If superhero movies are the heroic myths of our mass-media age, horror movies are its folktales, campfire stories blown up into communal nightmare images. In the Halloween franchise, that resemblance has always been clear: Michael Myers is the bogeyman. None of the tedious biographical detail accumulated over decades of sequels could ever change his essence. By stripping all that backstory away (only the original film is canon in this latest sequel), David Gordon Green and Danny McBride mount a defense of Myers’s unknowability. But instead of restoring the mystery, their conservative, back-to-basics approach can’t escape the familiar.
Haddonfield, 2018: It’s been thirty years since Michael Myers last stalked Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and no one can move on. He’s still institutionalized, she’s still reliving the trauma, and the rest of the world is still morbidly fascinated. A British quasi-documentary crew (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) visits the town to record interviews with Michael and Laurie for a podcast. Green and McBride have fun sending up these fanalyst podcasters, whose early mishaps set the tone for the movie’s meta perspective on the franchise. When Laurie proclaims, “There are no new insights” before kicking them out of her house, she may as well be addressing the whole cottage industry of academic and fan commentary that have made Halloween an institution. Well, OK. But then what’s left?
The truth is that everything Green and McBride attempt has been done before, right down to retconning the timeline (Halloween: H20 ignored parts 4, 5, and 6; no one remembers part 3). Even John Carpenter’s first sequel changed the setting. Green and McBride just give us more Myers-in-the-burbs. Which is a shame; their TV comedy, especially the underrated Vice Principals, always hinted at a latent talent for horror, tied to a dark, satirical sensibility. Absent any compelling ethos, all that’s left is tired posturing about modern weakness, as in an on-the-nose scene where a closeted preteen and his cop dad get knifed as the punchline to an argument about dancing.
Granted, as politically conscious as Assault on Precinct 13 and They Live were, Carpenter’s Halloween inaugurated the slasher film, the most reactionary horror subgenre of them all. Yet it’s still so haunting all these years later because of the sheer quality of the filmmaking, something none of the sequels, reboots, and knockoffs have ever matched. Ironically, Rob Zombie’s reboot, in spite of doubling down on the misguided attempt to psychologize Michael, had an uncompromising aesthetic that came closest to the merciless feel of the original. Despite noisily rejecting tradition, the style and scares of this latest Halloween are too wrapped up in fan nostalgia to ever approach real horror.
We return to folktales because of their inherent mystery; it’s never the same story twice. A great horror film stays with us for the powerful experience it gives. Why we feel compelled to watch the same people suffer over and over again, in the same old scenarios, is another question entirely.
Correction: Due to an editing error, this review originally misidentified the British podcasters as filmmakers.