Director David Gordon Green continues his hopscotch through genre with a sequel to Halloween, John Carpenter’s 1978 horror flick that basically launched the slasher sub-genre. Forty years later, the baton passes to Green who, along with collaborators Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, brings back the craft and careful compositions of the original. Years of mediocre-to-bad sequels took the shine off the franchise, but here it is in 2018, halo restored by a weirdly elegant, mildly graphic slasher very much in the vein of Carpenter’s original work. Maybe too much in the vein of Carpenter, in fact, as Halloween feels weirdly safe and unimaginative, given it comes from the minds of Green and McBride, who previously made weird inventive stuff like Your Highness and Vice Principals together.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, object of Michael Myers’ murderous desire (and Nick Castle is once again portraying Michael as “The Shape”, with an assist from James Jude Courtney), and right off the bat the new Halloween establishes that all those sh-tty sequels don’t matter. “Isn’t he her brother,” one teenager asks, only for another to scoff, “No, that’s just something people made up.” This puts Halloween back where Carpenter intended it to be—the realm of the mindless killer, a zombie-like entity relentlessly murdering until the Final Girl fights back at the end. Curtis, a first-gen Final Girl, plays Laurie forty years later as a PTSD-riddled doomsday prepper who has alienated everyone in her life with her unrelenting quest to be ready the next time Michael Myers appears in Haddonfield, Illinois. This has alienated her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), though her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), has more sympathy and understanding for her grandmother. Without the fraught childhood memories of her mother, Allyson is able to see Laurie for the deeply traumatized survivor she is.
There’s really no downside to Halloween. Green and McBride, co-writing with Fradley, set up an inter-generational group of women who must conquer Michael Myers and the emotional devastation wrought by trauma and grief. Laurie, marred so young by the violent deaths of several friends, is left trapped in a kind of permanent grief tornado, working out her survivor’s guilt by building a murder farm for Michael. Karen can’t cope with the second-generation trauma and paranoia and is estranged from Laurie. That leaves Allyson in the middle, the trauma-free child trying to play peacemaker. It’s a good dynamic and Halloween has some thoughts on the intergenerational cycle of trauma (something it shares with The Haunting of Hill House).
But it is still a slasher. And once Michael Myers escapes, there is some slashing. Slashers between then and now have rendered the relatively low-gore 1978 Halloween quaint, and the new Halloween seems chiefly concerned with bringing back the sense of restraint Carpenter initially displayed. Does Michael kill people? Yes, lots. But, especially early on, many of his killings are in the deep background, or just off screen, with only the occasional full-frame violent stabbing. If you’re looking for gore, this is not your movie. There are certainly some brutal kills, but Halloween is less interested in the actual violence and more in its aftermath. This is a story, after all, about a survivor and how her trauma affects her family. Besides, as one character says, what’s a few stabbings in a world with mass shootings? We regularly inflict incomprehensible violence on one another, one slow-moving knife-wielding lunatic doesn’t seem that bad.
Which is probably why Green & Co. chose to focus on Laurie and the fallout of her experiences. Michael Myers is only so scary—he provokes less fear and more dread, as his actions are inevitable and unavoidable. Green frames the sh-t out of Michael’s attacks, echoing the indie elegance of Carpenter’s work, but there is just as much focus on Michael looming in the distance. The result is an above-average looking film that might disappoint anyone looking for Eli Roth-style gore fests. But it should make everyone else happy, as it’s a cut above your typical slasher fare and has some real thought and intention in its storytelling. What Halloween lacks in Green & McBride weirdness it makes up for with intelligence and atmospherics. And it’s such a relief to watch a movie that finally—FINALLY!—gives Judy Greer something to do.