Stripping away the excess of its sequels and remakes, David Gordon Green’s Halloween looks back at John Carpenter’s 1978 original with reverence. With the welcome return of Jamie Lee Curtis, this latest instalment in the series zeroes in on what made the original work, and whilst not always successful, it intelligently appropriates those elements forty years on.
Forty years have passed since October 31st 1978, the night when Michael Myers murdered five people. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the lone survivor of that night, was permanently traumatised. She’s spent decades looking over her shoulder, convinced that Michael will return. Her conviction has bled into her family life, and her now-adult daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), has grown up with aggressive self-defence measures drilled into her. Laurie has all-but alienated her own flesh and blood. When a pair of podcasters dig deep into the history of Michael Myers, they seemingly stir something in Myers upon presenting him with the faded, white mask that he wore all those years ago. It’s not long before Michael has escaped again and The Shape returns to Haddonfield, and to Laurie.
Immediately, one is struck by how good this film looks. It perfectly hits at the sense that this is October – that this is Halloween – in a way that the series hasn’t really matched since 1982’s Halloween 3: Season of the Witch– and I don’t just say that because of the knowing inclusion of that film’s Silver Shamrock masks! From the set dressing of the streets that are littered with leaves and pumpkins, to the complementary hazy colour grade, the season has been captured wonderfully. It provides the perfect setting for a reboot/sequel of this nature, one that seeks to honour what’s come before.
2018’s Halloween is also remarkably self-aware. David Gordon Green has been clever to calm people’s justified concerns that this could have just been a generic slasher film, or worse, another Halloween: Resurrection. When we first meet Michael’s new doctor, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), it isn’t unreasonable for us to think that he’s the new stand-in for Dr. Sam Loomis. But, when Laurie Strode openly says “so, you’re the new Loomis” it goes a long way to putting those concerns aside. Indeed, with the filmmakers making clear their wish to avoid character retreads, the audience is assured that something new and different is in store for them.
In the case of Dr. Sartain, something new certainly is in store. Unfortunately, however, the progression of his character doesn’t always work in a wholly satisfying way. Twists and turns come and go with relatively little effect on the rest of the story. It almost seems as though an avenue of development for the character was set upon before being abandoned without explanation. Unsatisfying though this may be, there is something of a silver lining, as the overarching narrative, which is supremely exciting, remains intact.
This new film ignores all previous entries in the series bar the original. Gone is the brother/sister plot point from 1981’s Halloween II. Gone is Jamie Lloyd, Laurie’s daughter from 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Stripping away the layers of often-clunky exposition added with these sequels, David Gordon Green’s Halloween allows itself the privilege of discussing Laurie Strode with fresh eyes.
Perhaps it can be said that in its writing, Laurie covers ground too similar to that explored in Halloween: 20 Years Later (1998) with her prolonged struggle to cope with the events of 1978. Indeed, one may find themselves hoping for more depth from the writing of her character. However, Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance draws so much out of Laurie that maybe isn’t there in the script alone. Indeed, the character is far more fleshed out than in 1998, despite the base similarities. Laurie, though prepared for the inevitable, doesn’t seem as confident as how she was presented in 1998. The way that Laurie looks at those around her, at those she loves, communicates such palpable fear for their safety. This is Laurie’s film, and Curtis’ performance makes it so.
One of the film’s strongest aspects is how it reinstates Michael Myers as The Shape. James Jude Courtney’s performance has a precision we’ve arguably not seen since Dick Warlock donned the mask in Halloween II. Michael glides about the frame and when he reaches for his next weapon, the movement is fluid and considered – making it all the more unsettling. It is this precision that, combined with the graphic brutality of some of his murders, truly makes Michael Myers unnerving again. What’s interesting is that, despite these moments of visceral violence, much of the film plays out with remarkable restraint; characters are often killed off-screen, and much is suggested rather than shown. It is a marriage of John Carpenter’s considered filmmaking with the forceful nature of 2018’s world.
Seeing Michael Myers in a new film in 2018 is fascinating in and of itself. Perhaps one of the scariest things it touches on is how apathy may lead to negligence of brutalities taking place. One of Laurie’s granddaughter’s friends remarks that the Myers murders in 1978 aren’t a big deal anymore because only five people were killed. David Gordon Green acknowledged this in an interview with Collider, saying that, “the world has seen a lot of horrific shit…so is a man in a mask with a knife still scary?” Arguably, it still is, precisely because we’ve become so desensitised. What this new Halloween does so brilliantly is to depict a world in which Michael is able to carry out another slew of horrific murders exactly because we’re too numb to feel the horror needed for us to actively prevent this happening again. This scenario allows Laurie Strode to fill the classic horror archetype of the character who’s aware of the danger but unable to convince anyone of its existence until it’s too late. Importantly, it lets the audience see how scary a man in a mask with a knife can really be when we’re so deadened in light of “worse” events. If it happened again, would we care enough?
This critic certainly cared enough about David Gordon Green’s new Halloween. Jamie Lee Curtis reflects her detectable enthusiasm for the material in her compelling performance. Whilst some characters – including Laurie at times – are not always written in a wholly satisfying way, Curtis’ presence and the knowing look of the film carry it to success. Raising some interesting questions about indifference to escalating horror, Halloween draws Michael Myers in the modern world with consideration and calculated frights. If possible, watch the film in dark for maximum effect.