It’s been twenty years since we last saw Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) face off against Michael Myers (no, I’m not counting Resurrection). Back then she was an overprotective drunk headmistress of a prep school. In David Gordon Green’s 2018 franchise relaunch, Laurie isn’t drinking away her trauma: she’s battle prepping for it. Gone is the alcohol dependency (mostly) and her paralyzing fear of the Shape; 40 years later and Laurie Strode is a badass doomsday survivalist.
The events of Halloween: H20 may have been washed away in this canon retcon, but the experience of seeing Curtis return to arguably her most iconic role remains just as thrilling as it did 20 years ago. This anniversary rematch jettisons all of the sequels, acting as a direct sequel to the events of the original 1978 John Carpenter flick. Gone is the familial connection from Halloween 2 (though it is jokingly addressed in dialogue), as well as H20‘s petulant son with the odd bowl cut. In their place is a more franchise-friendly multi-generational approach: Laurie now has a daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), as well as a granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).
Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride take their time setting things up. Following a mildly anticlimactic opening set at the sanitarium where Michael has been stashed away for forty years, Halloween reintroduces Laurie and her kin. The scene when a pair of Serial-like British podcasters track down the recluse smacks of exposition, but it helps to establish a timeline for Laurie and lays the foundation for her tense relationship with Karen. It seems the Sarah Connor treatment didn’t sit well with child protective services and Karen was removed from Laurie’s care at age 12, but not before the young girl was taught how to protect herself.
This strain on their relationship also extends to Laurie and Allyson. The latter is committing to forging a connection with her grandmother, but the former’s fixation with Michael Myers proves all-encompassing (rightfully so, as it turns out). These early stretches of the film mirror both the original entry and H20 by investing time in the characters, although Gordon Green and McBride are still careful not to let too much time pass without a bit of blood and gore.
This outing features a substantially larger kill count (and, pleasingly, some variety). Michael uses a transport bus accident to escape the sanitarium and while the crash itself occurs off screen, the aftermath plays out in the film’s first major setpiece: a pitch black investigation by a young boy, with lighting provided exclusively by headlights and the eerie blue-tinged fluorescents from inside the bus. A later attack at a gas station (prominently featured in the trailers) occurs in broad daylight, but is just as effective. One new element in this entry is Michael’s strength: whereas in Carpenter’s original Michael can hoist a body in the air and impale it with a knife, here he rips open jaws and nearly decapitates heads. It’s nice and gruesome.
The first two-thirds of the film adhere to the same narrative pattern: Laurie warns her family or listens to the police radio while Michael moves ever closer, with each person in between them destined to end up in a body bag. Unlike the original, there’s no discernible rhyme or reason for several of the kills. Michael isn’t tracking Laurie or Karen and he doesn’t interact with Allyson until late in the film; he’s not stalking the Strodes at all – he appears to pick locations at random. The exception to this is his attack on the home where Allyson’s friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner) is babysitting, though this isn’t presented as a strategic move.
As enjoyable as the attacks and the tension building is, it is little more than the warm-up to the main event: Laurie v Michael.
Unfortunately, the plot device that is used to get Michael to Laurie’s house in the woods outside of Haddonfield is jaw-droppingly bad. This out-of-the-blue twist feels neither justified, nor well executed and it nearly stops the film dead in its tracks (at least for a few minutes). This and the incredibly stupid response that several victims have in the face of danger are two elements that make the film feel dumb and require more than the usual amount of slasher movie suspension of disbelief. Thankfully the non-effective plot twist is right on the cusp of the showdown that the entire film is built around, which more than lives up to expectations.
All is forgiven when Laurie and Michael finally face off. Having just rewatched H20, I can confidently say that their 2018 battle is not only more sustained, it is nastier. Laurie has been planning for this encounter for forty years and while it cost her a relationship with her family, it certainly pays off against the Shape. The hidden cellar entrance in the kitchen is a focal point, but there are other fun developments that keep the extended climax both viscerally interesting and emotionally exhausting. The Midnight Madness audience was on the edge of their seats, gasping and shrieking as Laurie sweeps each room, eagerly waiting for Michael’s inevitable attack.
As for why Laurie would elect to keep a room full of mannequins? Well, that’s just another “go along with it” element.
In terms of performances, Curtis owns the film and completely knocks it out of the park.
Greer is saddled with the disbelieving character type, which mostly means that she comes off as whiny. Thankfully Gordon Green and McBride do give her one great redemptive kick-ass moment. Newcomer Matichak is solid, reliably anchoring all of the teen/high school related content, though I’m legitimately uncertain why Gordon Green only cast long, curly-haired teen boys with weird faces. Lastly, Will Patton as the sheriff with a connection to the original night’s events is fine; in truth, he isn’t really given much to do.
All in all, Halloween is a worthy entry in the franchise. The plotting doesn’t quite stick the landing, especially the one development that is so flat-out bad I docked an extra half point off, but the core cast is good to great, as is the violence and the gore. Everything really clicks at the finale, which makes sense considering the film exists to pit Laurie against Michael. And in this capacity, Halloween doesn’t disappoint.y
Editor’s Note: this review originally posted Sept. 9 out of the Toronto International Film Festival World Premiere.