David Gordon Greene is an interesting director. He started out with micro-budgeted independent films like Undertow and George Washington before falling in with Danny McBride (and James Franco) for Pineapple Express. He made small to medium budgeted studio stoner comedies for a few years while occasionally making tiny movies here and there like Joe. He had a hand in Eastbound and Down and directed the second season of Vice-Principals where he apparently fell in love with Charleston, South Carolina as a filming location, for when he was given the reins to the Halloween franchise, he decided to recreate California acting like Illinois with Charleston. His history does not lend itself to the idea that horror would be his bag.
The first half hour of his Halloween is pretty much a straight drama with some brooding elements here and there. Laurie Strode’s experience fighting Michael Myers in 1978 scarred her deeply to the point that she is a broken woman living on the outskirts of Haddonfield, Illinois on her bunker full of hiding spots, traps, and guns. Her daughter wants nothing to do with her, but Laurie’s granddaughter feels that Laurie isn’t getting the right level of appreciation from the family. There’s a great scene where Laurie shows up to a family outing at a restaurant and just breaks down in front of everyone, including her granddaughter’s boyfriend. It’s uncomfortable and odd, but that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. Not only has Laurie’s experience broken her, but she’s allowed it to completely dominate every aspect of her life. It’s a sad sight.
Of course, the movie isn’t a straight drama. It’s a horror movie, and the horror comes from Michael Myers escaping from his prison and running loose again (any rumors of any other adventures between 2018 and 1978 are false). The introduction to Myers through a pair of investigative journalists, invited by Myers’ doctor to try and elicit a reaction from the silent giant, is a wonderfully brooding piece of filmmaking. These three characters are consumed with the idea that there’s something more to Michael Myers than simple evil, but Laurie warns them that they are wrong. It’s a tad unclear (probably on purpose), but I think Myers’ doctor organizes the killer’s escape from the prison bus. He’s expressed frustration in the idea that Myers has said nothing in forty years, and Myers is his life’s work. He, essentially, knows as much about Myers after decades of study than when he began. He releases Michael so he can observe and study further, to understand Myers’ beyond the silent killer.
But, of course, Laurie is right. Michael is just pure evil. And as the movie transitions from brooding drama about trauma into a horror movie, the film falters a bit. The middle section of the film is dancing around a few different tones that all clash together pretty harshly, undermining any real sense of impending danger. There is the central moment where Michael has a small rampage in Haddonfield’s residential district, grabbing random weapons in one house and killing someone before simply moving on, that’s right there, and it’s great. However, it’s surrounded by scenes that contain humor that, while oftentimes actually kind of funny, aren’t placed in the greatest part of the movie and undermines the tension building. The last time this is a real problem is when we see two cops talking about Ban-Mi sandwiches. It simply doesn’t work and stops a tension crescendo in its tracks.
After that moment, though, the movie goes full horror, and it’s quite good. Perhaps some of the mechanics are a bit wonky to make it happen, but once there, the fight in and around Laurie’s house is really effective tension and horror.
I read that Greene and McBride (one of the writers) were offered to film two Halloween movies back to back, but they turned it down because they wanted to figure out what they did right and wrong with the first movie before jumping into a second. Here’s to hoping that if they do film a second film, that they work on getting a more effective and consistent tone.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4