This eleventh instalment in the Halloween franchise – the third to be titled Halloween – serves as sequel only to John Carpenter’s original. It’s a retconning job not unlike that of Halloween H20; Laurie is no longer dead and Michael is not her sister – ‘that’s just a myth’ the film tells us. If this new Halloween fails to justify the continuation of slasher cinema in the twenty-first century, director David Gordon Green – the versatile American responsible for Pineapple Express, Goat and Stronger – should at least be congratulated for imbuing his take on the franchise with enough character to warrant its own existence.
The new plot is contrived nonsense, reliant of inane coincidences and the odd cliché. Exactly forty years after a botched hospital transfer saw kiddie killer Michael Myers (here both James Jude Courtney and original performer Nick Castle) loosed on the town of Haddonfield, another transfer seeks to move him again…also on the night before Halloween. Go with it. First though, irritating British journalists Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) attempt to provoke the knife-wielding psychopath into speech – after four decades of total silence – for their true crime podcast. It’s an effective opening, if insensitive in its depiction of mental health sufferers.
Having been traumatised by her experiences on 31 October 1978, Laurie Strode (‘scream queen’ Jamie Lee Curtis) still lives in Haddonfield; as do her semi-estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Whilst earlier sequels might have told another version of events, Green’s has it that ‘basket case’ Laurie devoted the past forty years to preparing for a second round against Myers, at the expense of two failed marriages and a social care intervention that took Karen away from her mother at the age of twelve. ‘He waited for me,’ Laurie tells Korey and Haines, ‘I waited for him.’ Which, in this case, means: she’s transformed a secret underground lair into an armoury that would make Sarah Winchester shudder.
Inevitably, of course, Myers escapes before the first act’s out and with only one destination in mind. Competent direction from Green takes cues from the original to shoot the chilling warpath of his cold killer in a series of gliding long takes and to the heart raising of Carpenter’s unrelenting score, tweaked for 2018 by his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies. Whilst it would be a stretch to call Halloween actively scary, the brutal intensity of the film’s rising violence and unmotivated efficiency of its antagonist certainly offer a thrilling sense of uneasy compulsion. Being somewhat in awe of Myers himself, Green does well to reassert why the Shape stands head and shoulders above his derivative slasher successors. In the spirit of Jurassic World and Star Wars, this is almost nostalgic.
Conveying the turmoil of a brittle survivor with PTSD, Curtis is tremendous throughout and owns the film. Green toys with a role reversal of the predator vs prey relationship of Michael and Laurie – brilliantly subverting a handful of shots from its predecessors – and delivers his strongest work in their one on one confrontations. Indeed, outwit action involving the duo, Halloween stumbles with flat characters and unnecessary subplots. Whilst Matichak is well cast here, her slash-fodder cohorts are dull and forgettable additions, serving no purpose bar to meet grisly ends. We don’t care about these nubile teens because their fates are predetermined; we don’t want to spend time with them because they are infinitely less interesting than the matured but damaged Laurie. Slick set pieces and top draw gore keep things rolling but only for the sake of doing so.
Maybe it isn’t the sequel Carpenter’s Halloween deserves but for fans, new and old, Green’s Halloween is well made, engaging and, thanks to a barnstorming conclusion, ultimately satisfying.