The following review was originally published as part of our coverage of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
Watching the 2018 edition of Halloween often feels like reading a decent fan fiction. This isn’t necessarily a criticism. Fanfic is a valid vital part of any fandom, and there’s plenty of it out there that rivals the best canon offerings from many franchises. It’s simply the best way to explain its relationship to the original: This is a film clearly made by people with an intense knowledge of — and fondness for — the source material. It also interacts with that source material in some new and creative ways, experimenting and pushing the work to places that you don’t normally see in official franchise offerings.
Unfortunately, it stops short of being one of those fan works that holds its own against the original. It’s decent. It has its moments. It’s enjoyable enough as supplementary material. It’s arguably better than some of the other attempts to capitalize on the success of the original 1978 John Carpenter classic. It’s just not quite a good film in of itself.
Although Halloween is very much a classic genre film and not at all what you’d consider overambitious, it is possible that its problems are the result of too many conflicting and imperfectly realized ambitions. In between the film’s efforts to inject a touch of comedy into the original’s predominantly straight-faced tone (it would be a waste to let the collective comic powers of director/screenwriter David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride go completely unused), and its attempts to find a balance between being faithful to the original and bringing something new and timely to the table, the film stands up to its oversized expectations about as well as a human skull withstands the blunt force trauma of Michael Myers’ boots.
Four decades after the events of Halloween — this particular version of the Halloween universe eschews the other sequels — serial killer Michael Myers still looms heavily in the imaginations of a new generation of investigative journalists. But also deep in the psyche of his lone survivor, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, brilliantly reprising her role). The film begins with the former, a pair of mildly irritating podcasters, visiting Michael at his maximum security institution right before he’s about to be transferred, and failing to bait him with his iconic mask. They then take off to interview Laurie, who now lives in a highly weaponized compound, haunted and half estranged from her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak), and determined to defend (or avenge) herself when Michael returns. Which she knows he will.
There are plenty of interesting themes and concepts that are evoked as the three generations of Strode women and their supporting cast are put into place for Halloween’s inevitable killing spree: What would it mean to survive something as heinous as what Laurie faced in the first film? How would that trauma influence a character’s post-credits life? What makes a boogeyman? What is the nature of evil? And are we truly looking for answers or simply indulging in salacious voyeurism when we mainline true crime stories? But none of these are further explored in any meaningful way, slipping away as elusively as a final girl escaping the villain. Once the bodies start dropping, all of the film’s other elements get dropped, too.
The gory back end of Halloween has its moments. Some of the murder setups are clever and perversely amusing and some of the eviscerated remains left behind have a macabre je ne sais quois to them. The comic relief, although it mostly feels terribly out of place, is genuinely funny and, mercifully, not as full-blown winkingly ironic as Scream-style horror humor. But the pacing of these scenes feels rushed or confused, robbing audiences of those slow-burning moments of anticipation that will always be scarier than any actual incision could ever be on its own. Which leaves the trail of creatively mangled bodies leading to Laurie’s not-really-secured-as-well-as-it-should-be-given-how-long-she’s-been-prepping-for-this-day door feeling somewhat hollow and underwhelming.
The final showdown between Michael, and the three Strode women fares better, especially when the proceedings subvert a few classic horror tropes in surprisingly satisfying fashion. But after four decades of preparation on Laurie’s part — and four decades of anticipation and approximately 90 minutes of viewing on ours — even those last conclusive (or are they?) blows fall short of what they could be. Which could be the point. Violence and vengeance are destructive forces that are rarely satisfying in real life. But if that’s the case, there’s nothing in the establishing scenes that has earned a payoff like that.
Halloween deserves credit for its efforts to balance old and new, for taking us back to Haddonfield in a way that isn’t purely for cheap nostalgia, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s something more that it could have been achieved. It’s an interesting experiment, and possibly a positive step toward marrying long-term franchises and pop culture touchstones with new creative visions. But, just like fan fiction, it’s nothing that anyone who isn’t already invested in the stories that inspired it is going to be able to appreciate.