From its opening scene, Halloween (2018) plays with the viewer’s expectations. Director David Gordon Green clearly knows what franchise die-hards expect, and has absolutely no intention of delivering on it, instead opting to take the movie in a new, exciting direction. His ability to breathe subversive life into a 40 year old franchise is one-of-a-kind in our nostalgia-focused culture of remakes, reboots and Legacy Sequels, save for one exception: Rian Johnson’s breathtaking Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The new Halloween begins in a chess-like checkered courtyard, as two podcasters (it is 2018 after all) confront the imprisoned Michael Myers in a mental health institute. Though the continuity of the film ignores all entries in the series save the first, it expects you to know what happens next: The Shape will rise, murder the ones harassing him and escape.
Instead, Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley turn the script on its head and Michael does nothing. Try as hard as they can, even bringing out the infamous mask, the podcasters only end up disturbing the other prisoners, and the film’s intro is unceremoniously over.
This opening sequence, while full of Halloween’s trademark dread, proves massively unconventional for the series. By introducing a familiar situation but bucking the trend in its resolution, the scene creates far more questions than answers, and makes a clear statement: this is still Halloween, but not like you know.
In last December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson broke ground by weaponizing expectations in the same way, but for the George Lucas’ acclaimed sci-fi franchise. In The Last Jedi, Johnson sets up common Star Wars scenarios, like a rebel assault on an enemy base or a secret plan that will surely save the day, and perfectly subverts the way these typically pan out.
Johnson, knowing that the rebels always get away and that poorly hatched schemes always work out, grounds his film with legitimate consequences. When Luke Skywalker barely considers snuffing out a padawan, he creates one of the greatest villains in the series. When Poe Dameron ignores orders, he destroys half the fleet of The Resistance.
Though the Star Wars franchise has had great moments in the last couple of decades, The Last Jedi brought back the propulsive energy of uncertainty the series lacked since Return of the Jedi.
The two films, released only 10 months apart, mark a huge step forward, not just in the history of the franchises, but in blockbuster filmmaking. Today, there is significant uproar about the idea of “nostalgia” as it affects the film industry. Studio executives vie for any property they can, because they know audiences will pay for the fuzzy feelings nostalgia can provide.
Ready Player One and Wreck It Ralph, for example, throw audiences back to their favorite “retro” experiences, but wrapped up in new stories; the idea of the ‘80s makes an appeal in Stranger Things and It (which doubles as a remake); and dozens of dormant franchises found revival both on TV and in theaters. For some reason, someone remade The Mummy. But the tendency to retread has grown old and worn, leading to art that feels stagnant and a wave of movies that are just “fine.”