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#45 - Halloween
David Gordon Green, 2018

Forty years after surviving an encounter with a serial killer, a woman who has spent decades preparing for another encounter must face said killer when he breaks free again.

The concept of a soft reboot is a double-edged one - while it's obviously intended as a means of reinvigorating a series that may have grown stale and/or been derailed by inane developments, it can also be used as an excuse for filmmakers to get complacent and coast on the appearance of trying something different while also making the same mistakes (if not new ones). Even David Gordon Green's Halloween, which does come across as an earnest attempt to do right by a property that has really been put through the wringer by other follow-ups, can't help but fall prey to this despite the decision to disregard every single sequel in the franchise. This much is borne out by the film's early scenes focusing on a pair of true-crime podcasters who plan on covering Michael Myers' 1978 killing spree, first by attempting to interview an institutionalised Michael and then by visiting spree survivor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). The podcasters are fascinated to learn just what makes Michael himself tick and hope to gain some insight from the woman who famously survived his onslaught only for her to sharply tell them that there's nothing to learn about Michael beyond the fact that he's evil. It's a bold stance that seems actively contemptuous not just of the franchise's attempts at building a mythology around Michael but also of those who would try to make sense of a killer who has admittedly never made a whole lot of sense. Applying this to characters inside the film makes them come across as hubristic fools who think that they can reduce Michael's sense of pure evil to a readily-comprehensible state such as a podcast episode, but what does it say about us viewers looking in at the horrors on display and judging them? This is especially true when it comes to a film that disregards the bulk of the franchise to the point that it arguably presents itself as the definitive sequel, which means it creates some serious expectations to live up to amidst this self-aware approach.

Trauma is a recurring theme throughout the Halloween franchise as characters try to keep living their lives in the wake of a small-town atrocity that changes things forever, succeeding or failing as the installment demands. Of course, it's Laurie who undergoes the most dramatic change in more ways than one - where H20 and Rob Zombie's Halloween II just added a whole lot of nightmares and maybe a handgun to provide a semblance to protection, here she completely reinvents herself as a hardened survivalist who lives on a firearm-filled ranch custom-built to defend against what she believes to be an inevitable return by Michael. Unfortunately, this has long since caused a rift between her and her daughter (Judy Greer), who looks upon her doomsday-prepper upbringing as a trauma unto itself that she must work around in order to make a normal life with her own husband (Toby Huss) and daughter (Andi Matichak). This being a Halloween movie, it's only a matter of time before Laurie is proven right and the cycle can begin anew - but how anew can it truly begin? While this is poised to become the film's distinguishing variation on the basic Halloween narrative, it still doesn't seem to matter all that much in the grand scheme of things as the film must first run through the standard escape-and-rampage proceedings. It does cohere to a certain extent with the film's other through-line involving various characters wishing to satisfy their curiosity about Michael's inner truth, mirroring Laurie's own obsession with Michael in all the wrong ways. This concept of Michael as object of perverse fascination has already been used in lesser installments like Curse or Resurrection and is arguably put to better use here, but even it has its limits when it comes to standing on its own or accentuating the greater story about Laurie and her family ultimately being made to confront the past.

In disregarding previous installments while drawing upon similar thematic concerns, Halloween works to establish itself as a definitive sequel that pays due reverence to the original in ways that other sequels haven't exactly managed to accomplish while also expanding upon it in ways that keep it fresh. The most tangible example of this would be the return of John Carpenter himself to score the film with the assistance of his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, once again finding new ways to sonically convey the terror that accompanies the pale-faced boogeyman wherever he goes. This is done most notably through a sting that howls so synthetically and inhumanly that it really does feel like the essence of the character refined into a single discordant note. It also comes at a particularly pertinent turning point in the film's narrative that raises the stakes and genuinely creates a sense of danger, but it's at the price of making me realise that so many other attempts at creating something new don't work nearly as well. A long take that tracks Michael's movements at one point is somewhat impressive on a technical level, but it's strangely ineffectual due to its lack of bearing on the rest of the film. The checkered floor tiles at the mental hospital suggest a metaphorical chess game that will ultimately unfold between Michael and Laurie, but that is also undermined by how Laurie spends so much of the second act on the sidelines. A versatile director like Green has enough of a grasp on visual storytelling to come up with some distinct images, but that only makes their lack of greater resonance all the more disappointing.

Even when considering the lack of competition it has in this regard, it'd be easy to call Halloween the best (Michael) sequel to, well, Halloween, if only because it plays as a greatest-hits package that gets to pick what elements to include and (where possible) attempt to improve. In doing so, it does make it a little hard to truly get lost in the proceedings as one can pick up the similarities here and there and end up comparing them unfavourably (such as the general "H20 but bigger" gist of the film). The elephant in the room is whether or not the movie succeeds at allowing Michael Myers to regain the same fearsome reputation that has been tarnished by at least half the movies he's appeared in, and my conclusion is...maybe? I think it's a bitter pill to swallow to realise that there's only so much that can be done with Michael, especially after forty years and eight other follow-ups of varied (but not particularly high) quality. To this end, it makes sense to ground the film in following Laurie but even that has its limitations due to the fact that it also runs over similar ground without much variation - even her development into a gun-toting paranoiac doesn't really go anywhere on either a narrative or thematic level (and is liable to be even less effective should a sequel eventuate). Maybe there are bits and pieces about this film that help to elevate it - the score's certainly a highlight, for one - but my main takeaway tends to be that they don't combine into a worthy film. I realise now that, much like Laurie spends decades on edge fearing the highly unlikely but always plausible return of Michael, so too does the prospect of a new Halloween movie now seem like something that should inspire worry more than anything else. Even having creators like Green and Danny McBride approaching the material with the best intentions does little to assuage that concern - the film itself features multiple characters whose benign first impressions are swiftly shown to be false fronts for unpleasant (and even destructive) forces that don't necessarily rival Michael himself but don't make for dependable cases either, and I think that much is true of a film that claims it wants to be the best and only sequel to a film that never truly needed one.