Ever since the slasher film was booted into life by John Carpenter and his 1978 masterpiece Halloween it’s been debatable whether or not the genre had been perfected. Arguably with the introduction of Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996 the entire subgenre had been proven to be sucked dry, with space only for minimal thrills and the occasional darling to be festered from its rotting carcass. The Halloween franchise was built off a single, solitary idea: a man (or, ‘shape’ or whatever the hell Michael Myers is) going on a killing spree throughout Halloween night. Cue brutal kills, synthesisers and tension that lingers longer than a struggling horror franchise. Yet aside from the immediate sequel and Season of the Witch, Carpenter’s involvement faded and instead Myers began to imitate the success of other franchises of the time. Subplots involving siblinghood with Laurie Strode, heavy supernatural elements and a ridiculous family curse had a dwindling effect with each subsequent installment and put a curse on the ‘Halloween’ name itself. Enter David Gordon Green’s (Stronger, Joe) Halloween, a direct sequel/soft reboot to the original, with a returning Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode and creative involvement from Carpenter himself, ushering in a passionate return to form (and finale?) to the franchise and allowing Myers to go out on a high note.
It’s definitely an interesting experiment,that’s for sure. The script from Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley merely offers up a morsel of a plot, a bare-bones reason for Michael to once again don the Shatner mask and return to Haddonfield forty years after his original slaying. True-crime podcasters (yes, really) Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) travel to the sanitarium in which a silent Michael Myers has spent the last forty years under the watchful eye of his second psychiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) to try and persuade Michael to partake in an interview for the anniversary podcast of his attacks before he’s transferred to another facility the next evening (near Halloween, perfect idea). Of course, to try and get the shape to talk they’ve managed to get their hands on his original mask, needle-holes and all, and whilst he’s still uncooperative it has a clear effect on him. Instantly you’ll now be able to tell wherever the plot goes from here. Michael is rejuvenated and escapes during his transfer, obtains his mask and returns to Haddonfield to continue what he started so many years before.
It takes a while for the Myers end of the storyline to get going despite the paper-thin plot. Curtis’ Laurie Strode, on the other hand, is infinitely more interesting. A shell of a woman traumatised by the events of the original and locked-off emotionally from even her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Curtis is the best she’s been in years returning to the franchise that made her the original scream queen, only this time she’s determined to do none of the screaming. Strode is armed to the teeth, having prepared for an inevitable follow-up for decades, her house a fortress of weaponry, cages and trap doors destined for Myers to return. It simultaneously offers up a respectful and empowering representation too. Halloween started out as a strong, female-led franchise and eventually succumbed to other drivel over the years, but the trifecta of the Strode women brings the original’s feeling back stronger than ever.
It’s the relationship between Laurie and her family that’s one of the biggest selling points for the film too. Greer is typically under utilised as Karen but there’s a handful of scenes where the family dynamic is pitch perfect. Laurie is the embarrassing mother still living in the past whom Allyson wishes to keep in contact with to the frustration of Karen and her husband Ray (Toby Huss – a delightfully charming screen presence). These moments within the film were realistic and emotional, and it’s a shame the film didn’t decide to have Michael’s presence intrude on this relationship instead of having him at the forefront of the ordeal. But that’s not to say he isn’t welcome of course.
Once All Hallow’s Eve kicks off of course we’re fully welcomed with an updated and gorgeous version of Carpenter’s score, and we also get the glimmer of hope that David Gordon Green is attempting the steadicam techniques of the original, following Michael as he obtains his first weapon and kills. And he’s as graceful as he’s ever been. Silent in movement with a ruthless attack for every kill, it’s nice that the film hasn’t increased the gore to accommodate for a modern audience. Nothing here feels over the top (well, maybe one but it’s gloriously so) and Michael’s attacks are done with the ferocity of a shark. He has no ties to his victims, and it’s this comparison to his reunion with Laurie that’s fascinating as there’s a clear element of respect between the two. Up until the midway point though they are kept separate, and the film takes on the typical slasher-tropes to the point where it feels like an extension of the Scream franchise as Alyssa’s friends and neighbours are hacked off one-by-one whilst spewing pithy dialogue.
The kills themselves range from memorable to inconsequential, with a few even occurring off-screen to just highlight the rampage he’s on. The film also doesn’t shy away from references/homages to the original, with literally dozens of callbacks ranging from sly lines of dialogue to visual and musical cues; the eleventh film in the series acts as a celebration of all things Halloween. But these reminders only serve as an interruption for the experience as a solo film. Green’s direction relies too many times on quick cuts and close-ups backlit by lens flares. The artistry of the original appears to have been lost apart from a few spare moments within the film’s second act and a tense chase within the climax. Whilst adamant to dismantle the tarnished reputation of the later sequels, it’s also not averse to featuring moments of utter lunacy and misplaced comedy, often at the least-appropriate moments, which undercuts the scares. The antics of deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) and in particular Dr. Sartain feature moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a film simply titled ‘Halloween 11’, due to their jarringly brazen tonal shifts and twists that do nothing to advance the plot. It’s these bad habits that have followed the franchise and continue to taint this new revival, keeping it from sitting side-by-side with the original.
However, thematically the film is at its strongest when it follows the clashing acts of revenge between both Michael and Laurie – the strongest presences within the film. As the film’s third act comes into play, we’re toyed with potential storylines that could keep the franchise going, and there’s a brief moment where it loses focus on the side-characters, none of whom we’ve spent enough time with to have an impact on the little amount of tension built across the first hour. With this in mind however, the moment the Strodes are held up inside their fortress with Myers the film catches a second wind. Gone is the misplaced comedy, replaced with a simple home invasion, one where the cards flip between both Laurie and Michael at separate points and genuinely keeping you on the edge of your seat for a seemingly endless period. It’s a sequence that reminds you just how frightening Myers is as a concept, one that even an armory’s worth of guns might not be able to stop and, better still, his presence is at his strongest when he’s unseen and the idea of him festers in the minds of his victims and the audience.
Halloween cannot match the heights of its dizzying original, but it’s a reminder of both the good and bad aspects in which the series has indulged in over the years. Green has recaptured the essence of what made the original impactful, albeit in small doses, and cements Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie as a survivor of trauma instead of a victim. Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney are towering presences as Myers, and if this is indeed the last we see of him he will have gone down with a hell of a fight. Halloween is a time of pure evil, and the embodiment of the holiday still might have a slither of hope in him yet.