8 out of 10
Jamie Lee Curtis – Laurie Strode
Directed by David Gordon Green
The Shape still works.
In horror, everything old becomes new again. Worn out tropes become, under new management, exciting explorations into genre. Tired iterations of the same movie monster become invigorated when new blood takes up the reins with imagination and vigor. The predictable becomes scary again when filmmakers approach these stories with respect and love. And so we come to David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s return to Haddonfield with Halloween, which takes John Carpenter’s original film seriously enough to examine what kind of a world would exist for a person after such a traumatic experience.
Green and McBride are not reinventing Carpenter’s wheel. Instead, they’re adding some torque and drive to it, and the result is one of the best horror sequels in many years. It’s never dumb, always thrilling, surprisingly funny, and scary as hell when Green wants it to be. This is one satisfying movie, and don’t be surprised if this breathes new life into the slasher horror genre. Studios may be chomping at the bit to revive some of those franchises, but if they don’t approach them with the level of admiration and respect that Green and McBride do here, they may well be doomed to fail.
Those other filmmakers won’t have Jamie Lee Curtis in their corner either, turning in a performance of such passion, power, and grace, that without her Halloween just wouldn’t work. This sequel ignores all the previous sequels, instead telling a new story 40 years later – a story about a woman whose life was irrevocably changed and damaged from the events of October 31, 1978. The Babysitter Murders, as they were called, were well known to the world, and Michael Myers (Nick Castle), safely locked away in an institution, remains as silent and as enigmatic as ever. When a couple of true crime podcasters visit Myers to investigate the 40 year old murders, they start a chain of events that brings Laurie Strode, now a grandmother and a recluse, back into the forefront.
Curtis plays Laurie as a broken woman, so desolated by what happened that her own daughter had to be taken away from her when she was 12. Now an adult with a daughter of her own, Karen (Judy Greer) is trying to raise Allyson (Andi Matichak) away from her mother’s influence. But Andi is curious about her grandmother, and cares for her very much. When Myers escapes, Laurie, Karen, and Allyson each must fight their own demons if they are to have any hope in surviving him.
What David Gordon Green gets right about Halloween, he gets very right. Myers is terrifying again – one memorable long tracking shot follows Myers as he seems to glide, like a shark, through the streets of Haddonfield looking for his victims. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to his methods, which makes him even more frightening, and the deliberate nature of his attacks has that same charge to them that the original film had. It also doesn’t hurt that the score, by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies is as effective as ever. There’s something primordial about that theme, even all these years later, that gets under the skin and flicks at the nerves. The kills are especially brutal, and fans of these kinds of movies will be very pleased how Green doesn’t hold back. There are a few twists here and there to add some spice to the story, and some unexpected humor that works most of the time – a couple of times the humor breaks the tension at important moments, but those are fleeting.
But while Halloween directly pulls from the original in terms of its intensity and scare factor, it’s very much a film of the here and now. This is a film about surviving trauma, and how one moves on past a horrible tragedy, and it feels timely and relevant in a way that gives Halloween more power and emotion than you might expect. When Laurie and Michael go head-to-head, we’re not just seeing two great horror icons face off, but we’re also getting a richer context in how we choose to fight our own battles with horrific events. I found myself very moved by Halloween‘s third act, when the pieces that have been laid before us 40 years before click together in one of the most satisfying film climaxes in quite some time. Yes, Michael Myers remains one of the most terrifying movie monsters of all time, but if we aren’t rooting for someone to take him down, it’s all just gratuitous violence. David Gordon Green, even while being well aware that he’s playing in the slasher genre and giving fans what they want, never takes his eye off the ball by making these characters matter. They aren’t simply meat for the grinder.
There are some pacing issues in the middle, and a subplot dealing with Michael Myers’ “new Loomis” doesn’t quite work, but those are minor stumbling blocks in what is ultimately one of the very best horror sequels in the genre. I missed Donald Pleasence, but Jamie Lee Curtis’s intensity and drive make up for it. All those poor theater workers, having to clean up all that spilled popcorn. All those significant others with claw marks on their arms. The Scary Movie is back, and I couldn’t be happier. Halloween is terrific, and I can’t imagine a better start to Fantastic Fest this year.