Halloween (2018) brings two icons of the horror genre back to the big screen: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers. This new sequel from David Gordon Green (with a screenplay assist from Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) jettisons the latter day lore of earlier sequels, renouncing the idea that Laurie is Michael’s sister and everything else that follows (looking at you Josh Hartnett in Halloween: H20). Instead, it’s stripped back.
Laurie is the lone survivor of Michael’s night of terror. As we rejoin the narrative, it’s been 40 years since the night he came home. Laurie is still struggling with PTSD that manifests itself as what one can only describe as a babysitter murderer prepper lifestyle. This gives her the air of badassery she earned seeing herself and those little kids alive through a night when five other people were butchered, but it hasn’t endeared her to her own daughter. Karen (Judy Greer) has a degree in psychology and a teenage daughter of her own. Her life has been about setting boundaries with her mother and trying to convince herself that the world is a good place, no matter how many years she spent practicing run-and-hide drills and learning to shoot. For her part Karen’s daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak) loves her grandmother (who she curiously and intensely addresses as “grandmother” in all situations) and wants to see the rift in the family mended. Like her mother before her, she resents her mother’s grip on the pass and failure to move forward. Because even though Halloween is no longer a family affair, it’s still a family affair.
The narrative has nearly as long a memory as its principal characters. Nods to the history of the franchise are sprinkled throughout the narrative with glee. Some of these are wildly successful — particularly those that find Laurie flipping the script on Michael — while others come off a bit reaching — looking at you ultra aggressive gas station murders. That jarring blend of brilliance and clunkiness permeates the entire feature. In 1978, Halloween had Debra Hill on the screenwriting team, bringing a much needed female perspective to a film that’s so much about the male gaze and pursuit of power. In 2018, Halloween has three generations of women coming to terms with the violent events in their past (and present) and three men trying to figure out what that looks like.
To their credit, this iteration of the film has shed and subverted many of the horror “rules” its predecessor made famous, and it’s given Laurie complexity and dynamism, but it often fails to reflect authentic female feelings, missing the sources of fear, the emotional reactions, the motivations, by just enough to give pause, prompting the viewer to give a tilt of the head and consider the choice the way Michael has so often surveyed his dying victims. For instance, is it reasonable that any girl, much less the granddaughter of Laurie Strode, would flee from Michael Myers’ attacks straight into the woods instead of toward a visible cop car mere yards away? No. Nope. Not even a little bit.
Likewise, this new vision amps up the gore, the violence, the body count, the time spent with Michael, all while failing to clock that the grim simplicity is what made The Shape’s early kills so chilling, that his absence (and thus potential presence anywhere) was more haunting than tracing his steps, that piling the bodies as high as possible dulls the impact of their deaths. There are plot twists that prompted hands thrown up in exasperation all around the theater.
But never doubt that every one of those raised hands was born of immersion. While Halloween lacks the slick finish and precision of the original, it doesn’t lack the power to grab attention and hold it. The headline here is Jamie Lee Curtis slipping into a Laurie Strode that’s sick of living in fear and ready for revenge. Every frame of that story is riveting. But there are other flashes of brilliance here too. Most notably, Jibrail Nantambu as Julian, the Tommy Wallace of this movie, who calls out every false move his teenage companions make with the vigor of a horror fan. The sequence is an absolute riot, and the greatest example of what Danny McBride brings to the table, when his contributions work, they really work. Julian is the hero we never knew this franchise needed.
Halloween sacrifices all the moments of genuine terror it could have had at the altar of shock value and a misplaced understanding of what made Michael the stuff of nightmares in the first place. Instead, it settles for jump scares and gross outs. In spite of this, there are fresh ideas here that really do work, and it’s impossible to deny the satisfaction that stems from watching Jamie Lee Curtis bring this story full circle at long last. Happy Halloween, horror fans.