Director: David Gordon Green
Writer: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Producer: Malek Akkad, Bill Block, Jason Blum
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Will Patton, Judy Greer, Haluk Bilginer, Andi Matichak
When Michael Myers escapes custody on Halloween Eve, Laurie Strode braces for an encounter she has awaited for 40 years.
Many fans hail 1981’s “Halloween II” (review here) as the superior sequel, but the uncomfortable truth is, it’s the movie that indirectly broke the franchise. John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s desperate dash to extend their slim slasher introduced siblings, Samhain, and a fiery finale that forced subsequent installments to figure out how it all fit together. Without “Halloween II’s” flailing fiction, the series never would have shoveled itself into a deepening pit of deceptive deaths, retconned children, and Druid cult conspiracies it had little hope of reasonably escaping.
So while much ado has been made by nagging purists about “Halloween” 2018’s decision to disown all previous entries save the original, really, it was the smartest move the franchise could make for recalibration. By stripping away convoluted continuity, “Halloween” returns ‘The Shape’ to the undefined incarnation of pure evil Carpenter and Hill initially intended him to be. This ‘back to basics’ approach resets the series using the straightforward formula that made it successful in the first place: pit one unstoppable killer against one immovable Final Girl and let the climb to their confrontation prime the pump for a fierce faceoff.
Even when Dr. Loomis was still in the picture, Michael Myers remained the franchise’s focus. Michael comes from an era of merchandisable horror icons, when movies made themselves about the murderer’s origins, identity, motivation, or mythology.
However, Michael was never the heart of “Halloween” 1978. Laurie Strode was, which is why “Halloween” 2018 wisely belongs more definitively to her. As John Carpenter himself said of director David Gordon Green and co-writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride’s reimagining, “there’s more story to tell because of Jamie (Lee Curtis)’s character.” Michael merely acts as the force of nature stirring her pot. Tipping the scale toward Laurie’s tale instead of Michael’s throws the audience a tauter lifeline inherently capable of captivating emotional investment.
Laurie essentially assumes Dr. Loomis’ obsessive Captain Ahab role here, except she isn’t actively on the hunt. The events of Halloween night in Haddonfield 40 years ago scarred her so severely, Laurie became a paranoid survivalist who built her home into a bunker while alienating two husbands and a daughter. With the aftershocks of Michael’s murders continuing to cause casualties of a different kind, Laurie now waits out a showdown she considers inevitable, where his death by her hands is the only closure that can bring comfort.
Prone to an occasional breakdown or medicating guzzle of wine, Laurie is far from a flawless idol. She isn’t exactly broken either, although her family bonds certainly are. While target practice and booby trap preparation occupy primary priorities, Laurie still hopes to repair the relationship with her estranged daughter Karen. Her teenage granddaughter Allyson would like to see nothing more. Halloween night 2018 stands poised to unexpectedly gather the three Strode women together when a familiar masked face returns for another long-awaited reunion.
Showcasing Laurie’s ladies doesn’t mean Michael Myers doesn’t get his due. He does. For the first time since the original film, James Jude Courtney capably captures Michael Myers’ onscreen essence in a way no other actor has done since 1978. The Shape has the right silhouette, movements, mannerisms, and mask. It genuinely feels like this is the same character, not a too short or too tall stuntman carelessly cosplaying in a knockoff costume.
Beyond physical mirroring, “Halloween” 2018 takes Michael back to being the playfully macabre murderer who thought it would be fun to f*ck with Lynda by wearing a ghost sheet and pretending to be her boyfriend Bob. Several kills have the same type of cat-and-mouse quality. One scene sees Michael using an intermittent motion sensor light to unnerve a target by slipping between each shadow. A different sort of sequel would just jump to the payoff of a body impaled on a post. As with the scene of Michael dropping torn-out teeth onto a bathroom floor as a terrifying taunt, these are more than mere murders. These are moments made memorable for their suspenseful sequencing.
Only one confusing characterization comes into play. Michael carjacks a vehicle by seemingly beating a young boy to death. Yet the camera later goes out of its way to show Michael ignoring a crying baby in a crib after briefly pausing to consider the kill. With these two moments in direct conflict regarding how far he will go, I’m not sure what the movie means to say about Michael’s bizarre “moral code,” if he even has one.
Not that she would be, but Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t wrong when she calls the movie “Halloween Retold.” It’s a quasi-remake in the form of a new feature, if such a hybrid can be conceived, following in the first film’s footsteps in multiple ways.
The entirety of “Halloween” 1978 essentially serves as storyboards for this sequel’s major beats and basic blocking. Brilliantly, bountiful homages organically hide in plain sight without waving jazz hands to shout, “look at me!” Obvious echoes include recreations of iconic moments like escaped mental patients illuminated by car headlights, a cemetery caretaker hosting a tour of Judith Myers’ grave, or falling from a balcony only to disappear from the ground below, albeit with different people in each position.
Other Easter eggs give franchise faithful plenty to point at without coming across like pandering, or worse, feeling unnecessarily shoehorned to become obtrusive distractions. For instance, at least one wire hanger can be seen inside a familiar-looking closet during the finale. There isn’t a close-up or anything calling attention to it, but you have to believe a prop person put it there on purpose to wink at what happened when Laurie stabbed Michael’s eye 40 years earlier. From Silver Shamrock masks and clothesline laundry to callbacks involving “Halloween 5” party costumes and how Michael acquires a knife from a neighbor, numerous “Halloween” hallmarks find themselves creatively worked into the narrative.
The frightful fun’s flipside does ask viewers to dumb themselves down a shade. Consider consistently impeccable timing. Although the movie vaguely implies events could have been orchestrated, who approved a plan to transfer Michael Myers on Halloween night, and how convenient is it that his bus crashes too? Allyson losing her phone to a bowl of nacho cheese right when Laurie calls with a warning similarly screams of serendipity.
Speaking of that specific instance, several characters are largely left in the lurch to do nothing more than propel plot points. Allyson’s boyfriend in particular doesn’t do anything useful aside from motivating how her cellphone ends up disabled. A forgettable sheriff exists only to give Will Patton’s Officer Hawkins someone to bounce exposition off of. The list of contrivances asking to be overlooked goes on with Dr. Sartain’s left field allegiance switch, Michael Myers superhumanly pulling a kitchen counter out of the floor despite being 61 years old, shot, and missing part of his hand, and Laurie fortifying her home for 40 years only for the two lone windows without reinforced bars to nearly be her undoing.
“Halloween” could use less jokes about banh mi sandwiches and more meat in its mother/daughter relationships. With these three women at the ready, it’s odd for two podcasters to be our access point into the story when the duo eventually evaporates from both the movie and your memory. Along a similar line of misspent time, a lot of the last act exhaustively stalks silently around Laurie’s house without any meaningful character development taking place.
Nevertheless, “Halloween” still wins a generous four out of fives stars for deserved reasons. Chiefly because the film feels like Halloween, both the season and the series, which is the best possible accolade any sequel can earn.
“Halloween” presents a logical extension of the person Laurie Strode could have become, as well as a distillation of Michael Myers in uncomplicated form. And even though it was lensed in South Carolina, this looks like Haddonfield inside and out (kudos to everyone involved in location scouting).
Timing is everything, which is another reason why “Halloween” works. If we were at a point where new installments were pumped out every two-three years, its simplicity might make for an unremarkable entry. But since it is 40 years later and the movie exists in a vacuum independent of franchise baggage, the slim scale turns it into an effective companion piece that plays remarkably well alongside the original.
For a double feature with “Halloween” 1978, “Halloween” 2018 fits as a better back half than “Halloween II.” Forgiving its flaws, a big body count featuring several familiar and fresh kills, a solid cast of notable names, and a no muss, no fuss approach to slasher storytelling make “Halloween” probably the second best film in the saga.
Review Score: 80