This Is a Movie Review: The Latest ‘Halloween’ Examines the Brutal Roles of Killer and Survivor

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CREDIT: Ryan Green/Universal Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Nick Castle, Toby Huss

Director: David Gordon Green

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Relentless Knife Piercings All Over the Body

Release Date: October 19, 2018

What if your purpose in life is to kill people? What if your purpose in life is to be in a decades-long struggle with that killer? Horror sequels that come many years after the original and feature the same main character unavoidably grapple with matters relating to the circular nature of fate. Halloween, the same-named sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original, is especially committed to those questions in a way that deepens the meanings of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode without straying too ridiculously far from their initial incarnations.

As a direct sequel to the 40-years-earlier initially entry, this Halloween ignores everything that happened in all previous sequels and reboots. It is thus somewhat confusing that it opts for the identical title, but it is also thematically appropriate. Director David Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley are working under the presupposition that where evil struck once, it will strike again, in much the same manner that it did before. That is certainly what Laurie Strode believes, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to her iconic role once again by jumping headlong into the disaster preparedness lifestyle. Michael has been locked away since the night of his rampage, but Laurie is convinced he will escape and kill again. Her relentless focus on readying herself for that probability has helped her survive, but it has also ruined her relationship with her daughter (Judy Greer) and anyone else she has ever been close with.

Green understands what made Carpenter’s approach so effective, as he similarly relies on tension-building instead of jump scares when showing Michael at work. We see more of the bloody brutality than we used to, which in one way is an indication that it is so hard to shock anymore but in another way is so frightening in its implication that rehabilitation may be impossible in some cases. For Michael, killing is practically a vocation. There are attempts by a few characters to explain his motivations, but he remains so terrifying mysterious, because the explanation ultimately never goes beyond the tautology of “he kills because he has to kill.” While Laurie is one of his favorite targets, there is a mythically eternal element to their struggle that suggests that he cannot ever actually kill her and also that she cannot ever kill him. Thus, at the moment that she gains the upper hand and we see his confused reaction, it is devastating. Not because we sympathize with the killer, but because the saga may very well have finally reached the point when it must end.

Halloween is Recommended If You Like: Halloween (1978), Disaster preparedness

Grade: 4 out of 5 Stabbings

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Stronger’ Pulls No Punches in Dramatizing the Recovery of a Boston Marathon Bombing Victim

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CREDIT: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown

Director: David Gordon Green

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Bombing Gore and Boston Profanity

Release Date: September 22, 2017 (Limited)

Inspirational stories of recovery typically focus on people who are working towards some major goal that is waylaid by an accident or a tragedy. But what about the people who are just getting by in life? Many runners were injured at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, but so were many spectators. Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs to the blast, is one of the latter. He was there to support his on-again/off-again girlfriend Erin Hurley, as she made her way to the finish line when fate destructively intervened. Without any sort of motivation to get back out on the pavement driving him, what would the road to recovery for Jeff be like? Stronger opens up the curtain on that frustrating process.

Bauman achieved fame in the wake of the bombing when a (graphic) photo of him being pulled away from the blast site became iconic and also when he gave a description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the FBI upon waking from a coma. This led to media appearances like throwing out the first pitch at a Red Sox game that served the purpose of solidifying the Boston Strong mythologizing of his hometown.

But the public image of everyday heroes obscures the painful struggle behind the scenes. As Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal makes clear, Bauman was not at all eager to play this role. His scraggly hair and deep pupils complement his physical and emotional breakdowns in the face of any pressure. It certainly does not help that his family – loud, crude, overbearing, fiercely protective – fits the Bostonian stereotype to a T. Director David Gordon Green makes sure to have an ever-present feeling of claustrophobia.

The cruel joke at the heart of this all is that Jeff has a reputation for never showing up to the important moments in his life. Cheering his girlfriend on at the race is totally out of character for him. It is the major divisive factor causing the strife in their relationship. It drives the engine of his feelings of inferiority that prevent him from fully committing to his recovery. As Erin, Tatiana Maslany bears the brunt of the agony of these shortcomings, registering the pain all over her face. Even when Jeff ultimately turns a positive corner, the damage is done, and the scars are lasting.

As a title, Stronger is more wish than fact. The movie concludes with Jeff trying to do his best, but the major lesson to be gleaned from his story is that not everyone can summon the willpower to stand defiantly against the evils of the world as easily as catchy slogans and media mythmaking may want us to.

Stronger is Recommended If You Like: Jake Gyllenhaal in all his versatility, Million Dollar Baby, Sticking with people through their lowest points

Grade: 3 out of 5 Gallows Jokes