Synopsis – Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.
My Take – Back in 1978, filmmaker John Carpenter popularized the slasher genre and its myriad tropes by introducing us to the world of Michael Myers in his film Halloween. There was something about how Myers aka the Shape, a seemingly unthinking and lumbering figure moved around killing everyone and everything that came in his way, all the while being terrifyingly unstoppable. Forget pleas for mercy, or any form of compassion, this figure made sure he ended up becoming everyone worst (or favorite) nightmare, despite the absence of a discernible backstory or a motivation.
With its massive success, the absolutely merciless thriller, with obvious reasons, subsequently gave birth to five sequels, a retcon in the form of Halloween III: Season of the Witch in 1982 and 2007 reboot along with a 2009 sequel from Rob Zombie. While each one had some redeeming qualities about them, none could measure up to filmmakers Carpenter’s original. Fast forward 40 years, here, director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Stronger) attempts to provide some kind of closure for fans of the popular film, by effectively wiping out any form of backstory subsequent writers have assigned to Myers over the years, including key points that final girl Laurie Strode is secretly Myer’s biological sister and that he had been verbally abused by the older sister Judith, thereby returning the character back to its primal state, and inextricably connecting itself to its idea that Myers just can’t be explained. It’s an effective choice because that unknowable fact is what makes him terrifying.
You don’t want to empathize with a sociopath, especially a preternaturally strong one, who is now in his mid-60s, and once again on a murderous warpath. Most importantly director David Gordon Green’s brand-new sequel also gives Laurie her rightful moment by focusing on the fallout of the ’78 film and by interrogating the aftershocks of trauma. Sure, there are definitely some discrepancies in the overall narrative of the new film, but director Green along with new writers Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley bring a certain freshness to the long dead franchise by embracing the simplistic fear of the original and by seemingly closing the chapter on the franchise in a moderately satisfying way in comparison to the previous sequels that achieved no heights in terms of contributing to the sub-genre of horror.
The story follows Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the sole survivor of the Michael Myers led babysitter-killing rampage which took place in the fiction town of Haddonfield back in 1978. Suffering from PTSD, the once sweet 19 year old is now a paranoid and stubborn middle aged woman whose trauma has defined her and has affected her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who she trained as a kid and then lost custody as a result, along with two failed marriages under her belt. Because of her strained relationship with Karen, she can’t even see her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) as often as she’d like, who is open to a relationship with her but can’t see why she is so bothered about Myer’s return who was immediately locked up four decades ago following his merciless killings.
All this Myers has not said a word to anyone and has been under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a student of Dr. Loomis, who is still trying to figure out what ticks him into action. A reason he allows a pair of true crime pod-casters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) to walk up to him with the mask he wore that night in the hopes of stimulating a response. He doesn’t speak, but Michael obliges more dramatically later by violently escaping the bus prison transfer. With a trail of bodies in his wake and the mask back where it belongs, Myers finds his way back to Haddonfield on Halloween night for a final, bloody confrontation with Laurie who has been preparing for his return all this years with countless assault weapons and traps at her disposal.
While it doesn’t have the same innovation or nearly the amount of raw horror as the original film, the new film is a lot of fun. It has a ton of visual and narrative callbacks for fans of the franchise and includes an epic final sequence that makes all of its flaws forgivable, depending on whether you want another sequel, that is. While the film has only one character from the original, it falls between remake and sequel. The majority of the run time is spent craftily re-creating scenarios from the original film while maintaining its status as a sequel. Here, Strode even remarks directly to Dr. Ranbir Sartain’s face that he’s the new Dr. Samuel Loomis, a psychiatrist who has pursued Myers throughout many of the previous Halloween films. Still, the film does take its own risks by being considerably funnier and considerably less direct than the original film.
This installment was especially clever to draw as much from the original film as it did and by going back to basics in telling this self-contained story, one that mimics its predecessor in so many ways, it’s able to tap into that well of goodwill. It relies heavily on that first film from the opening credits to the familiar strains of the score to the many times it recreates actual shots from director Carpenter’s film. Though it often subverts or reverses those recreations to great effect, so don’t be surprised if everyone else in the audience cheers. Coming from a director who has earned his rep through comedy, here, director Green’s direction is surprisingly eye-opening, and wringing in creative scares, and not just jump scares, but from his mundane Haddonfield setting. Also the real effectiveness of this film comes from the handling of Laurie’s trauma and the film’s exploration of empowerment across three generations of women. Jamie Lee Curtis’s revival of her original role of the final girl, Laurie Strode, gives the film a chance to explore territory typically left unexplored in the slasher genre: namely, what the remainder of the surviving victim’s life looks like after the credits have rolled.
Here, unlike other sequel she is treated with respect. She’s been training for forty years, preparing, praying for Michael to break out of prison so she can kill him. Her daughter had to learn how to fight at a very young age, and eventually Laurie was deemed unfit to be a parent. Because of this, they have a strained relationship, and it’s believable. There’s even a satisfying payoff at the end.
The film also throws in references to other films of the franchise, including the Myers-less third film, which aren’t treated as jokes so much as sub versions of expectation. Likewise, its self-reflective observations on the slasher genre are rooted in character. For example, characters discuss the myth of Michael being Laurie’s brother; they debate amongst themselves whether a guy stabbing some people is even scary anymore in the fearmongering world of 2018. There’s even a joke about the notorious reluctance of Curtis and filmmaker Carpenter to return to the franchise that’s so low-key it’s unclear whether it’s even intended that way.
Of course with both director Green and McBride coming from a comedy background, the film also has its fair amount of humor throughout the film, which has been mainly used to endear us to minor characters before they meet their grisly ends as Myers’s victims, giving them small moments of humanity before they’re impaled on a fence or their severed head is hollowed out and used as a jack-o-lantern. Aside from being genuinely, relentlessly funny, these moments of comic relief manage to make you emotionally invested in people who might otherwise simply be used to tick up the killer’s body count.
While of course, the film is not perfect as it is sometimes consciously cheesy and didn’t need those pod caster characters. While the films does comes close to going off the rails trying to keep all its moving parts together, mainly due to an odd subplot that pops up halfway through and one that I did not see coming, but never really goes anywhere and is stomped out pretty quickly, it manages to hold it all together. My only significant gripe with the film is a moderately ambiguous ending, which serves the idea that, for the survivors, there truly is no end in sight to the series. Of course, to make a film unencumbered by franchise baggage in 2018 would almost seem ignorant of developments in the genre and the world.
Without a doubt, Jamie Lee Curtis is the expected powerhouse in the role, and it’s undeniably satisfying seeing her back in the fray despite the gray hairs. A lot of work goes into the running, fighting, crying, panicking and emotional occurrences on screen and, almost effortlessly, she masters all of it. Even James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle do not disappoint as Michael Myers. Will Patton and Haluk Bilginer are also solid in their respective roles, but the film’s biggest gift cast-wise is giving Judy Greer more to do than simply play a wife or a mom. It’s a slightly meatier role and a reminder why we constantly champion her around these parts. Newcomer Andi Matichak also makes a strong case for herself and seems capable enough to carry the franchise forward. In smaller roles, Omar Dorsey, Virginia Gardner, Toby Huss and Miles Robbins are alright. On the whole, ‘Halloween’ is an old-fashioned, daring and ingenious slasher sequel that acts as a tremendous companion piece to its original.
Directed – David Gordon Green
Rated – R
Run Time – 106 minutes