A great sequel that offers thrills, kills, and even plenty of laughs.
This is an advance review out of the Toronto International Film Festival 2018.
The new Halloween is the movie fans of the series have waited 40 years for, a genuinely well-made and thrilling direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original that honors its classic forebear while developing an identity of its own, thanks in part to an unexpected but much needed dose of humor.
This time around, the final girl is now the last line of defense. The trauma of Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) experience surviving masked serial killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle) in the first Halloween has fully consumed her these past four decades, making her obsessively security-conscious and beyond paranoid. It’s profoundly affected her relationships with both her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
Of course, it turns out Laurie was right to prepare for the worst all these years. Yes, Michael Myers has escaped — on the night before Halloween, no less — and is headed home to Haddonfield … and to three generations of Strode women. This leads to an almost High Noon-style buildup as anyone who could help the Strodes ward off this vicious threat to the community is hacked, smashed or choked into oblivion, leaving the Strode women to stand alone against Michael Myers in a hugely satisfying and incredibly tense showdown.
Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastic in her return to the role that launched her film career, never softening this older Laurie’s edges or undermining her bloodthirsty convictions. Laurie is willing to be hated by her loved ones if that’s what it will take to keep them alive. In many ways, Laurie has learned how to become a predator herself, and she’s not going to just sit back and wait for the hunter to come to her. This makes Laurie a flawed character (always the most interesting kind) as well as an empowered one, someone willing to do what needs to be done even if it requires sacrifice. Curtis combines intensity with vulnerability here as a broken soul who won’t ever be whole again until her monster is finally dead.
Greer and Matichak are both solid in their respective roles as the latter generations of Strode women who have responded to Laurie’s obsession in different ways. One is a middle-aged woman trying to find the light and goodness in the world for herself and her daughter, while the other is just a kid trying to forge a relationship with her troubled grandmother without the specter of the past intruding on it. This Halloween is a story about women confronting the abusive man in their lives and of how trauma can be passed down across generations. It’s part empowerment tale and part fairy tale, with Michael Myers as the big bad wolf and Laurie’s fortified home as the literal grandmother’s house in the woods.
There are some characters here who want to understand what makes Michael Myers tick, what he’s feeling, who want him to just say something. But, as the movie makes clear and Laurie already knows, Michael Myers is simply a relentless force of evil. He’s not there to reveal what’s going on inside his mind anymore than the shark in Jaws or the xenomorph in Alien did. In an era where genre movies, especially long-established franchises, feel the need to demythologize or over-explain iconic characters, it’s refreshing that Halloween simply has the boogeyman be the boogeyman in all his nightmarish, skull-smashing excess, and just as terrifying as ever.
This Halloween relies on its supporting cast and ancillary characters to provide comic relief and an escape from the general seriousness of the Strodes’ plight. The tautly paced, yet also darkly funny script (by Danny McBride, director David Gordon Green and Vice Principals’ Jeff Fradley) does a great job of giving incidental characters distinct personalities and witty, memorable moments. And while many of them are clearly fated for grisly demises, that doesn’t mean they can’t still get some big laughs or sweet moments in before they’re slaughtered. This approach not only gives the actors cast in what would’ve otherwise been thankless, stock roles in lesser horror films something to actually play, it also makes the viewer care about their characters despite their limited amount of screen time.
This new Halloween is a movie clearly made not just by people who adore the original ‘78 film but horror films in general, with enough loving wit and self-awareness to acknowledge the genre’s tropes. Director David Gordon Green, who began in dramas before segueing to comedies in his work with McBride (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals), paces his horror film as he might a comedy, with the buildup of dread to a kill or a scare not unlike the set-up to a joke and its punchline.
That sense of anticipation plays on the viewer’s innate sense of knowing when something bad is going to happen or of knowing who’s clearly dead meat. The movie, though, never gets too meta about its horror tropes; this is a Halloween sequel, after all, not a Scream one. While the movie does have a few clever misdirects peppered throughout, there is one character in particular who proves too obvious in guessing how their storyline will play out and thus robbing some of their moments of suspense.