HALLOWEEN Review

As much time has now passed between the original 1978 Halloween and star, original Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis' return to the role of Laurie Strode (though she did reprise her role in the original 1981 sequel) in 1998's Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later as it now has between H2O and 2018's Halloween. That is a long way of saying it's been forty years since writer/director John Carpenter first introduced us to "The Shape" otherwise known as Michael Myers, but it is also to point out that while Curtis' twenty-year reunion with her most famous character saw Strode as a woman on the run from her past, changing her name, concealing her identity, and attempting to move on while having raised a child in as much of a captive environment as possible director David Gordon Green's (George Washington, Pineapple Express) new film sees Strode as someone who has lived with the trauma of that single night for forty years and who has been waiting for an opportunity to take back what was stolen from her. It's admittedly both a rarity and an oddity to be able to see two different, but fully fleshed out interpretations of a single character and the aftermath of dealing with such a traumatic event, but it is in considering the different ways in which Strode's life might have unraveled as a result of that Halloween night in 1978 that Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley find their "in" in terms of how they can make their iteration of a Halloween sequel both different enough and justified enough for it to exist in the first place. In reality, we're dealing with a viewer's pick of alternate timelines based on preference and 2018's Halloween throws its hat in the ring by offering up the idea that everything that occurred in each of the seven sequels, including 1981's Halloween II that famously disclosed Laurie Strode was Michael Myers' long-lost baby sister, ever happened. No longer is anything canon except for what went down in the only installment Carpenter himself directed. And so, with that, Michael Myers no longer has a familial connection to Strode and thus no reason to make her his mission. This opens up the possibility for 2018's Halloween to simply be about a cold-blooded serial killer who murders at random because he's a monster following his impulses whereas Curtis' Strode is now the one who has built-up this connection between herself and Myers and sees it as her destiny that the two of them might once again come face to face. That Strode is more attached to Myers than he is her is the "in" Green needed to bring a fresh perspective to this endlessly re-made and ret-conned horror franchise, but it is with this twist on the original, principle character that not only do we get fertile new territory to explore, but we get to genuinely and sometimes gruesomely see the process of Laurie Strode truly taking back what was taken from her all those years ago.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) raised her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), with every precaution in anticipation of Michael Myers' return.
Photo by Ryan Green - © Universal Pictures
As stated, the film begins forty years to the day after the events of Carpenter's 1978 film in which two investigative journalists who produce a podcast we can assume is akin to Serial or the like arrive at the sanitarium where Myers has been kept for the past four decades, but who is about to be transported to a new facility due to a lack of any further interest in what can be gained by studying Myers' mind. There is a "new Loomis" as Strode so lovingly refers to him in Haluk Bilginer's Dr. Sartain who encourages the journalists, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), to try and provoke Myers as he's stylistically chained to a larger than life checkerboard mat that Green uses to great effect as the inmates and German Shepherd K-9's on guard all go nuts the moment Korey brings out the notorious mask. Enhanced further by John and Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies score the reinvigorated music on this thing is incredible. Green quickly sets the tone for the film through these expositional characters establishing the how and why around Myers not having spoken a word for the entirety of his incarceration and how this has factored into the decision to finally move the murderer. When Korey fails to provoke Myers though, he and Haines set out on a journey to find the ying to Myers' yang which, of course, is Curtis' Laurie Strode-the only surviving victim of the babysitter murders. It is in this introduction to Curtis' nearly sixty-year-old Strode that we learn what has become of the young, optimistic, somewhat naive, but mostly intelligent girl we saw in that first film. Laurie has learned to live with what happened to her, but never allowed herself to return to a state of anything resembling normalcy. The film tells us she's had two failed marriages, that she's battled issues of alcohol addiction, as well as having had her only daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), taken from her at the age of twelve whom she never regained custody of. Strode raised her own daughter as if it was inevitable what happened to her would one day happen to her daughter; pouring everything she experienced into Karen's childhood ultimately driving the young girl to a state of paranoid existence that Karen has in turn worked her entire life to suppress. Karen has grown up to become a well-adjusted human it would appear as she's become a psychologist herself and has what seems to be a strong marriage with Ray (the fantastic Toby Huss). Karen and Ray's teenage daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), experienced the complete opposite of what her mother did as a child, but Allyson has an affection for her grandmother who she reaches out to often. Allyson is caught between this rift and is tasked with trying to find a balance between her grandmother's paranoia and her mother's reluctance.

In exploring this cross-generational element Green, McBride, and Fradley's screenplay is quick to turn the trope of the "final girl" on its head making their Halloween not just about surviving the night, but about what happens as a result of surviving that night. In essence, while Strode naturally becomes something of this tragic heroine figure she is also still very much a hero in many regards as she is not only ready and willing to confront both this severe physical and mental pain that was bestowed upon her, but she is stepping out and saying she wants to confront the perpetrator of this trauma and take back the life she lost. While it's not difficult to draw parallels to the current cultural climate, Halloween never feels as if it's preaching from the pulpit, but more it is simply using this iteration of Strode to illustrate a character who isn't going to run away this time, who isn't going to simply roll over and die, but rather she is going to continue living until she takes back what she deserves. In this type of role, and make no mistake this is a role with a capital R, Curtis is exceptional. It's a given the woman is badass-almost channeling a Sarah Connor-esque vibe at times-but this idea of someone who needs to be heard and understood and maybe most importantly-empathized with-is only lent an ear when the listener thinks they can gain something from the interaction as is exemplified when Korey and Haines first show up at Strode's house. The two journalists put on a front as if they are there for the benefit of Strode-that, if she were to talk about her experiences and open up these wounds-it might help her to better manage her feelings and allow her some closure, but Curtis' performance lets the viewer know rather quickly she's not buying it and that she understands all these people want is something for themselves, some piece of vulnerability that they can peddle to their advantage. Strode is so wounded still she finds it difficult to trust anyone, but by not trusting anyone she has grown to be trapped in this loneliness to the point that when someone does come and actively wants to talk with her it's understandably difficult not to forgive their agenda and give in to what she might choose to perceive as kindness. Again, it's a rather heartbreaking path Strode has traveled, but it brings a certain amount of weight to the series that, outside of the Rob Zombie films, this franchise has failed to capture in the some thirty-odd years it has been trying to figure out its next move.

Michael Myers AKA "The Shape" (James Jude Courtney/Nick Castle) returns to Haddonfield, IL.
Photo by Ryan Green - © Universal Pictures
It is in this idea of Strode being more attached to Michael than he is to her that we get a version of The Shape that feels more vacant, more neutral, more an amalgam of nothing than has been true in the past. This may be the result of having watched the previous ten films in the series consistently and for the first time over the past couple of months, but there came to be this affection for the character. It wasn't ever to the extent one would root for Myers to kill more random, innocent people, but there was certainly a familiarity that developed. By cutting off all family ties Green and co. are able to fuel this perception that Michael is more hollow, more cold than he's been since the original. It is then the randomness of it all that makes it the most terrifying; if there is no rhyme or reason to Myers' victims it could literally be anyone and it is this possibility that Green divulges in a very stylistic, but insanely brutal tracking shot in this moment the serial killer is re-introduced to Haddonfield for the first time since 1978. James Jude Courtney and original Michael Myers, Nick Castle, embody this character with such a stark presence without ever being overbearing that it's not hard to buy into how expertly this hulking character can kill with such quietness and precision. Surprisingly, Green delivers a fair amount of the first act with Myers out of his mask (though we never see his face) and in search of an escape route giving the audience some especially teasing compositions that allow viewers to paint a more complete image of Myers, the human being, while ensuring that once he puts the mask back on it feels as if it is a new man; as if Clark Kent just went into a phone booth to become Superman-there is an immediate shift in the intimidation-but also in the believed immortality of the character. Every head tilt is calculated, every step made with intent, and Green utilizes the lurking, but assured presence of Myers to create some of the more terrifying sequences we've seen in a straight-up slasher flick in some time. That isn't to say this new Halloween is necessarily the scariest movie I've seen this year, but there are moments of real, genuine terror.

If it's not evident as of yet, David Gordon Green has crafted a Halloween film that not only pays homage to the original and even a number of the sequels that came after it despite erasing their stories, but he has also crafted a film that is about something. This is the aspect from which there was the most concern going in as it seems every avenue that one could take in approaching the Halloween series had been exhausted in one way or another since that first sequel in 1981. So, the question undoubtedly looming over Green's head going into this project was what story was still worth telling in regards to these characters and this mythology? Obviously, getting Jamie Lee Curtis back made a difference and the decision to make it a direct sequel to the original helped, but was this ultimately going to become a re-hashed version of the original only Laurie Strode would now fill the Loomis role and her granddaughter by default becoming the new Laurie? That seemed to be the most obvious route and the safest in terms of kick-starting another franchise the studios and the film's producers could continue to make money from, but it is in this regard that 2018's Halloween is the most successful as it is most certainly not a carbon copy of the original appropriately updated for the current era, but it is a true continuation of the original film and an honest look at the repercussions of the events of that night. It is about the generational illness of trauma that has been inflicted on each of the three main female characters and how they each individually have come to terms with and how they deal with these afflictions; the film never sacrificing character for the sake of a scare. That said, the film also features plenty of what the masses will flock to a Halloween film for though it does fall in points slightly by bending over backwards to get to that ultimate face-off we know is coming between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. Fortunately, that final face-off is worth the price of admission alone with Green delivering one of the more substantial conclusions of the series that feels as definitive as it does intriguing for what it might mean for the future of the franchise. It's a fine line to walk, but with Halloween Green has managed to both remind us of what was so innovative about the original while taking the narrative in a fresh, and eye-opening direction.