Tuesday 18 June 2019

Halloween 2018 movie review: 'It's certainly deferential to its 1978 predecessor, if perhaps a little too much'

3 stars

Jamie Lee Curtis comes face to face with Michael Myers 40 years on from the original
Jamie Lee Curtis comes face to face with Michael Myers 40 years on from the original
Michael Myers
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Is there such a thing as a 'happy ever after' in horror movies? Often, the hero or heroine defeats their creepy, murderous tormentor in a ferocious and grizzled battle, leaving them free to peaceably get on with the rest of their lives. But as the sequel to the 1978 classic Halloween attests, the scars from these fateful encounters run deep, not least because of an open ending where the baddie goes missing by film's end.

In the case of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who came face to face with serial killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle) back in 1978, the last 40 years have been merely an exercise in survival. The years have not been kind: she lost custody of her young daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and has been divorced twice. She has lived as a husk of a woman, overwhelmed with PTSD and paranoia that Myers will one day return.

In fact, she prays daily for his escape from a high security corrective/psychiatric facility, if only so she can know he is dead once and for all. Careful what you wish for and all of that.

But he, too, has a reunion with Laurie on his mind, as far as anyone can tell.

In a rather up-to-the-minute twist, Myers is visited by two British podcasters in his sinister high-security facility, as they try to decode his vicious, unstinting pathology.

The pair are also in possession, somehow, of the 'bogeyman' mask, the very presence of which seems to make Myers' palms itch. It's been 40 years since he has uttered a word, making him an enigma and figure of wonderment to academics and medical teams. It's the eve before he is due to be transferred to an even more unforgiving institution via bus on October 31. Absolutely no credit for figuring out what tired trope plays out next.

Despite myriad technological advances, the sequels and reboots of several seminal horror films in the last few years have often amounted to damp squibs. That said, the horror genre has made its own inexorable stylistic strides, becoming even more gory and outlandish to sate the exacting demands of modern-day audiences. The slayings are spectacular and imaginative, the jump factor amped up massively.

The prospect of a redux for a much-hallowed, oft-discussed classic - arguably, one of the definitive titles of the entire genre - has left many purists feeling a bit queasy. Would there be an element of stylistic faithfulness to this sequel? Or would David Gordon Green go the full bit with CGI wizardry and other effects?

A bit of both, as it happens.

Halloween 2018 is certainly deferential to its 1978 predecessor, if perhaps a little too much. Green pulls out every cinematic cliché in the book: screaming girls running into dark forests, a young boy unlocking his car door on a deserted highway in search of his father, a smattering of teenage coitus interruptus, a few white sheets dancing menacingly on the washing line, babysitters on the phone, mangled mid-conversation. Green knows to be respectful to the original tale, referencing it time and time again. Were it not for these repeated nods back to the classic, Halloween 2018 would be as boilerplate as they come. Still, it should keep fans happy.

And as Myers wreaks havoc in order to address 40 years of pent-up bloodlust, the camera rarely flinches from the strangling, the slaying, the stabbing. It may be a nod to the classic way of doing things, but that doesn't make it any less shocking.

Read more: 'Laurie was the original final girl' - Jamie Lee Curtis talks Halloween reprisal as she steps out in Dublin 

As it happens, a mid-movie sequence of murders threatens to veer towards the monotonous, not helped by a plot involving Laurie's granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) that is vastly underwritten, amounting to little more than just another-teen-movie subplot. A shame, really, given that it was Lee Curtis's energetic Laurie (in the actress's debut) in 1978 that helped propel Halloween to greatness. Matichak is the closest thing Halloween 2018 has to a feisty young heroine, but she doesn't quite possess the magnetism or muscle of her forebear.

That Laurie and Myers are going to reunite is a given; it's merely a matter of how exactly Myers will meet his fate. And what looks to be an open and shut case of revenge exacted may not be quite as it seems, possibly paving the way for yet more franchise instalments.

On whether or not this is a good thing, the jury is out.

Rating: ***

(18, 106mins)

Also releasing this week: The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid review: 'One of the most unique pieces of cinema this year'

  Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween review: 'Never terrible — but you know they can do better'

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