Driven by a committed Curtis, Halloween is mostly effective in the way it takes the slasher franchise back to its roots, yet builds on its foundation.
Forty years after John Carpenter introduced the world to Michael Myers, the now-iconic villain returns to the big screen in Halloween, a film that functions as a direct sequel to Carpenter's 1978 horror classic and ditches the continuity of every other Halloween movie released since. Jamie Lee Curtis also reprises her role as Laurie Strode for Halloween (2018) and her performance has been celebrated throughout the film's run on the festival circuit. That praise is more than well-deserved, seeing as the older Laurie is very much the movie's heart and soul. Driven by a committed Curtis, Halloween is mostly effective in the way it takes the slasher franchise back to its roots, yet builds on its foundation.
Halloween, as indicated earlier, picks up in real-time, e.g. four decades after Michael murdered Laurie's friends and nearly killed her too, before he was arrested and taken into custody. The older Laurie still lives in Haddonfield, Illinois, but now resides in a heavily fortified and isolated house, where she spends most of her time preparing for Michael's return. Laurie's obsession with Michael has further cost her multiple marriages and alienated her from her adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and teen granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who are frustrated by her refusal to seek professional help and let go of the past.
Everything changes when Michael is transferred to a maximum security prison to spend the rest of his life, only for his bus to crash on the way over and "The Shape" to escape. Before long, Michael makes his way back to Haddonfield with his white mask in tow, just in time to carry out another murder spree on Halloween night. As the local police struggle to get a handle on the situation and the body count grows, it thus falls to the three generations of Strode women to stop Michael, once and for all.
Halloween (2018) could be described as the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of Halloween sequels, in the sense that its narrative intentionally echoes that of the film that started the franchise, at the same time that it progresses its mythos and themes. The movie also boasts a distinctly offbeat sense of humor, thanks in no small amount to the script by director David Gordon Green and his Vice Principals collaborators Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride. Generally speaking, Halloween's comedy succeeds in giving it more personality and preventing it from becoming excessively downbeat and unpleasant, rather than undercutting the tension of its story. That ends up being quite important, seeing as the film is otherwise pretty grim in tone, even during the quieter scenes when Michael isn't on the loose and slaughtering people in cold blood.
While Green's Halloween is far more graphic than Carpenter's original when it comes to violence, it also relies heavily on suspense filmmaking techniques that are similar to those employed by its predecessor. In a way, Halloween (2018) is most successful in channeling its predecessor's spirit from a technical perspective, be it with the ominous nighttime visuals by DP Michael Simmonds (another Vice Principals veteran) or the way the sound mixing combines unsettling silence and painful noises with an eery synthesized score that Carpenter composed with his son Cody and Daniel A. Davies (Zoo). Green's sequel even harkens back to the low-budget aesthetic of Carpenter's classic, in keeping with the typical approach that producer Jason Blum and his company Blumhouse take to the horror genre. As a result, the new Halloween really feels like the original film more than any other installment in the series before it, down to its portrayal of Michael as a machine-like silent force of evil (played by original Halloween actor Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney).
It helps that Halloween (2018) is the first entry in the franchise to really explore how Laurie would have been impacted (psychologically and emotionally) by Michael's initial murders all those years ago. The film thusly offers Curtis a chance to really dig deep into the role and portray the character as a multifaceted protagonist who can go from being utterly fearless and determined to incredibly vulnerable and sensitive, depending on the circumstances. Halloween is still Laurie's story more than that of her family, but Greer and Matichak likewise shine here, especially in the scenes that highlight their characters' personal demons and how they ultimately stem from what Michael did. Supporting cast members like Will Patton as police officer Frank Hawkins and Haluk Bilginer as Dr. Ranbir Sartain (aka. "The New Dr. Loomis", as Laurie even calls him) also do fine work, but nevertheless play second fiddle to the Strode women in the film (and fittingly so).
At the same time, the new Halloween is perhaps guilty of muddling its message about how people deal with and process trauma, as well as its overarching theme of female empowerment. Carpenter cowrote the original Halloween with the late writer/producer Debra Hill (his frequent collaborator) and Green's sequel arguably would've benefited from having a female writer involved, to help better flesh out the Strode women (Karen and Allyson in particular) and strengthen their respective character arcs in the film. There are smaller issues here too - like how Halloween (2018) introduces an intriguing subplot involving a true crime documentary crew that plays a disappointingly simple role in the story - but overall, it's the lack of a female perspective behind the scenes that (arguably) holds the movie back from greatness.
Green, Curtis, and their collaborators have nevertheless succeeded in delivering what's easily the best Halloween sequel in a long time (ever?) here, as well as a very good slasher throwback in its own right. Longtime fans of the franchise will further appreciate the fine touches here, be it the visual homages to Carpenter's original 1978 film (and even some of its earlier followups) or the meta-references (namely, dialogue) that directly nod to the series' now-abandoned lore and how the horror genre has evolved since Michael Myers first terrorized Laurie on the big screen. Suffice it to say, any horror film buffs in the mood for a proper thrill this Halloween season will want to take this trip back to Haddonfield.
Halloween is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 109 minutes long and is rated R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity.
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- Halloween (2018) release date: Oct 19, 2018