I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of this franchise
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I am not a fan of the Halloween series. No, not even John Carpenter’s 1978 original. I can appreciate, from a cinema-history perspective, how groundbreaking it was and how it changed the horror genre onscreen. But, ya know, it didn’t change movies for the better. It popularized the idea of an antagonist as pure boogeyman, a villain with no appreciable motivation beyond insanity, which is tedious from a narrative standpoint and a lazy way to draw a character even if we never get into the horrific ways in which that is a slander on the mentally ill (who are, I’m sure you’ve heard, infinitely more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators). It is the source of the misogynist clichés of the genre that posit that “slutty” girls deserve to die but virginal girls are safe while simultaneously presenting the terror of girls and women — whether they are slutty or virginal — as sexualized and titillating to the presumed-hetero-male viewer. It was all about violent gore as an acceptable be-all and end-all, its own justification for its deployment. And on top of all of that, Halloween simply is not scary. Or maybe I have never found it thrilling because I am not turned on by terrified girls and buckets of blood.
And with this umpteenth installment in the 40-year-old franchise, director David Gordon Green (Our Brand Is Crisis, Manglehorn) has found not a single damn thing new or fresh to bring to the long-since overplayed slasher genre. Not even in how he tries to be a little bit feminist about it all. (Green wrote the script with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, none of whom have any demonstrated expertise or even experience with horror. Mostly, they’re all about adolescent grossout comedy [Pineapple Express, Your Highness]. How did any of them even get this gig? They might at least have brought in a female screenwriter or two to help them with their supposed feminism instead of imagining they could handle it.) The notion to return to Jamie Lee Curtis’s (Veronica Mars, From Up on Poppy Hill) Laurie Strode, the then-teenaged babysitter who just barely escaped the homicidal rampage of Michael Myers back in the 70s, and see how she has fared since is theoretically a good one (even if it means this movie completely ignores the fact that we have already seen how she has fared since, as in 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection and 1998’s Halloween H20). And there’s potential in their conjecture that Laurie is suffering from PTSD as a result of that long-ago trauma and has turned to the security blanket of stockpiling guns and a literal bunker mentality as a way to cope.
But as awesome as Curtis is — here and always, everywhere — this new Halloween doesn’t give her a role anywhere near as big or as impactful as it should be. That’s actually the most shocking thing about this movie, in fact, how small her role feels: she is reactive rather than proactive, and she doesn’t have much agency, which is what a woman who feels powerless and at the mercy of a madman, as Laurie does, needs to feel better, if we’re talking feminist revenge in a popcorn movie. (Then again, the horror genre has never been as feminist as it likes to think it is.) Laurie here talks about how she has wished for Michael — who remains only ever just a hulking, masked figure — to escape from the maximum-security mental hospital where he has been imprisoned, so that she could kill him. And danged if she doesn’t get her wish in a way that represents a preposterous abdication of responsibility on the part of his keepers. That’s plot hole enough… but imagine if Laurie had somehow been instrumental in affecting Michael’s escape. Imagine if she had somehow helped him escape, just so that she could kill him. That would be a feminist revenge worthy of what this movie thinks it’s doing, and fails at.
Instead, Green gives us a minor fan-fiction take on the Halloween mythology: Hey, what’s Laurie Strode up to as a middle-aged lady? Maybe she likes guns LOL? This Halloween is blah, with nowhere near the psychological incisiveness it thinks it has. It’s not at all scary, which doesn’t surprise me in the least, as escaped-Michael lumbers around on yet another All Hallow’s Eve killing random people; they’re not even characters in the slim narrative that passes for story here. (And c’mon: what are the odds that Michael would just happen to have an opportunity to escape right before Halloween… again?)
Preexisting Halloween fans will likely find something to amuse them here. The movie keeps sending out little self-aware snorts; clearly, it is continually referencing the other movies in ways that weren’t registering with me because I am not intimately geek-acquainted with the entire franchise. But anyone in the same position as me, someone who would welcome a standalone scary story, one that isn’t just in-jokes dropped into a dated, familiar slasher flick, will be disappointed and bored.
• Halloween (1978) (review)