4:00 pm EDT, September 11, 2018

‘Halloween’ review: An uninspired sequel with an identity crisis

John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween had a massively influential impact on the horror genre. Forty years and 10 sequels later, David Gordon Green’s sequel barely leaves an impression.

The highly anticipated Halloween sequel premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend and it left me wondering, is this the best they could do?

In the 1960s and ’70s, following the collapse of the Hollywood studio system and the rise of independent and low-budget filmmaking, a new era began: New Hollywood. One of the most significant changes during this era was the rise of young directors known for their distinct, individual styles — in other words, the rise of auteurs.

Toward the end of this period, John Carpenter directed Halloween. This minimalist horror film about a masked man terrorizing the suburbs was instrumental in the spread of slasher films throughout the 1980s. Halloween (1978) is a master class in horror filmmaking; not only did it lay the groundwork for tropes that still define the genre today, but it demonstrated how scary a movie could be with the right amount of ingenuity.

I start by admitting to the fact that it’s more than a little unfair to compare the new 2018 Halloween to the original; after all, how could a sequel, created over 40 years later, ever live up to such a massively successful and influential film now permanently lodged in the horror cannon? The answer is simple: It couldn’t.

What’s disappointing, however, is that even when you lower the bar and temper your expectations, Halloween (2018) still feels remarkably uninspired, lacking in the ambition and creativity that made the original such a lasting classic.

Set 40 years after the events of the first film, Laurie Strode is now a paranoid survivalist, living in an isolated home full of unique and outlandish defense systems. Laurie has a daughter and a granddaughter, but her lasting trauma makes her relationship with them tenuous at best. Michael Myers, who has been institutionalized for decades, manages to escape and returns to Haddonfield to wreak havoc and horror on the small suburban town, forcing Laurie to confront her deepest fears.

There’s nothing wrong with the movie’s premise — in fact, most audiences (especially diehard fans) are probably expecting something along these lines. After all, the entire sequel is predicated on the desire to see Michael Myers and Laurie Strobe face off once again.

However, director David Gordon Green seems to want his Halloween (2018) to be both a fun slasher flick and homage to the original film, but in the pursuit of the latter, the movie ends up feeling stunted, delivering a final product that feels more akin to a first draft.

If only Halloween (2018) spent the same amount of time crafting genuine tension and fun slasher sequences as it does winking at the audience, constantly nodding to moments in previous films, pointing out continuity errors between installments, and giggling at plot devices and tropes.

Sadly, Green can’t resist the temptation to be self-referential; for every well-constructed, tense scene that typifies the series’ slasher roots, there’s another scene with tertiary characters making jokes about the existence of the boogeyman or whether Michael and Laurie are siblings.

Halloween sequel review

It’s easy to pick apart pacing, but at an hour and 50 minutes, Halloween (2018) is simply too long. Surely David Gordon Green knows what audiences want (he finally delivers on it in the last 20 minutes), but too much of the movie is stuffed full of needless scenes and extraneous plot threads — two investigative podcasters, Laurie’s granddaughter introducing her boyfriend to her family, a new psychotherapist (referred to as “the new Loomis” at one point).

Moreover, the movie struggles with how to really deal with the 40-year gap between Carpenter’s film and this one. David Gordon Green makes the smart choice to ignore the mess of convoluted sequels that introduced complicated and conflicting lore to the tale of Michael Myers, but what he replaces it with isn’t much better.

Halloween (2018) posits the events of the 1978 film as profoundly traumatic, impacting Laurie’s life permanently. We’re introduced to her daughter, played by Judy Greer, who rejects Laurie’s endless paranoia. There are moments when it seems that the movie wants to use their relationship to make a statement about the lasting impacts of trauma over time, yet the movie can’t help but make jokes about Laurie’s survivalist behaviors.

These attempts at adding a greater depth to the story just feel at odds with what Halloween is meant to be; a slasher film about how evil stretches to the most unlikely places — even safe, suburban America can give rise to, and be the victims of, pure evil. David Gordon Green was under no obligation to reinvent the genre, but he stumbles on even delivering a straight slacker flick.

Thankfully, the movie does have a few saving graces. Jamie Lee Curtis’ return to the role of Laurie Strobe anchors the movie, giving the audience a performance that feels honest — this is no small feat, given the complicated and uneven treatment of the character in the movie.

Moreover, John Carpenter’s score is truly phenomenal. Fans of the original will break out in goose bumps several times throughout the movie as the score reeks of nostalgia while still suiting the material just fine. The movie combines the classic 1978 score with a new, modified version that’s phenomenal; it’s so good that it makes the movie’s weaker elements a bit more palatable.

Both Judy Greer and Andi Matichak, who play Laurie Strobe’s daughter and granddaughter, respectively, also excel in the film. Although it’s disappointing that they’re never given the necessary time to become their own fully realized characters, they help to create some fantastic iconography in the final act of the film as the three women battle it out against Michael.

In the end, Halloween (2018) just doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s a movie in the midst of an identity crisis and, while it will surely scratch a nostalgic itch, it will quickly be forgotten, joining the ranks of countless other Halloween sequels.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️ (out of 5)

‘Halloween’ opens in theaters on October 19, 2018

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