'Halloween' Mines Past Family Trauma for an Updated Slasher Homage Directed by David Gordon Green
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak
Published Oct 18, 2018Michael Myers is one of the all-time greats when it comes to slasher villains, precisely because he is the simplest — at least, if you disregard the sequels, which the new Halloween is so intent on doing that multiple characters make fun of the "Michael Meyers curse." He hunts, he kills — that's all. He can't be killed, at least not easily, so he keeps coming back to hunt and kill.
This simplicity made it easy for original director John Carpenter to turn his attention to the other elements that make a horror film scary: light and shadow, movement and editing that built tension in just the right way. This being 2018, atmospheric horror is no longer as groundbreaking as it was in 1978, but it's still something that freaks people out when done well — which the new Halloween is more than adept at.
Michael Myers' simplicity also makes it easy to turn the focus toward the protagonists instead, and this Halloween manages to explore the strains of intergenerational trauma without sacrificing good old fashioned scares.
In 2018, a pair of clueless, Serial-esque podcasters (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) journey to the prison sanitorium where Michael Meyers has been incarcerated for the last 40 years. They've brought along Michael's infamous mask, which naturally awakens something in him, sending him on another killing spree that begins when he escapes from a bus on its way to a new prison.
Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been living a paranoid half-life, holing up in her heavily armed and booby-trapped house, waiting for the day Michael Meyers comes for her again. Unfortunately, this obsessive devotion to being armed and prepared at all times has estranged Laurie from her adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer), as well as her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who is sympathetic to her strange grandmother's plight. When Michael comes back to Haddonfield, IL on Halloween night, it's up to Laurie and her family to put aside years of trauma and come together for one final confrontation.
The new film includes several scenes that directly reference the original in winking ways, but also emulate the original's tight, tense camerawork, most notably in a great long take that follows Michael in and out of houses and watches him through the windows as he stalks and kills. While definitely more gory than the original, the new Halloween is also just as interested in making sure the film sounds scary. Every crunch and squelch as Michael hacks and stomps his way through bone and flesh is chillingly clear. And then there's that fabulous theme song, updated for 2018 with a little more variance by Carpenter himself, who's recently enjoyed a successful music career.
The glue that binds Halloween together is its family drama, an exploration of how fear can ruin lives and trickle down to affect our loved ones. It's not exactly subtle — several characters make a point of explicitly mentioning how Laurie's close encounter with Michael Meyers has shattered her hold on reality — but it is effective, namely because it's so well-acted. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie as breezy, no-nonsense and charming in the original, but here she's both jittery and powerful, a victim and a badass. It's an interesting dichotomy that Curtis pulls off with aplomb (naturally a much better actor now than she was at 20 years old).
Judy Greer is great at balancing her frustration with concern for her mother, who she still loves despite Laurie's insistence Karen learn to use a shotgun at eight years old. And Andi Matichak as Allyson is a teenager that's easy to root for — just as no-nonsense as 1978 Laurie, who shuts down guys who try to treat her like shit and fights back against Michael Meyers instead of clamming up. When all three Strode women do team up, the sight of three generations of women working together to defeat Micheal Meyers is a powerful image, even more so in 2018.
This Halloween doesn't redefine the slasher genre as the 1978 original did, and that's okay — it's not trying to. Instead, it's paying homage to the films that came before it and what made them work, along with introducing touches of the kind of "socially conscious horror" that's redefining the genre today. While that side of the film could stand to be more developed, it's still an effective and admirably put-together take on a legendary franchise.