David Gordon Green's Halloween-now there's something I never thought I'd write-a four-decades-later sequel to John Carpenter's masterful 1978 independent horror hit of the same title, ignores the existence of all the previous sequels, including, interestingly, the awkwardly titled Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), Steve Miner's two-decades-later sequel that itself ignored the existence of pretty much all of the sequels that came before it. It's an odd state of affairs having a sequel to a horror franchise that pretends that the very franchise of which it is a part doesn't exist, but that's pretty much where we find ourselves. Of course, the main draw is the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the role of Laurie Strode, the traumatized teen babysitter who fought off the relentless slasher Michael Myers 40 years earlier, although that already happened 20 years ago in Halloween H20, which, as previously mentioned, this film conveniently disregards.
There are actually quite a few similarities between the two films: Both focus to differing degrees on Laurie, who decades later is still traumatized by her experiences back in Haddonfield, Illinois, in the late 1970s. Both films present her as a basket case of neuroses who floods a son or daughter with overprotectiveness. In H20, Laurie had faked her own death and was working as the stern headmistress of an elite private school, a highly unlikely occupation for the deeply introverted character. Halloween, which was co-written by Green and two of his frequent collaborators, actor Danny McBride and writer/producer Jeff Fradley, takes a different approach by having Laurie go full Terminator 2 Sarah Connors, shaping herself into a relentless, hardened survivalist who has spent all of her adult years training and preparing for a possible repeat showdown with Myers. Deeply agoraphobic and fluid in the world of booby traps, high-powered weaponry, and lockdown procedures, Laurie is a single-minded doomsday prepper who almost ruined the life of her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who was taken away from her as an adolescent and has since grown up to be a relatively well-adjusted suburban soccer mom with her own teenage daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). Laurie's relationship with both her daughter and granddaughter is strained to say the least, although we know that, however crazy she sounds, she's right. Myers will be back. (It is a Halloween sequel, after all.)
One of the problems with H20 was that the screenplay provided virtually no background story or explanation, such as what Myers had been doing for the previous two decades. In the new Halloween, Green and company solve that problem by having him incarcerated since that night he came home in 1978 (in this version, 1981's Halloween II never happened, and that movie's "big" plot twist that Laurie and Michael are brother and sister is actively derided as a made-up story). Myers's psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis, memorably played by the increasingly unhinged Donald Pleasance in four Halloween movies, is replaced here by Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), his new psychiatrist who acts and sounds an awful lot like Dr. Loomis and is also conveniently on hand to supply various bits of narrative information and to remind us that Myers is pure evil.
We get a lot of familiar plot elements, including a group of rowdy, but generally sympathetic teenage characters who are destined for the receiving end of Myers's various instruments of death. There is an incredulous police chief (Will Patton) who travels around with Dr. Sartain looking for Myers once he breaks free during his transfer from one institution to another (the same way he escaped back in 1978-don't they ever learn?). He conveniently is able to retrieve the very same white mask he wore back then from a pair of investigative reporters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) trying to put together a podcast about his infamous murder spree. And, once he relieves an ill-fated car mechanic of his blue jumpsuit and gets a butcher knife in hand, everything is set to fall into place.
On the surface, Halloween is pure formula, giving us all the familiar components of the '80s slasher era with plenty of post-Scream self-awareness. Green, despite his beginnings in intense, character-driven indie films like George Washington (2000), All the Real Girls (2003), and Undertow (2004), has also spent a significant amount of time in the realm of comedy. Not only did he direct Pineapple Express (2008), Your Highness (2011), and The Sitter (2011), but he also produced and directed episodes of the television series Red Oaks (2014"2017) and Vice Principals (2016"2017), which also involved Danny McBride in front of and behind the camera. As a result, Halloween is infused with a running thread of comedy that verges from Pineapple Express-style pot gags involving genially blissed-out teenagers, to a subversive streak of dark humor that infuses the film's violence, including a funny-gross-scary scene in which Myers attacks a character in a particularly filthy gas station bathroom.
If Halloween is a superior slasher flick-and I would argue that, for the most part, it is-it is largely because Green manages to consistently find the sweet spot between nostalgia and innovation. The film's opening credits sequence, for example, is an almost perfectly balanced homage with its own sensibility. While Carpenter's thumping synthesizer beats, so imminently familiar at this point, pound on the soundtrack, the credits in the familiar yellow font fade in and out on the righthand side of the wide frame. As in the original film, the lefthand side of the frame is filled with a carved pumpkin, but instead of the camera slowly moving into it, it starts as a rotten, deflated lump that, via reverse time-lapse photography, rises into the familiar, malevolent-grinning jack-o-lantern we remember from 40 years ago-an apt visual metaphor of the film's desire to resurrect the long-running series in its own way.
There are large swaths of the film that replicate beats and shots and ideas from Carpenter's film, but they are offset with enough originality that we don't feel like we're just watching a retread (which is what H20 too often felt like). There are several deliriously good setpieces, including a nightmarish sequence involving an exterior motion light going on and off, and there is real interest in the characters. Jamie Lee Curtis, despite top billing, is actually absent for a large chunk of the film's mid-section, but her evocation of an aging, psychologically battered, and eternally coiled Laurie Strode provides a strong center for the film's various digressions (including a third act sudden shift from a seemingly reliable character that seems bizarrely egregious, despite its necessity to keep the plot moving). Green is too good of a filmmaker to be boring, and even though the first half of the film drags at times, the second half picks up with intensity and builds to a suspenseful, fiery climax that feels very nearly cathartic, not to mention deviously original (while wisely leaving room for a new series of sequels). Some things simply never die.
Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Universal Pictures
Overall Rating: (3)
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