[This is a repost of my review from the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Halloween opens today.]
Most horror fans are likely aware of the genre’s troubles with lackluster sequels, particularly when it comes to the classic slashers. Time and time again we’ve seen brilliant concepts and iconic characters used and abused to the point that the franchise and the killer lose their menace. But there was a chance this new Halloween movie could be different. The franchise landed in the hands of Blumhouse, brought back John Carpenter and also made an inspired choice by bringing in the talented but genre-untested David Gordon Green and Danny McBride. So now the question is, have they done it? Forty years later, is the Halloween franchise back to form? The answer is a resounding yes.
We reunite with Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. The events of the first film have essentially defined her life, and her family’s as well. She’s been living with PTSD for years and has spent much of her time prepping for Michael’s return – arming up, preparing her daughter and granddaughter for the potential threat, and even praying for him to break out of the facility he’s being held in so that she can finish him off once and for all. And then one night, she gets her wish.
As far as Laurie Strode’s story goes, Halloween nails it. We don’t get an exhaustive history so one might wonder about certain details, like perhaps what state Laurie was in when she met Karen’s (Judy Greer) father given how unhinged she is now. But, Green and McBride’s script manages to steer clear of the dreaded exposition dump and risk extinguishing the beautiful and terrifying simplicity of the original while also serving the immediate story quite well. And this isn’t just a story about how Laurie was affected by the events of the original film; Michael is put under that microscope also and Green does a fantastic job highlighting that in subtle but thoughtful ways throughout the film.
As expected, Curtis commands the screen as Laurie yet again. She’s buzzing with mixture of authority and nervous energy, and that combination sells her as a very capable hero, but also as one who fully understands the force she’s up against. And you can see hints of that in her family at various points of the film. Greer and Curtis make a fantastic mother-daughter duo. There’s an undeniable underlying love there, but Laurie’s let her past do some serious damage to Karen’s childhood and she’s still dealing with that now. Andi Matichak certainly makes an impression as Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, particularly with how reminiscent some of her scene are of what Laurie went through in the first film, but it would have been nice to see that character have a little more to do in the second half of the film, beyond just running away.
In the supporting department there are a bunch of standouts. Toby Huss just nails it as Ray, Allyson’s father. That character is loaded with heart and “awkward dad” moments that make him an especially charming new addition. There’s also Virginia Gardner as Vicky, one of Allyson’s best friends. She gets an extended sequence with a young boy (Jibrail Nantambu) she’s babysitting and they have an unforgettable and hilarious verbal sparring session.
Halloween features a good deal of comedy and for the most part, it works. Very few jokes don’t land and they’re also expertly planted, never taking away from the threat but also letting you take a much needed breath. When the violence and brutality of Halloween kick in, they’re ruthless and relentless. If you’re looking for gore you’ve come to the right place because this movie is packed with disturbing carnage. Sometimes we do see Michael create that carnage, but there are other moments when it happens off screen, and we’re left with horrible sound effects that prove that the imagination and not knowing can be more terrifying.
Green also knows precisely how to capture Michael Myers – and craft attractive frames for just about anything for that matter. The colors on Halloween night are rich and pop, Green is a master of establishing geography in the close quarters of a home, and he brings Michael Myers back to screen in a way that doesn’t just depict him as a hulking brute, but rather as The Shape – an almost graceful “blink and you’ll miss him” force of nature that acts with purpose.
We finally have a new Halloween movie that moves the franchise forward and respects its legacy. There are countless nods to the original film but none of them fall into the ham-handed “wink wink” category. Portions of the original score are incorporated at just the right moments, Green turns some familiar visuals on their heads in ways that enhance this part of Laurie’s journey but will also be immensely satisfying for a franchise fan, there are some stellar Steadicam shots that bring you right back to Dean Cundey‘s work – this list can go on and on. The point is, the filmmakers get it – both for fans and franchise newcomers.
Halloween is a shining example of what any other budding slasher reboot or sequel should strive to be, a film that doesn’t just lean on what made the character popular to begin with or explain that character away with backstory to the point that you obliterate the scare factor entirely. This Halloween movie is a near perfect blend of craft, character growth and nostalgia.