‘Halloween’ is one of those franchises that, much like its iconic villain, refuses to die. After the superb original established a new standard for horror films, combining a basic yet vicious slasher format with extraordinary aesthetics, we’ve had a series of half-baked sequels and remakes, all attempting to capture whatever it was that made John Carpenter’s original so great - and missing the mark. Well, we’re now at our eleventh entry in the franchise, but this time, things are a little different. The narrative has been reset, making this a direct sequel to the original, and the talent behind the camera are far from guns-for-hire. From the very beginning, it looked like this new ‘Halloween’ was being taken very seriously, and the result is that rarest of beasts - a horror sequel that actually delivers.
Forty years after Michael Myers’ murderous halloween night, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) hasn’t recovered. Haunted and paranoid, she’s become an agoraphobic, turning her remote house into a fortress prepared for any threat. Her refusal to move on has caused a rift between her and her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). However, when Myers escapes from prison during a transfer to a new facility, Laurie’s greatest fears begin manifest, as The Shape returns to Haddonfield for Halloween and recommences its murderous rampage. But this time, Laurie Strode prepared.
Under the assured hand of acclaimed director David Gordon Green, and with a thrilling and well-constructed screenplay from Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, ‘Halloween’ is exactly the kind of horror sequel one could have hoped for - one that pays respect to the original without being beholden to it. The passage of time is acknowledged not just visually but thematically, and the film wisely places the majority of its focus and character development on Laurie rather than Myers, who is always at his best as an unstoppable inhuman force of nature. ‘Halloween’ continues the 2018 horror trend of exploring past trauma, this time in a very palpable sense, Laurie still suffering from PTSD from her experiences as a teenager. We came to see the villain, but are made to consider the victim, how one moves on from something so invasive and horrific, how one is able to create a life for one’s self when you’ve seen a genuine evil in the world, one that could return at any point. Laurie’s response is to put herself up in opposition to it, her house becoming a physical manifestation of the psychological fortress she’s set up for herself. When Myers escapes, she’s forced to face her greatest fear again but also offered the chance to conquer it, and this turning the tables - establishing Laurie with as much agency as Myers - is perhaps the strongest aspect of this new ‘Halloween’. It justifies its existence by making it feel a natural evolution to what Carpenter had set up: treating Laurie Strode not just as fodder for a monster, but a driven female protagonist now as formidable and complex as the beast she still sees standing in the dark.
SWITCH: 'HALLOWEEN' TRAILER
Green and McBride may seem like an odd choice to take the reigns of the franchise, but their understanding of what makes the original ‘Halloween’ tick is rich and intelligent. They understand that ‘Halloween’ works because of its simplicity, a rough brutality mixed with an aesthetic awareness that made it both a sleeping and waking nightmare all at once. Nods are made, both visually and in the narrative, but in a considerable feat in itself, never feel cheap or shoehorned in. They come naturally where this new story allows for them, and instead of being knowing moments for us, they’re aspects of acknowledged history for the characters. They also understand that, as well as all the shadows and menace, there’s humour to ‘Halloween’, and that’s reflected in their own film. It’s surprisingly funny, offering humour when it’s needed, either to diffuse the tension or to distract from it. There’s also moments of expositional melodrama, but again, they’re so well-mixed into the brew of this film that they still seem to work. They also know exactly what to do with Myers, something that most horror remakes or reboots never get right when handling these kinds of icons - Myers isn’t out to get Laurie specifically, not led by complex motivation but just like the original, simply finds his path leading to her, and his unpredictability is what makes him so frightening. Myers is an unstoppable killing machine, barely human, demonstrated with chilling effect in a thrilling single shot where he moves from house to house, killing as he goes. The violence in ‘Halloween’ is brutal, bloody and often graphic, but that’s the nature of this beast. Myers kills for sport, for pleasure. His targets are those that end up in his path. There’s no logic and no mercy. To have given him any greater purpose would have been to rob him of his power, but instead, we see it here amplified.
It’s also a terrific piece of filmmaking, once again acknowledging the rough beauty of Carpenter’s film with subtle modern additions. Michael Simmonds’ cinematography is a gorgeous succession of shadows and darkness, often allowing subtle and careful framing dominate rather than the comfortable blandness of most studio horror. Haddonfield is still typical middle America - a place that feels tactile and familiar, and this just adds to the palpable reality of the film. Best of all, Carpenter himself, along with Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies, delivers a new interpretation of his iconic original score, and it’s stunning how beautifully it mixes with Green’s meticulously brutal new vision. The score, like the film itself, isn’t a lazy rehash, but carefully considers how it can work with and amplify the film Green is making, and the result is a terrific evolution of the original score.
We came to see the villain, but are made to consider the victim, how one moves on from something so invasive and horrific.
If the icon of ‘Halloween’ is anything, it’s Carpenter’s theme, Michael Myers and his mask, and Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, and seeing her not only back in the role, but being given so much to play with, is a real joy. Curtis is fearless and uncompromising, as willing to show how dangerous Laurie can be as much as she is broken. You’re never quite sure whether Laurie has gone too far, become a danger to herself and her family, and that’s exactly where Curtis wants us to be. It’s a spot-on place to find this character forty years later, and you can see the relish with which Curtis attacks the role and brings some peace and finality to Laurie’s story. And ultimately, ‘Halloween’ is about the women, about Laurie and Karen and Allyson, and Judy Greer and Andi Matichak are worthy successors to Curtis’ legacy. When the film pushes them into action, it’s at its most thrilling, and the clear and crisp characterisation just make the film more satisfying. In fact, the actions and motivations of women drive ‘Halloween’ forward. They find solutions, prepare defenses, comprehend the nature of the threat, put themselves first on the line and act with bravery and integrity and intelligence, while almost every male character stumbles on their own ambition and selfishness towards Myers’ unforgiving knife. In the end, only Laurie and her family can be the ones standing in Myers’ way. The only way to stop this brutal manifestation of unchecked heartless masculinity is with the uncompromising bravery and determination of formidable feminine power.
I’ve said many times before that horror sequels rarely work, but I won’t lie that it’s one hell of a relief that this one proved me wrong. ‘Halloween’ offered so much potential and delivers in spades, a tremendously well-made and considered horror film that offers the right kind of familiar and yet never ceases to surprise. This is populist horror in the best sense - sensory, brutal, clever and wildly entertaining. There wasn’t a moment where I didn’t feel I was in the safest of hands, strapped into one hell of a thrill ride built entirely to leave me satisfied at the end. ‘Halloween’ is more than worthy of the legacy of Carpenter’s foundational classic, and an impressive piece of horror filmmaking in its own right.