Halloween

Halloween ★★★★★

The top-voted Letterboxd review of this film is an imaginary conversation an ancient shithead claims to have had with teenagers in which he blew them away with the opening shot of Halloween (presumably before bench pressing them both.)

He claims to have done this merely to prove “most of them have the attention span of fruit flies with ADHD and that most modern media seems to cater to their sugar rush needs causing them to lose appreciation for the power of simplicity.”(A pretty robust attention span is required endure such poor sentence structure, no wonder he values it so highly.)

I can’t fathom having so much contempt for cinema that I'd be okay with reducing it to a prop in a Big Man fantasy. I also can’t think of a worse take this clown could have tossed off about Halloween.

Low-quality critics tend to wield “ADHD” as a catch-all adjective. It can be synonymous with “fast-paced”, “clumsily plotted” or an antithesis to “the power of simplicity”(???)). Really it can stand in for any half-baked concept they want to lazily congratulate themselves for dismissing out of hand. Its appearance in a review usually means one of two things: “who needs critical facility when you’ve got an enlarged prostate!” or “I’m 20 and I need a single unifying concept to explain why everyone thinks I suck that isn’t ‘the social contract’...”

When properly understood ADD is an interesting lens through which to view a film. I imagine it’s clear from my tone here that I’m one of those adults who was diagnosed with ADD relatively late. Anyone in this situation usually spends a significant amount of time and energy making sure this does not ruin their life. I only note this to flag that I’m going to use my own experience of ADD to explain how it relates to cinema. I promise to keep fictional adolescents to a minimum.

ADD is an inability to filter out information. If you are talking to me but I can even sort-of hear people talking two tables over, I will try to process both conversations at once. If I know I have more than one thing to do I will try to do every part of every task as it occurs to me. If I have three work emails to write, it’s not wholly unusual for me to write them a sentence at a time, shifting between all of them.

ADD can mean angering easily because of a pulverising, constant awareness of how close everything is to slipping away. But people close to me know that in any fight they can just change the subject and the argument will stop. It will often immediately leave my mind. I don’t blame them but it’s frightening.

This is a climate of fear created by an inability to stem the flow of information, fearing what you missing while discarding what you hope isn’t important. What people mean and what they’re saying can get so loud it clouds your vision but can easily be obliterated by an incidental noise.

Everything contains its own opposite so, of course, there are bouts of hyperfocus. You can’t control what they’re pointed at. It could be making an entire meal when you try to wash one dish, it could be writing a lengthy review of Halloween when you’ve sat down ten times that day to finish an email to a friend. Noticing everything is noticing nothing.

Halloween could not be more ADD. The wide shots of the suburbs, all information flooding at once, only exacerbated by uniformity. Michael’s gliding pov shots, hyperfocus grinding into motivations, clouding around a memory, that seem to switch moment to moment. Michael's the tantalising prospect of ignoring any idea of society: to flow all your energy into satisfying the Id, to allow whatever pops into your head to immediately become thinking of nothing else.

Terror driven by the act of noticing. Michael’s a distraction on screen but not in the traditional sense of over-emphasised yet irrelevant. He is "distraction" in the ADD sense: a colossal peak in the white noise of regular conversation or conventional life. He emerges where he isn’t expected, where he doesn’t make sense. But he doesn’t explode at first,=. He nags at, stalks, the periphery.

Laurie sees him when she should be listening to other people. She can’t stop making connection between the creeping thought of him and everything else than buzzes around her. This is why it takes her so long to act and why she has to.

Halloween contains the perfect amount of in-jokes and foreshadowing. Characters accidentally describe their own deaths, films play in the background that inadvertently narrate what’s about to take place. The concept of fear and the desire to be scared by cinema is deftly explained. These connections, between media and what’s happening, between what people say and what might happen: imagine if your brain saw these everywhere, imagine if you couldn’t stop making them. That’s what it’s like.

ADD isn’t near the worst thing to have and it’s definitely manageable. It’s not the end of the world. But seeing it invoked so incorrectly is irritating enough to elicit this kind of visceral description. I love long films. Any weird “endurance cinema” event I see, I attend. For me stuff like Out 1, Hard To Be A God or Werckmeister Harmonies functions similarly to techno, an immersive state that leads to euphoria. A place where total perception and waves upon waves of involuntary, overwhelming connections between tiny details are only rewarded.

Halloween is such a deft, perfect film, the cinematic equivalent of perfect pitch. So many ideas casually adorn its gleaming, swiss-quality genre mechanics that it’s possible to use it to explain anything. The fluidity with which Michael can haunt a frame matches the fluidity of what his presence can mean, a sinister shifting of any available context.

In isolation the “Bogeyman” motif might seem trite but it works so perfectly as a way to explain how perfect a machine the film is. It can stand in for whatever as long as that whatever feels like that second of limbo spent perceiving someone else’s razor blade drawing close to your throat as a hand clamps over your mouth. So many things can cause that sickening fear that poisons your stomach, can give a whole nation or a culture that kind of anxiety. Many evils are so enormous that the only way people can deal with their presence is to deny it, right up until it's murdering them. No one heeds the cry.

This is both justification and further explanation for why in this review the terror of The Shape lies in his command of the peripheral. The knowledge that there, on the edge, there’s something that might be but can’t because it isn’t to others...but what if they’re wrong.