Michael Myers meets his match in the righteous rage of the slick, hyper-aware Halloween
John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween, the story of dead silent maniac Michael Myers unleashing a bloodbath upon a group of babysitters in a sleepy corner of middle America, sits at an awkward crossroads in film history. On one hand, it’s a tightly crafted, hauntingly captivating tale of violence unrivaled in creating spine-tingling atmosphere. Any horror buff will sing you the praises of its importance, ushering in the rise of the slasher subgenre and bringing in a swath of horror tropes, including the now infamous concept of the “final girl”, along with it. On the other hand, it’s a film still bombarded with criticism for its violence against women, not to mention the fact that after all this time, many now don’t find it particularly frightening. To be scared of Halloween is to unlearn the habits of 40 years of horror filmmaking.
After countless sequels and reboots, 2018’s Halloween has arrived to celebrate and interrogate all the power and moral complexity of the original, retconning the entire franchise to serve as a direct sequel. The film follows Myers as he is unleashed upon Haddonfield, Illinois once again, escaping from a prison transfer bus to wreak havoc on his hometown. The difference this time is that he has a formidable opponent in Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies), whose survival of his rampage has led to a life as a hardened survivalist hellbent on putting him in the ground herself. Rattled by PTSD but steadfast in her commitment to defeating Myers, Laurie faces off with him yet again as he comes for her estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer, Ant-Man and the Wasp) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
The film is quick to discount the absurdity of the original’s many sequels, dismissing the idea of Myers being Laurie’s long-lost brother as “rumors” and reintroducing the mystique of this unknowable killer, favoring his emotionless need to kill over any sort of contrived set of motivations. Director David Gordon Green (Stronger), Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down), and Jeff Fradley, who all co-wrote the script, are sharply aware that “The Shape” is terrifying because of his force of nature-like presence, driven by random chaos rather than by inner demons. In an early sequence, which sees the freshly remasked killer randomly slice and dice his way through a row of houses without hesitation or thought as to who he’s killing, we witness the essence of Michael Myers come back to life. The film dials into the essence of what made the original so unsettling, which is the fact that’s nothing grandiose or melodramatic about its violence. For both entries, Myers’s murdering is as a matter-of-fact as the wind blowing.
Despite the twisted pleasure in seeing the film recapture the terror behind its killer, what makes this sequel truly stand out is Curtis, who cements her status as one of horror’s most dependable heroines with a gritty, raw performance. Both Curtis and the screenwriters seem acutely aware of both the glory and the pitfalls of Laurie’s 1978 ordeal, which saw the first female lead in a horror film fight back and survive but also gave way to decades of misogynistic violence unleashed upon countless female horror characters. In the #MeToo era, all involved here know that sort of thematic foundation doesn’t hold up. So Curtis, armed to the teeth and crackling with fury, reclaims her autonomy through bittersweet, cathartic revenge. She brings to light a protagonist not defeated by her experiences but emboldened by them, and we are subsequently gifted with a crowd-pleasing, instantly classic performance given legs by its modern sensibilities.
Make no mistake, this is still a movie dripping with the sticky trappings of homage. That’s both a benefit and a hazard, as the film’s commitment to honoring the Halloween legacy sets up some wildly fun moments but also prevents it from fully breaking out into becoming something even moderately original. The dedication to tropes is often effective because the outcomes of the situations involving them often subvert your expectations. Such a structure, however, depends upon most of the characters acting incredibly stupid, which grows borderline exhausting by the time the big climax rolls around. You know what to expect with every harebrained choice these characters make, and the same could be said of the film as a whole. There’s few unexpected elements to be found here, save for the inclusion of McBride’s brand of dark humor, which lands perfectly in some scenes (there is a babysitter scene here, and it’s made magical by a hilarious performance from child actor Jibrail Nantambu) but undercuts the impact of some the film’s more violent moments. The levity is a welcome change in this often grim affair, but some restraint would have gone a long way in driving home the scare factor.
Halloween, like the night itself, is an acquired taste. It’s not going to sway nonbelievers into buying into the entertainment value of its dark pleasures, but it certainly provides a killer ride for the already anointed children of the night. It honors the legacy of one of the genre’s great classics with a modern twist that’s sure to stand as a turning point for “final girls” everywhere. But in essence this is simply a guilty pleasure treat that satisfies your sweet tooth with an adoration for the familiar. Just don’t expect there to be many new tricks up it sleeve.