40 years is a long time to wait for a proper sequel, especially for a film as iconic and genre-defining as John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher film Halloween. And when I say “proper”, I mean a sequel that respects the original, improves upon it organically, and doesn’t feel like a cheap cash grab with a recognizable name slapped on top. While Halloween has had seven sequels and a reboot in the last four decades, David Gordon Green’s new Halloween is the first film to feel like a legitimate continuation of Carpenter’s classic.
In the 40 years since she was attacked and nearly killed by Michael Myers, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has become something of a survivalist, obsessively preparing for the day Michael will come back. She’s stocked her home with booby traps, guns, and a danger room, convinced that Myers will escape prison and hunt her down. It’s put a strain on her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and made her something of an outcast in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Of course, Michael does eventually escape during a prisoner transfer on the night before Halloween, and he methodically hacks and slashes his way through town en route to a final showdown with Laurie.
WARNING! MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS!
Green’s new entry in the long-running Halloween franchise feels almost like a reboot, even though it isn’t. He, along with co-writer Danny McBride, ignore every sequel in the series, and the film is all the better off for it. It isn’t the first time the series has tried to right itself, either; Halloween: H20 ignored the events (and absurd supernatural elements) of the fourth, fifth, and sixth films. However, unlike H20, the new film feels much more like a grounded, logical extension of the original and less like a cheap, glossy stunt.
And the less said about Rob Zombie’s ambitious but fundamentally flawed attempt to reboot the franchise, the better.
Also unlike H20, Jamie Lee Curtis is here for it. Dear gods, is she here for it. She slips back into Laurie Strode’s skin like she never left. She gives a fierce, commanding performance here, fully three-dimensional and lived-in. Laurie is fueled by her trauma and her fear, but also by a supreme desire to face it. In a chillingly-delivered, character-defining moment half-way through the film, she reveals that every day she’s prayed not for Michael Myers’ death but for his escape…so she can kill him herself.
Every good horror film is about something. It houses a central metaphor. That moment reveals the core of the new Halloween perfectly. If the original was about how evil is ultimately unknowable and can appear anywhere for no reason, the sequel is about reconciling that fact and standing up to it. It’s about integrating the darkness of the world into yourself without succumbing to it. Curtis demonstrates this perfectly as she shifts between being driven by revenge against Michael to being driven to protect her family when he finally resumes his rampage.
Curtis is so magnetic on screen that the rest of the cast needs to bring their A-game just to keep up a few paces behind her, and aside from Judy Greer (always a welcome presence, no exceptions) and Andi Matichak (a brilliant Final Girl in the making), they simply…don’t. Nobody really drops the ball, but nobody really runs with it, either. Some make an impression for sure, like Virginia Gardner as Allyson’s whip-smart best friend Vicky, or Toby Huss as Karen’s dorky-but-well-meaning husband Ray. Most of the rest are either adequate or, as in the case of Haluk Bilginer as Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Not!Loomis, pale imitations of performances in the original.
It’s that space-filler feeling in the cast that truly brings the film down a little and prevents it from impacting as strongly as the original. There are simply way, way too many side characters in plots that go nowhere and mean nothing, especially since we know most of the cast exist only so they can eventually get killed off. A side plot about Allyson’s boyfriend is almost completely pointless and only exists to separate Allyson from her phone. The film begins as if being framed by the investigation of two exceedingly-British podcasters into the original murders, but this is dropped by the end of Act 1 and never returned to. The original was lean and taut, but this one sometimes feels bloated and overstuffed.
The over-full cast leads to a few moments of tonal dissonance, as well, often into unnecessary and mood-killing attempts at humor. Sometimes this actually works, like the scenes between Vicky and her savvy babysitting charge, but often it just seems to be filler involving characters we barely know and definitely do not care about. Likewise, the film occasionally veers into metatextual territory, albeit without ever fully committing to it. Usually, the commentary on itself is welcome and pointed, but it sometimes comes off as little more than fanservice.
That being said, the film does an excellent job at slowly and steadily ramping up the tension. It largely avoids jump scares, preferring to instead slowly tighten itself around the viewer like a vise. It isn’t always outright frightening in the gasping, wide-eyed sense that horror films often cater to. Instead, it’s more insidious, like Michael Myers himself, creeping into the subconscious and lingering there long after the credits have rolled. Myers has always worked best as a force of nature, and the film plays that angle of the character perfectly. Like the original, Green and McBride avoid humanizing or rationalizing Michael’s actions, leaving him as inscrutable and terrifying as he always should have been.
The new Halloween is a perfect example of what a sequel should be. It pays homage to the original, from its opening title font to a new score by John Carpenter himself, while exploring and broadening the themes, scopes, and ambition of what came before. Anchored by a compelling lead performance by Jamie Lee Curtis, it’s an adept exploration of the effects of trauma while also being a horror film that’s legitimately, under-the-skin frightening. As soon as you hear that creepy, 5/4 piano theme, it’s deja vu all over again in the best of ways.
FBOTU Score: 7 out of 10 / B