Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Haluk Bilginer, Toby Huss, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, Drew Scheid, Jibrail Nantambu
Running Time: 106 min.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Of all the horror sequels, prequels and reboots, none have beaten into the ground quite like Halloween. Michael Myers' origin story has been told and retold so many times that you have to wonder how even the hardest of hardcore fans haven't reached the point of complete exhaustion. How many times can The Shape escape from the mental hospital and wreck havoc on Haddonfield? Or come back "home" to the Strode house? Even with this newest Blumhouse-produced incarnation of the property directed by David Gordon Green and co-writtten by Danny McBride arriving in time for the original's 40th anniversary and being co-produced and endorsed by John Carpenter himself, its biggest hand was already been played. Jamie Lee Curtis reprised her legendary role of Laurie Strode in 1998's underwhelming Halloween: H20 with mixed results, mostly due to the lack of any long-term vision for the character.
Now accompanying Curtis' return is a pesky continuity problem that Green and McBride believe they can solve. Just retcon the whole thing. Or at least every film that followed the 1978 original, which remains highly regarded enough to make this experiment worth a try. Gone are all the returns of Myers, who we now learn has been confined to a mental hospital for the past four decades following his October 31st killing spree. Wiped away with it are any revelations that came in subsequent installments, including the big one that Laurie is Michael's sister.
While all of this sounds fine and good on paper and it's tough to argue few better options exist, it sure is asking a lot from fans. Or is it? Aside from the Myers-less, but underrated Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Rob Zombie's polarizing Halloween II, none of the previous entries have ever truly attempted something different. By committing to this crazy idea, Green's film forces the series to go a little out of its comfort zone, resulting in one of the more skillfully made outings since Carpenter's classic. Given the talent involved, that isn't much of a surprise. even if it comes at a cost. Whatever disappointment comes from the realization that it still, for better or worse, feels like a Halloween movie, stopping short of transcending the genre to become something more. You could argue that would always be too tall an order, but this sequel does feel as steeped in the year it was made as the original likely did in 1978.
With the "#MeToo" movement permeating through its female-driven empowerment narrative, it does away with away attempts to "understand" Michael Myers, even going so far as to mock the current criminal psychology boom surrounding serial killers. A welcome return to Carpenter's initial idea of the faceless, random form of evil known as the "Boogeyman," this had to be one of the toughest installments to plan. The results aren't always entirely successful, but Green deserve credit for not only pulling this off, but crafting a worthy successor that's as thrilling to discuss and dissect as it is to watch.
The 40 years since towering, emotionless killer Michael Myers terrorized Haddonfield on Halloween night haven't been kind to Laurie Strode (Curtis). Psychologically traumatized by his attack, the now sixty-something survivalist is twice divorced and estranged from her adult daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) who was removed from Laurie's care years ago when the state determined her overprotective, vigilante parenting methods crossed a line. Living in an isolated compound decked out with heavy artillery and security, she drinks a lot and obsessively prepares for Michael's potential return, waiting for the moment she can finally get her revenge.
Laurie's only lifeline is Karen's teen daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who, despite her mom's desire to shut the door in any relationship with Laurie, feels a connection to her grandmother. But the past returns in a big way when true-crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) arrive at Warren County Smith's Grove's Sanitarium to visit Michael before he's transferred to a new facility while under the care of his long-time psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). Seeing dollar signs in both exploiting and humanizing Michael, they plan to stage a reunion between him and Laurie under the guise of giving her "closure." Laurie wants none of it, but may not have a choice when his transport bus crashes and he comes home. This time she's ready, but all three generations of Strode women will have to band together in order to defeat the embodiment of pure evil.
Aside from the spectacular opening title sequence that pays direct homage to the '78 original, but with a clever twist, the first half-hour of Green's picture is its weakest. This isn't to say it fails or even takes too long to get going, but rather that our entry point hinges on three unlikable characters we don't know and aren't particularly invested in. So even while the idea of introducing true-crime podcasters trying to drum up publicity and sympathy for Myers' cause is a timely one, something still feels off about the execution. Early on, we sniff out their only purpose in the story: Allowing Michael to reclaim his mask.
Similar claims can be leveled at the character of Dr. Sartain, who could easily be labeled as a poor man's Dr. Loomis until the full complexity of his motivations come into play. And even then, the unflattering comparisons to Loomis (whom he "studied" under) are inescapable. But at least leading off with the Sanitarium spares us enduring yet another "It's Halloween in Haddonfield. Will he show up?" opening. It also provides us the most visually arresting image of the entire film,a wide shot of the hospital's courtyard with patients lined up on what looks like a giant chess board, with a maskless Myers' back turned to his nervously approaching visitors. It works on many levels, including the obvious one, that these three are really only pawns in his game, one in which he'll soon be claiming new victims.
Myers has had a lot of returns home to Haddonfield throughout the illustrious history of this franchise, but Green makes a number of different choices that stand out, resulting in the one of the stronger stretches of both physical and psychological suspense we've seen since the series' inception. While the killing starts early, Green recognizes, with one or two big exceptions, the need to not show us everything, leaving at least a little to the imagination. It's pretty much the opposite of Rob Zombie's gorefest, which worked to a certain point for the type of movie he made, for all the good and terrible that entails. But Green's more of a chameleon who can slip in and out of different styles and is capable of hiding a few tricks up his sleeve. The film's middle portion is a showcase for that, as he not only manages to hide some of the more tired genre tropes with visually interesting choices, but also slides in a few winks and nods for fans that make sense for this story without excluding more casual viewers.
The screenplay succeeds in getting back in touch with Michael as this random, undiscriminating killer, which seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent installments. It feels like Halloween night with the streets lined with kids everywhere as Myers just aimlessly walks on the streets and sidewalks and through the crowds scoping out houses. While more establishing shots of Haddonfield would have helped in establishing a greater sense of time and location (something the original had in spades), the newest generation of supporting characters are given suprisingly adequate development, unburdened with carrying the entire film on their shoulders like so many other unsuccessful entries horror entries. This time, most of the heavy-lifting is done by Curtis, who we know can handle it, and does.
Treating the assault she suffered 40 years ago at the hands of The Shape with the gravity and seriousness it deserves, Curtis is afforded the opportunity to add a dimension of reality to the character she originated that some of the goofier sequels prevented. H20 attempted this approach, but it's refined here. The hunted becomes the hunter, as years of buried trauma create this alcoholic, PTSD-suffering survivalist whose obsession with revenge ruins whatever relationship she could have with her own daughter.
Judy Greer's Karen has gone in the opposite direction, believing her mom to be a drunken kook, compartmentalizing her own childhood and choosing to instead see the world as all sunshine and rainbows. We know what will eventually occur to destroy that illusion, but it's hard not thinking this continues the streak of movies underutilizing Greer, with a role that exists primarily as a bridge for Laurie passing the torch to granddaughter Alysson. Still, it was smart making Curtis again the franchise's centerpiece and having her family's legacy be the orbit around which the story revolves. Nor does it hurt that the film inadvertantly walked into a cultural moment involving attack victims and survivors.
In her first big screen role, Andi Matichak isn't yet called upon to be the "new Laurie" as Scout Taylor-Compton was in Zombie's reimagining, but acquits herself well as the smart, head-strong Allyson. She's caught in the middle of the family feud between her mom and grandmother and a sub-plot involving boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) that seems to come and go, despite his faint ties to the original film. Of course, she'll eventually come face-to-face with Michael and while Matichak's role isn't huge, she definitely leaves her mark, instilling some optimism in those wondering if she's capable of taking the wheel of the inevitable sequel(s). But it's the interactions with her friends that provide more of the film's meta social commentary, including a take on why anyone should still care about Michael Myers' crimes in a day and age where mass killings seem to occur every other minute.
Despite her biggest jump scare being spoiled by the trailer, Virginia Gardner also manages to leave a lasting impression as babysitter Vicky, briefly bringing charisma and personality to the most thankless of horror movie characters. Her verbal interplay with young Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), whom she watches, is such a highlight you wish there was more. But we're quickly brought back down to Earth and reminded that, yes, we're still just going through the motions of a requisite Halloween entry where characters exist solely to bolster the kill count or advance plot. Adult characters are even more disposable, treated as an afterthought with little or no development at all.Will Patton's Sheriff Hawkins has a very tangetial connection to the '78 killings that seems tossed in, while the great Toby Huss does what he can with the limited role of Karen's husband and Allyson's father, Ray.
Between nameless cops and bystanders, podcasters and a Dr. Loomis stand-in, there are a lot of superfulous characters whose chief narrative purpose is to get Michael to Laurie's safe house for the eventual showdown. But even with more plot than seemingly necessary, we're treated to some real flashes of brilliance along the way, including a suspenseful kill sequence involving motion sensors that's heightened by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies' new score. Remaining faithful to the original while adding guitar flourishes that bring it into the modern era, this is the best Halloween's ever sounded. Directors scoring their own films was pretty rare in '78 so having Carpenter return to the studio alongside his two collaborators, not only feels and sounds like the right choice, but utilizes him for more than just his usual story or producing credit. And his work couldn't have turned out better, offering a welcome twist on one of cinema's most famous musical compositions.
Other call-backs are less obvious, like P.J. Soles' cameo as a teacher or the original Michael, Nick Castle, making an extremely brief apperance behind a mask now being occupied by actor/stuntman James Jude Courtney, who does Myers' justice in both movement and mannerisms. Every new film seems to spark a discussion about the mask, and this one looks good enough, appropriately reflecting the decades of age and wear you'd likely anticipate. If there's any problem with it it's that it bares almost too close a resemblance to Zombie's grungy version.
It's a testament to just how much this franchise has been through that even on the heels of a financially and creatively fulfilling sequel like this, it's still somewhat difficult to get excited for more. Jamie Lee Curtis returned as Laurie and faced off with Michael. Now what? The sequels following H20 all dealt with this conundrum and we've even seen the problem manifest itself in a non-horror capacity in the newest Star Wars series. It's tough finding that balance between the old and the new. Pleasing original fans while still attracting newer ones. No matter how many times you emphasize a fresh start they'll always be that temptation to lean back into the past, "come home" so to speak. It's a tricky balance that will only get trickier with each succeeding installment.
Halloween 2018 comes from a strange place in wanting to completely abandon and even occasionally send-up the films that came before, while remaining slavishly devoted to them at the same time, even going as far as to pay homage to certain scenes, story points and characters. In so far as translating those admittedly mixed signals in the screen, Green does as good a job as any current director could. Considering a trip back to Crystal Lake or even Elm Street would seem to hold more appeal and possibilities than yet another entry into this series, it all worked out. By reminding us of everything we've loved and loathed about the series, it pushes us forward us into the next chapter. And whatever that is, there's little doubt Michael Myers' legacy will remain at the center of it.