Thursday, November 01, 2018

Halloween (David Gordon Green, 2018)

Mommy direst

Part of what makes Halloween (2018) remarkable: the return of John Carpenter (helped with the music score); the return of Nick Castle (provided the heavy breathing and at one point actually plays masked killer Michael Myers); the return of Jamie Lee Curtis (reprising the role that made her famous, Laurie Strode). But for me what really sets this sequel apart from the ten other sequels reboots remakes and so on is a new name: David Gordon Green.

O some of the other details do leave an impression: the blocky orange font (ITC Serif Gothic) on black background; the flattened pumpkin swelling back up to life (as handy an image as any of this franchise in the process of resurrection); the different shots recreated from Carpenter's '78 original, albeit with a clever twist or three; and of course Carpenter's music, that familiar piano-and-synthesizer score that (on occasion) starts producing variations on the theme when things get busy.

Green moves away from the Rob Zombie 2007 reboot, abandoning the abused childhood subplot--here as in Carpenter's film Myers is simply The Shape, and named as such in the credits (James Jude Courtney, who does the more strenuous bits). I suspect Carpenter had reasons for keeping his killer so abstract--one being that it eliminates the need to write extra dialogue--but possibly to free the filmmaker to build up his mute stalker (via camera movement and mis-en-scene) into something terrifying and mythic. "--no reason no conscience no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death of good or evil, right or wrong" Michael's doctor Sam Loomis (an understated yet unmistakably unhinged Donald Pleasance) muttered in the original. On occasion he's referred to as The Boogeyman, which is about the closest to an explanation of the character that you'll ever get. 

Which brings up the debate as to whether or not Zombie's decision to explain Michael was right. Personally I thought the move reductive--Michael reduced to yet another serial killer in a genre already crowded with graceless stumbling examples. The 2009 sequel to this reboot had nowhere to go but give the siblings (O did I mention? In the 1981 Halloween ll Michael and Laurie were revealed to be brother and sister) a telepathic link (an idea recycled from Halloween 5), basically an excuse to splatter the screen with surreal imagery. Zombie in effect ran out of ideas about traumatized Michael and fell back to doing what Carpenter did in the beginning: use the thin premise to create an exercise in pure filmmaking style. Carpenter pulled it off with elegance; Zombie--well he dazzled, sometimes. Sometimes he induced a migraine. 

What Green brings to the table is a shift in focus. Jamie Lee Curtis' former babysitter forty years later is now a "twice-divorced basket case," estranged from daughter Karen (Judy Greer) desperate to maintain contact with granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). She drinks too much; she's also agoraphobic. When invited to a dinner with the parents and Allyson's new boyfriend she scoops up Karen's wineglass and sips while her daughter looks on in dismay; they spend the rest of the shortlived dinner bickering. For a horror movie/slasher flick this installment of Halloween sure likes to take its time getting to know the cannon fodder.

To spoil matters a little--it's about Laurie; it's all about Laurie all along. The Shape was an unstoppable force come out of nowhere that assaulted a young Laurie--why? Who knows? Green does away with the longstanding (and frankly tiresome) franchise lore about siblings (when asked Allyson responds "that's something that people made up")--assault in this film is random and unexplained, as it is for many women. Laurie has been bent out of shape ever since, moving into a small fortress of a house complete with perimeter fences and surveillance cameras and a basement arsenal. Curtis in what may be the role of her career is suitably formidable, but underneath the fierceness is a haunted quality, the look of a woman gazing at a distant figure she can look away from or rail against all she wants but simply won't go away. There's an economy to her movement, the way she rams in deadbolts and drops crossbars in place, pumps a shotgun or sweeps a room with revolver in hand--Green repeats these sequences over and over till they become a delirious cadenza of survivalist poetry. 

And as in most poetry you recognize in Curtis' collective gestures what is being alluded: the economic grace of John Carpenter's gliding camera; The Shape's own minimalist predatory stride. 

The dollhouse in Laurie's room--a replica of the Myers house--is a dead giveaway, an undiscussed unemphasized detail that suggests the prominence of The Shape's presence in Laurie's life: as a figure granted an exclusive corner in her personal bedroom, said bedroom occupying in turn a disproportionately large and overgrown parcel of psychic territory inside her head. 

Bit of a sidenote: Judy Greer as Laurie's daughter Karen acquits herself well in the embarrassing mother daughter grandmother scenes but is allowed to do little else--until she's unwillingly dragged into Laurie's house. There her face turns into a mask of stricken recognition--she knows this house; it's in fact her childhood, an existence so intense Social Services declared Laurie an unfit mother and took Karen away. Karen has also suffered, not from The Shape but from her own single parent; this homecoming is an awakening, not into real life but into an all-too-familiar nightmare. Daughter Allyson isn't half as interesting despite the disproportionate screen time--basically your levelheaded teenager suddenly in over her head--but Green's concept needs her, as the rookie Strode ready to experience her own trauma, a generational rite of passage. 

Suddenly Green's callbacks to the original make sense. Each time we see a familiar pose--a face in a darkened doorway, a figure across the street, a body curled on the lawn--and each time it's Laurie, not The Shape. They're linked not so much telepathically  (silly idea) as visually, a victimizer who failed to catch his prey a victim who failed to die; over the years they've obsessed over this failed relationship, one preparing and the other--well who knows what he's been doing all these years (Resistance training?). 

Curtis has been criticized for being a gun control activist here wielding a Winchester rifle--only I've known a few gun collectors and she doesn't act anything like them. They talk lovingly about their toys; they discuss magazine capacity and stopping power and gas-operated reloading action. Laurie's use of guns give her no joy--if anything they form the bars of her selfmade prison. Why is she so obsessed with confronting The Shape, after so many years? Because--aside from the need to protect her loved ones--she wants her life back, the life he stole long ago. She wants to be free.

First published in Businessworld 10.26.18

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