HALLOWEEN (1978) / HALLOWEEN (2018)

Three and a half Star Rating

“In many respects Green’s film is, to an extent, something of a loose re-imagining of Carpenter’s 1978 original.” – Wayward Wolf.

An introductory preamble preceded the 40th anniversary screening of Halloween (1978) in which legendary director, John Carpenter, made a particularly interesting point. Back in 1978 the world was not blessed with anything like the number of multi-screen cineplexes that we have become so used to today, and as a consequence most people would more than likely have viewed what was essentially a low budget, limited release ‘B’ Movie, on video, be that a legitimate or pirate copy.

And as with all things that are somewhat restricted from mass public consumption, an aura of mystery soon unavoidably built up around the film.

It wouldn’t be until the mid-1980’s that I would personally get to experience Carpenter’s seminal slasher classic, and like many before me, I too viewed this through the medium of VHS video cassette. I forget which friend’s house I watched it at, but I certainly remember the impact it had upon me.

Forward wind then if you will to 2018 and a rare opportunity to experience the birth of the whole Michael Myers phenomenon on the big screen.

For all of Carpenter’s gushing over his preferred medium of widescreen, the wonders of Panavision and an insistence that this was a movie that was absolutely made for the big screen, one cannot help but be struck by the frailties of his movie, exposed – at times cruelly – by the vastness of the big screen experience, not to mention the high-end, super-revealing Dolby surround sound system which highlights the unpolished rawness of Carpenter’s brilliant synthesized soundtrack. Audio technology has certainly taken large strides since then – although not always for the good, it is true.

That said, Halloween (1978), for all of its faults, and suspending our disbelief accordingly, retains much of the magic and menace that scared people witless on its release some forty years ago. Though hindered to some extent by a low budget, this also worked to its advantage in many respects. Without recourse to the funds or the CGi trickery that’s so prevalent and relied upon today, a lower budget would have equated directly to a lower head count when it came to casting, and the film’s general sparsity of actors and extras went a long way towards creating those eerie daylight scenes in and around the almost abandoned, windy Autumnal streets of Haddonfield, which, punctuated with the intermittent statuesque sightings of the boiler suit and mask-clad Michael Myers, were in many ways as big a contributory factor in creating just the right sort of sinister mood, as any of the latter night scenes of knife-wielding carnage.

With the notable exception of Halloween III (Season of the Witch) – a film rather unfairly maligned at the time for daring to abandon the whole Michael Myers narrative, but a film which I’ve admittedly always had a soft spot for – you’re on pretty firm footing to suggest that the atmosphere of Carpenter’s original has never been bettered or even matched since in the seven ‘sequels’ that have followed.

Which brings us on nicely to sequel number eight; David Gordon Green’s 2018 offering, the confusingly titled, Halloween.

In many respects, Green’s film is, to an extent, something of a loose re-imagining of Carpenter’s 1978 original. Indeed the film is absolutely teeming with similarities. Scenes from the ’78 movie are frequently and playfully revisited, often inverted or manipulated in some way so as to cleverly fit the 2018 narrative. It’s this tipping of the hat acknowledgement tactic that will no doubt please the die-hard Halloween fan base, and it undoubtedly helps to effectively bring the franchise back full circle to the true roots of its initial success. This, one suspects, has been a wholly deliberate ploy and would help to explain the apparent lack of imagination or should that be brilliance? – I’m undecided – of David Gordon Green’s film title.

Of course, bar a complete change of tack, there really is only so much that can be done to inject new life into an old and weary franchise, but the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis – revisiting her role as Laurie Strode – proves to be something of a masterstroke. Far from being just a token reappearance, the Halloween (2018) narrative is built strongly around her character’s damaged persona. As a direct consequence of her inability to ‘move on’ from the traumatic events of her past, Laurie has suffered two failed marriages and has a daughter resentful of the fact that her mother’s life and her own, have been so totally dominated for so long by the invisible spectre of Michael Myers. What should have been an upbringing of love and carefree happiness has been one of nothing but worry and foreboding.

Their relationship and Laurie’s all consuming infatuation with her past assailant, gives Green’s film some much needed substance and transforms a straight forward slasher movie into something a little more weighty.

Of course, this is a Halloween flick, and accordingly any number of fairly nondescript characters are dispatched as the fodder for Myers’ killing spree, helping to contribute to a very generous body count in the process. But gone are the fairly laboured fumblings that characterised Michael Myers’ murders of yesteryear. Instead, his victims are now dispatched efficiently and in brutal fashion. Time, if nothing else, appears to have honed Myers’ execution skills!

Accompanying the action is John Carpenter and his son, Cody’s update on the original Halloween (1978) soundtrack, embellishing the film’s famous piano / ticking main theme and sonic stabs here and there with a few new motifs and suspenseful synth pads. They’re good and they serve their purpose, but they’re nothing of the quality of John Carpenter’s majestic unnerving original score.

Whilst Halloween (2018) is in some ways guilty of milking the ’78 concept to a degree, it does so respectfully and tastefully, and more than this, it points us back in time in the direction of Carpenter’s original film, creating a fairly convincing bond between the pair in the process; crucially, lending Green’s film a certain gravitas that has been so sorely absent from previous sequels within the long running series.

Halloween (2018) may well be a film guilty to some extent of both sizeable plot holes and unlikely coincidences a-plenty, but we must of course consider one important fact here: The boogeyman. I’d suggest therefore that any such criticisms or incredulity really don’t apply in the circumstances.

The important conclusion is this: Halloween (2018) may well lack originality, but in all of its widescreen cinematic glory, it proves to be a slick, brutal, well realised, and above everything else worthy successor to Carpenter’s timeless late ’70’s classic.

And being the huge Halloween (1978) fan that I am, it’s as much a relief as anything to be able to tell you that.

 

 

 

 

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FIRST REFORMED

Four Star Rating

“Schrader’s film takes a morally-conscious contemplative journey from climate and pollution concerns to the corruption and self-serving nature of man…” – Wayward Wolf.

A short but very intense friendship with a troubled environmental activist proves to be the catalyst for much self-reflection, introspection and upheaval in the life of Reverend Toller.

A short time prior to this, Toller had vowed to keep a diary for a year in which he would ponder the existential issues of life, love, death and religion.

And come the year’s end he has vowed to destroy the diary.

As a ‘man of the cloth’ much would understandably be expected of Toller, though the fact that he is somewhat squirrelled away as the Pastor of the under-performing, relatively insignificant First Reformed Church – essentially an historic tourist attraction of Dutch origin, and certainly nothing particularly high profile – is the first hint that the Church’s owners, Abundant Life, have only limited faith in Toller’s ability to carry out the sort of duties required of a Pastor at any sort of meaningful level.

That said, the church is fast approaching its 250th anniversary and Toller has been tasked with putting together a suitable celebration to mark the occasion.

This would be a straight forward enough task for someone of sane and rational mind, but as is gradually revealed in Paul Schrader’s challenging film, Toller is very much a man with a tragic and troubled past; one that very much impacts upon his mental state and approach to an equally troubling present. The undoubted weight of the responsibility required for the Church’s anniversary celebrations therefore hangs heavy on the already heavily distracted Pastor’s shoulders.

Ethan Hawke is in excellent form with a strong, nuanced performance portraying the fundamentally flawed Pastor, Toller, a man who has deliberately created a life for himself shorn entirely of all unnecessary accoutrements. Such an absence of possessions in many ways reflects the increasing emptiness within his own soul; a void that he repeatedly fills with a growing dependency on alcohol.

Schrader’s film takes a morally-conscious contemplative journey from climate and pollution concerns to the corruption and self-serving nature of man, digging deep to get to the real heart of the Reverend Toller’s troubles, and it is therefore an understandably bleak affair.

It’s only really the burgeoning friendship between the Pastor and Mary (Amanda Seyfried), that in any way breaks through an at times seemingly all-pervading hopeless gloom that engulfs Toller as he wrestles manfully with the moral concerns of both his own life and those of others.

Straight forward and refreshingly conservative in its direction, First Reformed is a weighty, thought-provoking and at times unashamedly desperate film, though one not entirely bereft of the promise of salvation.

THE RIDER

Three Star Rating

“The Rider… presents its audience with something of a conundrum: What is more important in a performance? Authenticity or technical acting ability?” – Wayward Wolf.

Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), is firmly of the opinion that his career as a rodeo rider is merely on hold whilst he recuperates from the fall and severe head injury that he recently sustained in action.

And though inundated with the encouragement and well wishes of others, it quickly becomes clear to all that any sort of come back from this would be both short-lived and eminently foolhardy.

With this realisation in mind, Brady must now somehow try to find renewed meaning in an existence that has for his entire life been intrinsically linked to the life of a cowboy. But living in a remote rural location bereft of any real employment opportunities and with little by way of alternative education and skill sets to call upon, the odds are somewhat stacked against him.

Even his efforts to use the highly impressive skills he possesses as a horse trainer – passed down to him by his father – seem doomed to failure as the neurological impact of his injury begins to manifest itself physically, hampering his ability to properly carry out even this somewhat less physically demanding work. Indeed, Brady is informed that if he ever attempts to ride again, it could very well kill him.

It’s only then through the relationship that he has with his developmentally-disabled sister Lilly, and severely disabled friend, Lane Scott – himself an ex-rodeo rider – that Brady can then take stock of his life and begin to see beyond everything that he has ever been and ever thought he would be.

It’s a thoughtful and atmospheric film that’s ever so beautifully shot, making full use of the raw, wind-swept beauty of the South Dakota badlands. And through Zhao’s gritty, visceral and highly textural approach to the direction, one can almost feel the creaking well-worn leather of Brady’s saddle, and the cold steel of the stirrups that hang securely from it.

Given their real-life talents and abilities with horses, through taking the risk of casting Brady Jandreau and his co-actors in the film’s leading roles, Chloe Zhao’s film positively brims with vigour, energy and above all authenticity.

But The Rider then presents its audience with something of a conundrum:

What is more important in a performance? Authenticity or technical acting ability?

For all of the honest, earthy qualities that the cast undoubtedly bring to the table, it is ultimately the limitations of their ability as actors – failing at times to fully convey the necessary emotions and conviction required – that frequently hamper the film’s best intentions.

And what a very great shame that is.

It’s really not out of all proportion to suggest that given the right choice of cast, The Rider would have had all of the necessary ingredients to be considered something bordering on a masterpiece.

As it is, Zhao’s film fails to convince as a whole, and falls frustratingly short of what it might have been.

Harsh? Perhaps. But one cannot tip-toe around the truth here.

The Rider is as authentic, thoughtful, heartfelt and soulful as the day is long, but ultimately it’s what would appear to be the film’s greatest assets that ultimately prove to be its unfortunate undoing.