Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Nick Castle, Andi Matichak. Directed by David Gordon Green.
Cinema at its best can be a surprising thing. Actors, directors even composers can throw out a project or make a choice that completely catches you off guard, making films you’d never have thought to put them in. So, when it was announced that Danny McBride star of films like This is the End, Pineapple Express, Eastbound & Down and Your Highness would re-team to write a new Halloween movie with David Gordon Green, the director of Pineapple Express, Joe, Manglehorn and Stronger, eyebrows were suitably raised.
Admittedly, McBride had just shot a role in Alien: Covenant and happened to give the best performance and get the film’s most moving scene, but even so, these were not two people to whom you would usually hand the reigns of Hollywood’s longest-running horror franchise.
And yet here we are. There have been ten Halloween films before this one. Halloween, the John Carpenter original that essentially took the bones of Psycho and turned it on it’s head with a taught tense ride into suburban hell. Halloween II, a so-so follow up with everyone returning in some form, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which held no real value to the franchise but is a fun horror film. Then the standard sequels came, The Return of Michael Myers, The Revenge of Michael Myers and The Curse of Michael Myers all managed to get Donald Pleasance back who still showed some affection for the series, but lacked the tension of the original. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later brought back Jamie Lee Curtis and attempted to examine the trauma an event like that would give but ultimately fell into horror film sillyness, and Resurrection did nothing to help the series. Then Rob Zombie made two terrible reboot films.
But now Halloween (2018) discards every film in the series after Halloween (1978). It’s been some forty years since the babysitter murders in Haddonfield and two podcasters are trying to understand the mind of Myers, while Laurie Strode’s life has fallen apart, two failed marriages, alienated from her daughter, zero relationship with her granddaughter and turning her house into an ultra-violent Home Alone-style death trap has made her increasingly unhinged. But she thinks Michael is coming for her, and he is.
From the off, there is no denying this is in love with the original series, Green and McBride lace the film with verbal and visual references to the original, recurring visual motifs, reversing the shots from the original and even dialogue. It’s a brilliant look into the role and the world of what an event like that can do to a person and Green handles the themes which touch on alcoholism, trauma, PTSD and depression really well, while not scrimping on the horror.
Michael Myers was always a monster, an unstoppable battering ram of a human and here he is returned to that status, the weird childlike way he marches to his kills like a child being told to brush their teeth before bed, but also the way he appears to study the victims before he kills them all play into this strange disconnect. He’s no longer just the boogeyman he’s a force of nature.
What is also brave is to have Jamie Lee Curtis back for the fifth time as Laurie Strode and not to make her Sarah Connor, yes she’s got a tricked out house, yes she’s been preparing, but she’s a broken woman. Curtis gives the performance of a lifetime, a true portrait of trauma in a woman who knew she was right, but the film never makes it obvious, she’s flawed, she’s difficult, she’s not able to disconnect Halloween from the rest of the year.
Curtis clearly loves her role and takes it seriously, seriously enough to make the end sequence pulse with tension when Laurie and Michael come to a house-bound final showdown. She’s a survivor and that takes it’s toll.
There are missteps, Green and his co-writers appear to be annoyed they can’t bring back Donald Pleasance from the dead for Dr Sam Loomis and his replacement Haluk Bilginer is a ridiculous subplot which borders on insulting the audience. Similarly the padding of the two true-crime reporters is only set up for a tense toilet based death and a return of the mask.
However, the supporting cast of Will Patton as the cop on the job, as well as Judy Greer and Andi Matichak as Laurie’s daughter and granddaughter respectively are given an agency that might surprise some people. It helps that Greer still remains one of Hollywood’s lead utilised actresses.
What really helps, and carries us through the teen-orientated bloodbath, is that while gory and thrilling lacks any emotional weight, it’s the score – which John Carpenter directly worked on along with his son Cody and Daniel Davies – which fills the void. The iconic theme, along with a more melancholic theme for Laurie, combine to give you the thrill of watching an instalment in the series while also allowing a certain amount of emotion in.
It falls apart when the film isn’t focussing on Curtis and her long-standing enemy, and the teenagers – even her granddaughter – are all pretty much as you’d expect, but the film builds to a climax that is sure to give the horror fans what they want. Plus, along the way there are enough bloody kills to make even the sternest stomach churn.
This is a return to form for a series running on fumes, and gives Curtis her absolute meatiest role in some time. She looms over the film like a gladiator, and what shocks most is how she can still find new avenues to the character even forty years on, but then again, I guess everyone is entitled to one good scare.