (the young cop who arrested Michael 40 years ago), always viewed in hot pursuit, involved in a series of near misses, but understandably remains exacerbated throughout, with Michael always just out of reach.  His relentless dedication is mirrored by the cluelessness of a couple of weirdo younger cops who are vastly overmatched, thrown in for comic relief, literally fed to the sharks for good measure.  The finale isn’t nearly as shocking as it’s intended to be, transferring the fear and suspense of the original, which is an edge-of-your-seat thriller, into a more predictable outcome, though Michael and Laurie are visually linked, appearing as if on cue, taking the place of where the other used to be, while the reinvention is on the focus of survival, with the Strode women navigating the troubled waters into a more positive outcome.  Hard to live up to the legendary status of the original, and while there are some moments, overall it disappoints.  

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