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Halloween review: "There's not a lot left to be wrung from this well-worn franchise"

Our Verdict

The latest Halloween instalment is fun while it lasts, but unlike its predecessor, it’s not a classic for the ages.

The much anticipated Halloween sequel received its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 9, and we were there to see it. The big question is, after ditching the vast majority of the franchise’s 40-year-canon to serve as a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original, is Halloween (2018) a worthy sequel? Well, yes and no. In terms of the fun and thrill factor, fans of Carpenter’s definitive slasher will have a good time, with nods, references and callbacks aplenty during the mostly relentless running time. But anyone hoping that this rebooted sequel would add some Blade Runner 2049-style heft to the mythology is likely to walk away unsatisfied.

Picking up in real-time, the films opens with Michael Myers (a returning Nick Castle) having been incarcerated in a high-security facility for 40 years. Two podcasters (so irritating they might as well have ‘crowdpleasing knife fodder’ tattooed on their foreheads), arrive at the facility in order to try to get the mute serial killer to speak up. They’ve even somehow got hold of his original mask which they use to taunt him. The fact that the facility allows this to happen is symptomatic of a wider lack of logic in this film – for better or worse, fun comes to the forefront here.

An image from Halloween

The podcasters – who seemingly have a Serial-esque show – next visit the reclusive Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who has spent this new timeline training herself in survival skills, in the vein of Sarah Connor, while turning her home into a high-security complex. The exclusive interview is bungled so badly, it’s a relief to report that director David Gordon Green (of such varied work as Stronger, Joe and Pineapple Express) is more sensitive in his treatment of Strode. One of the biggest delights here is Curtis returning to the role that launched her career, now more of a badass than ever. Her longer hair is one of many callbacks in this respectful act of fan-service, and the film lights up whenever she’s at the forefront.

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Strode’s trauma has had a negative impact on her family. Her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), has little time for her after a childhood spent learning weapons skills and safety procedures, and she in turn tries to keep her own daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak) away from her perhaps deranged grandma. There’s a short-lived suggestion that the fateful All Hallows’ Eve of four decades ago has created a monster in Strode, but any chance of that theme being examined in depth goes out of the window (and disappears from the front lawn) as soon as the hack-and-slash gets underway. Similarly, the journalistic investigation angle is also cast aside, as are other hinted-at subplots. Greer and Matichak get a couple nice moments, even if they’re characters never feel particularly substantial.

Green sensibly doesn’t try to riff on the original’s opening, still one of the all-time greats. But after a slightly slow start, Myers starts his rampage after an ill-advised facility transfer. Picking up his iconic elements as he murders his way back to Haddonfield, like a superhero putting a costume together he collects the boiler-suit, William Shatner mask, and whopping great kitchen knife as his spree gets underway. Once the kills start, the pace increases then doesn’t let up til the credits roll. Green finds some gruesomely inventive ways for The Shape to eviscerate his victims, and one particularly well orchestrated sequence sees him stalk through a trick’r’treat night in an impressive long take.

An image from Halloween

Green clearly operates from a place of pure affection for Carpenter’s original, and pays homage with a retro feel that’s of a piece with the ’78 film from the opening credits onwards, the continuation, from a visual standpoint at least, feeling smooth and coherent. That’s perhaps aided by Carpenter’s involvement as an exec producer, and the reprise of his classic score (alongside new music from Carpenter, his son Cody, and Daniel A. Davies) adds to the atmosphere. But where Halloween ’18 does deviate wildly is in the humour. Green’s frequent collaborator Danny McBride is a co-writer here, and it really shows. While some of the knowing humour - “So you’re the new Loomis?” Haluk Bilginer’s doc is asked at one point – suggest you should just sit back and enjoy the fun, the insistence of having one-liners accompanying almost every kill becomes wearing, and is to the detriment of the tension. One particular misjudged example sees a wisecracking kid still spewing jokes as his carer is mercilessly stabbed upstairs. And rather than trying to reinvent the slasher template for 2018, Green and McBride instead poke fun at it, with characters repeatedly making silly decisions (“I know a short cut”).

This humour, and the repeated allusions to the first film (including a couple of particularly satisfying reversals) suggest a film that’s intended to be whooped along to at midnight screenings, and the cracking final sequence ensures audiences will leave on a high. But given all that has been sacrificed to give this franchise a shot of redemption, the end result does feel flimsy and throwaway. There’s little dramatic meat in the Michael/Laurie relationship, and their duality/connection is frustratingly underdeveloped. The biggest disappointment in this belated sequel is how little new it does, feeling more like an homage than a narrative leap forward. There’s enough ambiguity in the ending to suggest further sequels could be on the way here, but on this evidence there’s not a lot left to be wrung from this well-worn franchise.

  • Release date: October 19, 2018
  • Certificate: R
  • Running time: 109 mins

The Verdict

3

3 out of 5

Halloween review: "There's not a lot left to be wrung from this well-worn franchise"

The latest Halloween instalment is fun while it lasts, but unlike its predecessor, it’s not a classic for the ages.

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