Halloween – Film Review by David Turpin
Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak
It’s hard to fault the logic of this latest Halloween, tangled though it may be. Picking up exactly 40 years after John Carpenter’s brilliant original, David Gordon Green’s film chooses to ignore the intervening follow-ups, remakes and cash-ins, presenting itself as a ‘direct sequel’ – and freeing itself of four decades of uninspired stalk-and-slash mayhem. Unfortunately, Gordon Green’s intriguing conceit speaks of a reverence for the original that quickly calcifies into finicky ‘fan service’ and similar-but-not-as-good recreations of Carpenter’s greatest hits.
The good news is that Jamie Lee Curtis – every sane person’s favourite slasher movie heroine – is back in business as Laurie Strode, masked killer Michael Myers’ intended victim from way-back-when. After a rather convoluted set-up, Michael escapes from captivity and starts wending his grisly way back to Haddonfield, his hometown and the site of his subsequent killing spree. Once word gets out, Laurie – now a gun-toting security nut – sees this as an opportunity to finish him off for good, despite the scepticism of her daughter Karen (an uncomfortable Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (appealing newcomer Andi Matichak).
That’s pretty much it, as far as the plot goes – save for one intriguing late-stage twist that sadly gets dropped before it takes root – but, then, the genius of the original Halloween wasn’t exactly in the plotting either. Rather, it was in the absolute spatial clarity with which Carpenter staged his lean and sustained suspense sequences; the surprising wit of the writing; the sharply drawn secondary characters; and the sheer root-for-able-ness of Curtis.
Gordon Green’s film draws mixed results on all of the above. Most problematically, the command of suspense mechanics and screen space itself just isn’t up to par. While much is done elsewhere to ape the original’s aesthetic (including an inspired title sequence), Carpenter’s most distinctive device – his gorgeous, meticulously composed tracking shots, in which threat manifests within the neutral parts of the frame, rather than smash-cutting from without – is lost. There are a few half-baked stabs (pardon) at something similar, but more often than not, the whole thing is cut together with a herky-jerk rhythm that occasionally makes it very hard to determine who is supposed to be where within a given set-up.
Elsewhere, the writing lacks wit, but compensates for it with comic relief; while the characters are drawn with ‘quirks’ that speak of Gordon Green’s background in both earnest indie drama and snarky stoner comedy, but that amount to extraneous detailing as distinct from the economical but pin-sharp characterisation of Carpenter and Debra Hill’s original script. They also tend to appear and disappear rather haphazardly – with several subplots (or murders?) presumably ending up on the cutting room floor.
Some gestures are made toward contemporary sexual politics – particularly among the various high-school characters – but these are, in turn, undercut by Gordon Green’s curious decision to void Myers’ crimes of their clear psycho-sexual focus. Similarly, another defining trait both of Carpenter’s original and of Gordon Green’s filmmaking – namely the sense of specificity with which a peculiarly American milieu is captured – is undercut by the odd decision to spend the first section of the film on a superfluous bit of business led by two incongruous British podcasters.
This leaves Curtis. She’s certainly game, although the film counter-intuitively places her outside the action for much of the running time. Unfortunately, while both she and Gordon Green fully commit to this new conception of her character, it just isn’t a particularly interesting reading (bringing a lone-survivor heroine back as a vest-clad Cassandra is a fairly stock device from Aliens, Terminator 2, et al). Indeed, while Gordon Green’s film is almost certainly better than Curtis’s last franchise entry – 1998’s campy Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later – that maligned opus arguably made better use of her talents. What’s more, despite all the lumpy laugh-lines scattered about, Curtis’ own tremendous comic timing gets very short shrift.
Frustratingly, while the film is almost certainly the second-best ‘Halloween’ entry – and this is clearly the best that can be hoped for – neither its ambitions nor its achievements go much beyond that. Despite the presence of Gordon Green, Curtis – and Carpenter himself, as co-composer and executive producer – the film most clearly bears the hallmarks of its production company, Blumhouse Pictures. Like so many Blumhouse films, Halloween just feels like it was made in a hurry, with one eye on the trailer highlights and the other on a gimmicky release date. That’s fine if one’s ambitions go no further than turning in a better-than-average slasher movie, but surely we had a right to expect a little more?