Think of Halloween (2018) as the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of horror films. David Gordon Green’s sequel takes everything that was wonderful about John Carpenter’s original Halloween, bathes it in nostalgia, and then serves it up as a fan-friendly homage. The result is a slow-burning, painfully shallow affair that has nothing new to offer, but ably re-captures the spirit of Carpenter’s no-frills classic.
Lost somewhere in the haze of uninspired sequels and tireless attempts to broaden the Halloween mythology is the fact that Michael Myers is nothing more than a supernatural killing machine; there is no logic or backstory that can explain his evil. David Gordon Green and his writers (Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) understand this truism. Their version of Myers (credited again as ‘The Shape’) is a ruthless monster that travels in straight lines to reach his objective. If you find a naked man’s body at the gas station, it’s probably because Myers needed a new jumpsuit. He simply kills anyone standing between his weather-beaten mask and his nebulous objective.
That objective usually involves Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). When he terrorized the teenagers of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night some 40 years ago, Laurie was the last one standing. Now, on the eve of Halloween 2018, Myers is freed from police custody (again) during a botched prisoner transfer. As if driven by fate or a lazy screenwriter, Myers sets about finding Laurie and finishing his killing spree.
Halloween (2018) sets aside the shenanigans of countless sequels (including the nonsense about Laurie being Michael’s sister) and re-imagines a universe in which Laurie is forever stuck in Haddonfield circa 1978. The grisly killings and coat-hanger stabbings of that night — when she came face to face with the boogeyman — has defined her entire existence. Two marriages and one estranged daughter later (Judy Greer as ‘Karen’), Laurie has absconded to a makeshift fortress complete with security gates, booby-traps, and enough weaponry in her basement to make Sarah Connor jealous.
It’s clear that Green (Joe, Pineapple Express) understands the conventions of slasher films. Heads are smashed and spleens are punctured as Myers kills nearly every teenager and police officer in Haddonfield. Green establishes Laurie’s granddaughter(Andi Matichak as ‘Allyson’), as the teenaged hero, then gives her a long list of ‘besties’ that Myers can systematically murder. There’s also a trigger-happy cop dedicated to stopping Myers (Will Patton as ‘Officer Hawkins’), and an eccentric psychiatrist dedicated to studying Myers (Haluk Bilginer as ‘Dr. Sartain’).
The big problem with Halloween (2018) is that Allyson’s story of teenage romance and Halloween costume parties isn’t nearly as interesting as Laurie’s tenuous grasp on reality or strained relationship with her daughter, Karen. Green clearly envisioned a story with three generations of Strode girls coming together to defeat Myers, but he and his screenwriters can’t quite connect the threads in a satisfying arc.
Instead, we get long passages of time when Laurie is absent and so is any character development for Karen. It’s a missed opportunity to strengthen the themes about fate and familial bonds. Slasher films might not be the place for three-dimensional characters with fully realized motivations, but Green makes no effort to add any depth. That’s a major oversight, considering he had a complicated character like Laurie Strode at his disposal.
What Green gets right, however, is re-capturing the bloodthirsty spirit of exploitation slashers. Great care is taken to build tension and minimize cheap jump scares. Myers spends lots of time idly standing at the edge of frame, watching his soon-to-be victim scramble for their life. One particularly effective scene finds Myers inching closer to his victim each time the lights go out (ala “Blink” from Doctor Who). When the killing blow is finally delivered, it’s appropriately gruesome and merciless.
Fans of Carpenter’s Halloween will find plenty of nods along the way. The original synth score makes a welcome return, as do the funky orange title cards and glowing jack-o’-lantern in the film’s opening and closing credits. People dangle from knives, and kids are convinced they see the boogeyman in their closet. There is also a clever reversal on one of the film’s most iconic scenes that will have audiences cheering like a soccer match. All the nostalgia feels surprisingly warm and fuzzy, despite the prodigious body count.
But the real treat of Halloween (2018) is watching Jamie Lee Curtis kick all manner of ass. With her whacked-out grey hair and piercing eyes, Curtis looks positively unhinged. It’s not hard to believe she could build a booby-trapped house where creepy mannequins are used for target practice and secret rooms have enough provisions to survive a nuclear winter. While largely absent for the film’s first two acts, Curtis owns the finale, when it grows increasingly difficult to tell who is the hunted and who is the hunter.
Rumblings from Blumhouse Productions indicate a sequel to Halloween (2018) is already in the works, and McBride and Green have publically expressed interest in returning. One hopes that a sequel will expand on the feel-good fan service and provide something a bit more original. Still, the Halloween franchise has been re-invigorated, proving once again that the scariest things usually arrive in the simplest package.