It’s 2018 and American culture feels at war with itself. Some of this is no doubt a spilling over of the bitter partisan division currently ripping at the fabric of the country. I think another aspect, however, comes from the rapid pace of technological and social change. The world is not the same one it was ten years ago – and who knows what things will look like a decade into the future. This uncertainty is reflected in our art, namely in the incredible popularity of nostalgia.
For many people, going to the theater offers a chance to look back and feel comfortable. Whether that’s in Ready Player One, the latest Rocky (excuse me, Creed) film, or whatever Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger we’re on right now. Nearly everywhere you look in cinemas there are callbacks to the work of previous decades. This Halloween season was no different with the return of…well, Halloween! Don’t let the title fool you, it’s a sequel – not a remake.
But it’s a sequel to the 1978 original – not the fairly recent Rob Zombie film. So it’s Halloween II, but not either of the Halloween IIs that are currently in existence. Are you still with me? It doesn’t matter. The new film provides the plot you need and separates itself from the movies that came before.
Or does it? Let’s review Halloween 2018.
The Return of 1978
In the plot of the original Halloween, killer Michael Myers escapes from a mental institution. He journeys to the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he goes on a rampage. He terrorizes baby sitters and bystanders while his psychiatrist and the local police hunt him down. One particular local, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) stands up to Michael Myers and is able to defeat him.
With few minor changes, this is also the plot to Halloween 2018. Time has passed but it doesn’t seem like much has changed in Haddonfield. The majority of its teenagers still care more about sex and drugs than doing their job, there’s still only one visible police officer patrolling the streets, and no one will listen to Laurie Strode. Okay, maybe that last one is more pronounced this time around. Laurie has been kind of crazy for the last few decades, obsessed with Michael Myers and actively awaiting his escape and eventual return.
This new Laurie offered an intriguing avenue for Halloween 2018. Early on it’s stated that she might be becoming the very thing she hates. That Myers’ assault was so traumatizing that Laurie is no longer fully sane and may be her own brand of psychotic. The camera work supports this transformation. A couple of Myers iconic scenes from the original are recreated, only here Laurie stands in for The Shape.
Unfortunately, this avenue isn’t pursued. Instead, the plot veers back to the well-worn treads of 1978. Terrorize the baby sitters – kill the teenagers – keep everyone older than 18 in cars until the final act. This time around though, it just feels nonsensical. The babysitter we spend the most time with – I think her name was Vicky – is only tangentially related to the main action of the movie. The scenes spent with her are entertaining enough, but feel wasted when they come at the expense of what could have been thrilling new territory.
What does it mean that Laurie is crazy? She is crazy after all. Michael escaping does not justify her 30 years hiding in a bunker, incapable of any real life or conversation. Part of me wonders if the far more interesting movie would have been what would have happened that night if Myers hadn’t escaped? If he was safely behind bars and Laurie had to live with the fact that she’d never have her dream Halloween rematch – what would she do?
Ah, but to answer that question requires leaving 1978 behind, something Halloween 2018 is unwilling or incapable of doing.
An Incomplete Update
Yet time marches on and 2018 is not 1978. The film really struggles with this as new technology like smartphones are either tossed aside (there is a character in Halloween 2018 who quickly destroys a protagonist’s cellphone before disappearing entirely) are ignored completely.
The police relationship also is bizarrely old-fashioned. One lone cop patrolling the streets with no backup, no partner, while a confirmed killer is one the loose? His only weapon is a pistol? As a native of Massachusetts, I vividly remember the police response when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev briefly evaded custody after the Marathon Bombings. While Michael Myers is no terrorist (at least not by current media definition), I have to imagine he’d warrant a larger response than what he received.
Haddonfield itself also remains very unchanged. In the 30 years that have passed, it seems impervious to events like The Great Recession or the shifting population dynamics of urban migration. Looking at the backdrop, it feels like this movie could have easily been set in 1979 as opposed to 2018. A little digging tells me that the population of Illinois has grown by over a million people in 30 years and, while most of that growth is likely in Chicago, towns would still affected.
Lastly, mental health has remained firmly in the world of the fictional. Let’s be honest, the 1978 film already had a lose definition of psychiatry, but nothing so visually bizarre as chaining the mentally ill outdoors in segmented blocks. It’s still just one doctor per patient, which means Michael is arguably getting more personalized care than most of America. How’s that for a horrific twist?
People Don’t Equal Characters
One of the few places where Halloween 2018 stands apart from 1978 is in terms of body count. There are a lot more people onscreen. This gives Michael and easy path to a higher body count…and not much else.
More people does not equal more characters, and Halloween 2018 is proof of this. Where once there was Laurie, now there is Laurie, Karen, and Allyson – the latter two being daughter and granddaughter, respectively. Part of what made the original Halloween shine was how human Laurie Strode felt. Yeah, she was just an every-girl but that was part of the point. Every-girl in small town America vs. the Boogeyman.
Since Laurie can no longer be the every-girl, it should fall to her family, and here is where Halloween 2018 suffers. Karen is barely in the film until the final act, functioning as little more than background dressing during many early scenes. She’s there but only to talk to Laurie – and mostly just to say the opposite of whatever Laurie is saying.
Allyson is a generic teenager with little to do. We follow all three sporadically, especially since we have to take a break in the middle of the film to follow Michael’s rampage with the babysitter. While Laurie feels the closest to complete, none feel like a real protagonist. They’re just not in the film enough. It is very difficult for the audience to bond with a character who vanishes for long stretches of action. In this regard, Halloween 2018 feels very similar to the original Halloween II (where Jamie Lee Curtis was absent most of the movie, only to be the main character at the very end).
To create a character, there must first be a character arc. I should also be able to describe someone by more than their relationships to other characters. When I say Allyson, the first words that come to mind are “Laurie’s granddaughter” and “teenager.” Neither one of those is a character trait. Allyson is traumatized throughout that film but I don’t understand how she grows, or really why the film was so focused on her.
Where do Slashers Go from Here?
Halloween 2018 has been a bittersweet film. On one level, it is refreshing to see a slasher do so well. On a budget of less than $15 million, Halloween 2018 has already made over $90 million, and that’s in less than a week. Michael Myers will return again – and the future of all slashers looks a little brighter (both Jason and Freddy are also closer to coming back, according to news outlets).
On the other hand, Halloween 2018 barely qualifies as a new film. It is so rooted in serving the past that it sacrifices the potential of itself. While not the worst Halloween sequel, this one just feels like a bright bland. All its production values and directorial talent can’t distract from the fact that it has nothing to say other than “remember how cool Halloween was?”
Yes, the 1978 film is a classic and it deserves to come to new audiences but there are other ways to do this. I for one would have been much happier if my theater projector rolled 1978 when I went to the cinema this past Saturday.
The words of Last Jedi were echoing in my head as I walked from the theater. “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” Slashers shouldn’t have this much trouble murdering anything.