Monday, October 22, 2018
The Film of 2018: Halloween
(Spoilers Abound: Watch out!)
The 2018 edition of Halloween commences with an unusually powerful image: a deflated pumpkin or jack-o-lantern. This is an entirely appropriate inaugural symbol, given the cinematic nonsense that Halloween fans have endured, on-and-off, for several decades now.
As the credits for the new film commence, a crushed orange pumpkin perched on the left side of the frame begins to inflate -- or become un-crushed -- traveling back in time, essentially, until it is once-more a fearful, grinning, fully-formed avatar for the macabre festivities of October 31st.
This imagery undeniably serves as a metaphor for the film's overarching approach to its characters, story, and franchise.
In short, his movie breathes new life into all of those things.
So the fans who feel deflated by the white-trash Rob Zombie re-boots of 2007-2009, who lament the muddled, mythology-heavy "Curse of Thorn" nonsense of The Curse of Michael Myers, or disdain the "reality show," Busta Rhymes approach of Resurrection, can now return to the fold without fear of feeling deflated by yet another inferior sequel to a masterpiece.
The pumpkin's return to life in the opening credits of David Gordon Green's Halloween is a symbol of the franchise's return to life too, as all the weak sequels are, in one swoop, extinguished from continuity, and the franchise revives itself, and audience interest.
The pumpkin imagery quickly and smartly informs the audience that this film means business, and that, as a direct sequel to the 1978 original, it will attempt to recapture the qualities that made John Carpenter and Debra Hill's film such a classic of the horror genre.
The good news is that the inflating pumpkin signals not merely intent, but successful execution. This Halloween is the best and most terrifying Halloween film in years, if not decades. The film deploys clever visuals, for instance, to carry its thematic conceit, that Michael Myers and Laurie Strode are both, perhaps, monsters.
Similarly, by omitting the sibling relationship between these two characters (established in 1981's Halloween II), the film again makes Michael a truly scary "monster," and thus the ambiguity and terror of "The Shape" is fully and consistently restored for the first time in forty years.
The 2018 film also features abundantly clever call-backs or shout-outs to the many Halloween sequels over the years in this film, but ultimately this film isn't about insider-baseball, or fan-service.
Instead, Halloween 2018 is the film that slasher fans have been awaiting for a very long time. It establishes, to all the naysayers over the decades, that these much-derided horror films, are pro-social, and about self-realization, not about misogyny, and not about loose social values and inappropriate violence.
Laurie Strode's journey -- which does fit comfortably into our Me Too era -- concerns taking back lost power.
Not for selfish reasons.
Not for reasons of vengeance.
But for the advancement of the next generation in the face of what can only be described as cosmic injustice.
Here, Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie Strode challenges Michael Myers one more time. But on this occasion, she does so alongside her daughter and grand-daughter. They battle the Boogeyman together so that no one else will have to do the same, and their final family portrait is an unforgettable and indomitable image of female power in the face of extreme adversity.
In Halloween 2018, a pair of (wrong-headed) journalists visit mental patient, Michael Myers, at Sith's Grove. He is a serial-killer who, forty years earlier, stalked Haddonfield on October 31st, leaving only one surviving babysitter, Laurie Strode (Curtis) in his murderous wake. he reporters even show Michael his old (William Shatner) mask during their visit. This act seems to awaken something in the silent, hulking giant.
Meanwhile, in nearby Haddonfield, a near-sixty-year old Laurie Strode has never recovered from her encounter with Michael in 1978. She is agoraphobic, alcoholic, paranoid, not to mention a "bad" parent to her grown daughter, Karen (Judy Geer).
Although Laurie's grand-daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), feels that Laurie is redeemable, Karen remains at a healthy distance from her gun-toting, survivalist Mom.
When Michael Myers escapes from a prison bus the night before Halloween, he returns to Haddonfield for one final confrontation with Laurie Strode.
Although Laurie is ready for his return, it remains an open question whether Karen and Judy can make the same claim.
Early on in Halloween (2018), the pod-casters hoping to get an interview with Michael Myers wonder aloud if his murderous action have created a story with "two" monsters. One of those monsters, of course, is Michael, a brutal stalker and killer.
The other monster, audiences must presume, is Laurie herself.
The film reveals in short order that Laurie lost custody of Karen when the girl was twelve. And since then, Laurie has isolated herself from the world, living in a maximum-security house behind a chain-link fence that is every bit the prison where Michael has been housed in for forty years.
The shots often selected by director David Gordon Green reinforce the "two monsters" argument in a unique and challenging way.
At one point, Laurie comes out of the shadows behind an unsuspecting Michael. The camera captures only her face, as it comes into the illumination. This is a reversal of the famous shot in Carpenter's original, wherein Michael's white mask became visible in the darkness of the Lindsey house, behind the terrified Laurie.
The roles have been reversed.
At another point, Laurie goes looking for Michael in a closet with slanted levers, a place very similar to the closet she hid in, forty years earlier.
And finally -- and perhaps most memorably -- after Laurie and Michael grapple, Laurie falls off a veranda, and into the yard below. We see her body hit the ground and she seems to slip into unconsciousness.
But when Michael peers off the high-platform to look for Laurie on the ground, her body is gone.
She is the boogeyman, isn't she?
Well, not exactly.
And this is where the film proves itself truly clever.
Isn't it unusual that, early in the film, the reporters cast both Michael and Laurie as monsters?
Let's review the record for a minute. Michael murdered Judith in 1963, and then three other people (Annie, Lynda, and Bob), in 1978.
Did Laurie ever kill anyone?
Michael brutally ended the lives of those people, and Laurie, well, she was a bad mum She drinks too much.
How can those "crimes" even be put on the same plateau?
The comparison between characters only works if society judges women farm more harshly than it does men....which, of course, it does, every single day, as recent events in this country have recently proven all over again. (As if a reminder was needed).
Being an alcoholic and a bad mother makes Laurie "bad" -- or a monster -- in the eyes of some, where Michael, to some, is just "sick," and therefore not a monster. He deserves understanding and sympathy.
Again, such a dynamic can only exist based on the different ways our society judges a man and a woman. Laurie has lived a lifetime of trauma and pain, and yet to the media (represented by the reporters), she's a "monster" on the same playing field as Michael Myers.
Why is she a monster? For experiencing trauma, and not being perfect in her response to that trauma.
The shots that reveal Laurie in the "hunter" mode (or the mode of Michael Myers) might seem to equate her with him.
She's a monster, taking on the stance and positioning of one, right?
Contrarily, she is merely fighting back against the monster who ruined her life. And where Michael fights for himself (and the pleasure he seemingly derives from killing), Laurie very clearly fights this battle for a positive cause: the survival of her family.
So Michael is a monster for his own selfish purpose, whatever that purpose happens to be.
If Laurie is indeed a monster, she is a monster for her daughter, for her grand-daughter, and for all the people whom Michael has, might, and will stalk, if he is allowed to survive.
But the answer here is obvious: This has been a forty year journey. Michael victimized Laurie in 1978, and now, after all that time, and all that pain, she is standing up to stop him.
This incarnation of Halloween is abundantly true to the franchise's roots, and caps off Laurie's story in a manner that makes the audience understand and empathize with her struggle. The audience roots for her success against a monster who preys on fear, and weakness, and whom sometimes (see: Dr. Sartain), is let off the hook for his behavior.
This 2018 film also succeeds so well because it restores Michael Myers to a position of fearsome terror. The standing rule in horror films is that we are afraid of what we don't know, not what we do know.
It was a mistake to transform Michael into a "sister killer" in the early sequels of the 1980's, because that change made limited the scope of his terror, and also his victims. Audiences always knew Michael was going after his sister, or some relative of his sister. His attacks became entirely a family affair.
The reboots doubled-down on this mistake, making Michael more sympathetic as an abused and neglected child. These touches only made him more human, and therefore less a monster. Therefore, he became less scary.
In this film, by contrast, Michael has no limits on his monstrous nature. Michael randomly murders a child and father, and both are innocents unrelated to his hunt for Laurie.
Offhand, I cannot recall Michael killing someone as young as that child, and it is one of the first on-screen kills in the film. But the death of this innocent serves a key purpose for the drama. It reminds audience that Michael is unequivocally, across-the-boards, a monster, and that no one, not even a kid who can't be more than 12, is out-of-bonds.
While writing off all the other Halloween films except the original, this Halloween also salutes them with clever shout-outs to further suggest the intellect at work here. An attack in a filthy bathroom here is a variation on a scene early in H20 (1998). The masks from Halloween III: Season of The Witch (1982), show up too, on trick-or-treaters, and a murder spree in Haddonfield (visualized in a stunning tracking shot) are so reminiscent of a similar scene in Halloween II (1981) that they feel like an alternate universe re-telling of a powerful moment.
These moments reflect the movie's great sense of gamesmanship and fun, but for this author, the moment that best stands out arrives near the end. Laurie, Karen, and Allyson -- three generations of women -- work together to stop "The Shape" once and for all.
They are the Final Girls. Plural.
They beat Michael at his own game, and it is delicious how they trick him into defeat, playing on his desire to terrify the weak.
And the final shot of Michael is oddly haunting too. He is shot from above, from a high-angle, so that he looks small and insignificant as he glares into the camera, and up into the eyes of the three women who have taken him down.
What is the Shape thinking?
Is he relieved that the hunt is finally over and that he will be released? Is he resigned to his fate? Is he angry, plotting an escape from the basement?
Michael's signature move -- after all these years and decades -- is to gaze into the eyes of the dead and dying. What is he searching for in those eyes, the eyes of his victims?
What answers does he seek?
In the supreme irony of ironies, Halloween (2018) ends with the audience gazing into his eyes, as he faces, finally, his own death. We search for answers in his eyes, as he has so many times, but find nothing.
Aside from the film's jump scares and terror, and Laurie's much-deserved victory and redemption, it is this reckoning that seems to hold the most power.
After all these decades, the audience still seeks answers about why Michael is he way that he is. But Dr. Loomis -- speaking from the grave -- was ahead of the game and he gives audiences the answer they seek.
He recommended that Michael be terminated, not incarcerated.
Loomis sought no further answers from "The Shape."
Nor should we.
If the Halloween franchise ends on this note, there is a real poetry to this ending. Laurie has stood up to and defeated the man who ruined her life, abetted by two generations of her progeny.
And Michael, alone and inscrutable to the end, gives no ground. He is, forever, unfathomable.
After all these years, he is still the Shape of Terror.
It is wonderful to watch a Halloween movie in 2018 that honors Laurie's journey, remembers that Michael is "The Shape," and gives audiences more than "one good scare."
It's Halloween after all. We're all entitled to that.
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