Halloween ★★½

I would be hard pressed to try to remember the last time I was so conflicted about a movie. Carpenter's use of horror cinema as a treatise on an unsafe suburbia, where that it takes place in the suburbs is the very point rather than used simply as a sense of place ala something more recently like It Follows, is fascinating, and the movie makes interesting decisions to that end almost constantly. More than anything, at that, they come in Carpenter's camera somewhere between "mostly" and "exclusively," the latter not meant as a pox on the rest of the movie but rather a testament to just how much he makes this a visual experience. Characters are abstracted into being surrounded by murky shadows in no more context than just being out at night, characters consciously turn from things which seem obviously dangerous. They make bad decisions as the very text of the movie, it's a youthful haughty fearlessness as tragedy.

But even more than the night the movie lays all its groundwork in the daytime, which is its sorta brilliance. Myers is a constant lurking threat, but one seemingly always just melting out of view. It's easy to do that kind of thing in the shadows (not that it's then unnecessary, and the movie makes good use of that fact, both in day and night), but it's a whole lot more impressive to do it the way Carpenter ultimately does here; there's a shot of Myers leering up at Curtis among a set of clothes on a clothesline and the pasty whiteness of his mask melds into the fluttering linens, effortlessly straddling the perfect line between the sense nothing's wrong there and the rest of him that sticks out. It gives this movie a sense of dread that it really never loses track of, admirably, and even more so that it completely seamlessly makes come out of its very environment rather than any one particular actor, it knowing exactly the right note to end the film on as a result.

So, it makes me very sad that the criticisms I have are almost kinda banal, especially by comparison. But, man, I cannot tell you the last time I've found the performances in a movie so frustrating. I was thrown a lone saving grace toward the end in P.J. Soles, who clearly delineated exactly the feeling I was having about the movie on the whole: all of the teenagers, the lion's share of the actors in this movie, are pitched so goofily and almost, to a degree, heightened, but most of them can only make that play as obnoxious. It's the kind of thing that I think would just feel totally obvious in a movie that weren't so formally accomplished but gets obfuscated by that fact, almost, where it feels like it must be Carpenter making a conscious decision but more than anything it really erodes the empathy the film can generate for these people as they're senselessly cut down by a cruel world. They're not exactly deep characters of performances either way, it would have undoubtedly better suit the text of the movie for them to be more straightforwardly endearing.

They're remarkably unhelped, though, by one of the more aggressive divisions between the quality of a script and a screenplay on the whole I've personally seen. The screenplay ultimately comes out positive, for the way it moves these figures through Carpenter's ideas and consistently, and believably, portrays their inaction. The script, then, is some clown shoes shit, it again fitting into Carpenter's seeming decision to heighten these characters through really unpleasant (and unfunny) quips and turns of phrase that feel consciously designed. If a mainstream horror movie came out today where 75% of the speaking lines that one of the top 3 or so main characters had were to themselves describing things we know and can see, it would be crucified. And I think that kinda gets at the actual problem I have with these things: it's not just that they're unpleasant to sit through, it's that they actively go against the way this is supposed to be the actual world in which we live, how these are supposed to just feel like average people who get caught up in all of this. The world Carpenter and Debra Hill, who co-wrote, build up through the screenplay and the performances Carpenter directs feel tin against the world he depicts.

And, maybe the most frustrating problem of all is how much the gender politics of this movie really ick me out. There's a push-pull to it, for a while it looks like only women are going to be killed in this movie and then at least Myers does kill one dude, he targets the three girls in the friend group but the movie successfully acquits that as an almost random non-sequitur happenstance of fate. Carpenter has himself debunked this as an active criticism of promiscuous young women and, honestly, I do believe him; it's a lot easier to read this as coming from a society which doesn't allow women their sexuality (or young women their agency as people altogether) and creates something like this as an unconscious result, and as much as I don't love that it's an honest result of the world he came from and I'm willing to follow along with Carpenter until he does something which otherwise dismantles the benefit of the doubt I'm willing to give him.

That moment, then, comes when Soles is strangled with the phone cord and makes unmistakably sexual moans, purely so that Curtis will be uncertain about what is going on. It's a moment that does all the worst things other parts of this movie can do, it further divorces the movie from any actual reality it wishes to depict (if you can imagine a woman's response to being unwillingly strangled as something that would sound even vaguely sexual, that is a problem) to set up a less-interesting beat as a result. Even more it's unimaginably insulting and dehumanizing. It's the kind of thing that makes me think back on the Cabin in the Woods and love it all the more for the belated realizations I'm having about that movie's implications. But more than anything it makes me sad. Because I'm just sorta dipping my toes into John Carpenter, and for all my problems with this movie I adore how it's directed and the shot I described in the second paragraph above is legitimately probably one of my favorites ever. But now I really, really am not excited to see him work with more female characters. And that's never something I want to be able to say about a filmmaker.

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