2018’s “Halloween”: a brutal thrill ride

Photo courtesy of heavy.com

The new “Halloween” movie, brilliantly titled “Halloween,” is a wry, brutal thrill ride that ranks among the year’s most purely entertaining films.

“Halloween” takes place 40 years after the events of the 1978 original. Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is tormented by her memory of the fateful Halloween night she encountered Michael Myers, the iconic cinematic serial killer, and barely escaped with her life. Molded by her pain and fear, she’s become a hardcore survivalist. She also has a dysfunctional relationship with her family, especially her daughter, caused by her extreme paranoia. Strode wants to finish Myers off once and for all in case he ever reappears in her life. Myers himself has been locked away in a mental institution since that night, but eventually — surprise, surprise — he’s on the prowl once again, with Strode and her family firmly in his sights.

David Gordon Green, taking over the directorial reigns from John Carpenter, has crafted a film that’s both horrifying and occasionally hilarious, making me chuckle during some moments and squirm with suspense during others.

Curtis gives a marvelous performance as Strode, lending her character a razor-edged determination that makes her compelling and, in certain moments, even heartbreaking. Strode, filled with rage, is a character practically any viewer could root for, and Curtis lends ample emotion to her performance to heighten the film’s dramatic tension.

What sets both “Halloween” films apart from other horror films, though, is the combination of white-knuckle suspense and darkly comedic humor. For every scene of brutality, the filmmakers give viewers self-knowing winks that keep the films highly watchable.

Part of this film’s charm comes from the filmmakers’ self-awareness. It’s easy to pick out which characters will live and which won’t, but “Halloween” plays along with this cliche to humorous effect. It is a slasher film, after all. It might as well have some bait for the slashing.

Green seems to set up certain scares like punchlines — they’re relatively easy to predict,  but there’s a strangely heartwarming feeling in seeing those predictions unfold with visceral detail. (As a side note, I’m not a psychopath. I just really enjoyed watching this film. Don’t judge me.)

While “Halloween” contains characters whose only real purpose is to perish by Myers’ hands, most characters are developed enough to make their deaths uncomfortable, though not emotionally involving.

There’s obviously been a lot of technological advancements since 1978, including in costuming and makeup departments, and “Halloween” really piles on the gore in certain scenes. This represents something of a departure from the low-budget thrill of the original, which relied more on menacing atmosphere than graphic kills to make an impression on viewers.

Indeed, watching “Halloween” is like eating a jalapeno –– eye-wateringly intense, but likely to elicit awkward laughs from everyone involved, as long as milk is readily available.

“Halloween” also seems taken from a better era of horror films. Beginning with an atmospheric opening credits sequence utilizing the same font and blissful, synthy, incredible main theme from the original film, it’s apparent Green made this film with a love for the good old days. The film doesn’t emulate the shaky-cam, found-footage garbage being shoveled into modern cinemas.

I love the original “Halloween” largely because of John Carpenter’s innovative, Hitchcockian filmmaking techniques, and Green adopts much of the same style in this iteration. Headache-inducing horror tactics are replaced by beautifully composed shots, well thought-out staging and lighting that enhance the mood and atmosphere.

But nothing’s perfect, and “Halloween” most assuredly is no different. Strode’s granddaughter, played by Andi Matichak, takes up far too much of the film’s runtime. While viewers are supposed to care about her and her high school friends, they seem wholly generic and don’t bring any notable surprises to the table. It’s actually baffling how much of the film’s runtime is spent away from Laurie Strode, the only memorable, emotionally gripping character in the whole film.

The dialogue, while occasionally containing hard-boiled sting, is also quite exposition-heavy and seems overdone in several instances.

Without spoiling anything, the ending was also abrupt and, while reminiscent of the original’s style, could have been strengthened with a more modern touch.

Though not without faults, “Halloween” should satisfy both horror and non-horror fans alike –– at times almost surpassing the original’s greatness.