REVIEW – ‘Halloween’

Name a beloved horror movie icon and it’s highly likely their reputation has been slaughtered by a neverending wave of disappointing sequels. Freddy. Jason. Leatherface. Chucky. They’ve all exhausted their welcome and become more laughable than terrifying. Then there’s Michael Myers, the babysitter murdering, William Shatner mask-wearing, knife-wielding psychopath. Since his debut in 1978’s seminal classic Halloween, the serial slasher has been seen in seven awful sequels, a disappointing 2007 reboot and its even more disappointing sequel. When you’ve already attempted a reboot once before, that’s the end of your franchise, right? Wrong.

Enter screenwriters David Gordon Green and Danny McBride who’ve made the ingenious decision (even if it is somewhat cheating) to wipe the Halloween franchise clean and pretend as if the last nine films never happened. The magic of cinema, folks. Halloween (now the third film to share this title, which is…odd) stands as a direct sequel to the original film, rightly ignoring the four decades of nonsense we’ve been served up. Thankfully, they’ve finally nailed it, delivering a sequel that perfectly captures the spirit of its predecessor while still standing on its own two feet as a brilliant piece of horror cinema. Michael Myers has finally come home.

Picking up 40 years after the events of the first film, we learn Michael Myers (Nick Castle and James Courtney) has been locked up in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium since the night of the infamous 1978 “Babysitter Murders.” Still entirely mute, Myers has been studied by dozens of psychiatrists over the years, with none getting any closer to understanding his twisted mind. Now in the care of Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Biginer), an apprentice of the late Dr. Samuel Loomis, Myers is paid a visit by two true-crime podcast journalists (think Serial but with British accents), Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees).

While visiting a chained-up Myers in the sanitarium’s checkered floor recreation yard, the reporters bring out Myers’ iconic death mask, hoping to elicit a wild response from the silent behemoth. His fellow crazies in the yard go bananas, but Michael remains stoic in his vow of silence, leaving the podcasters with nothing but dead noise for their salacious broadcast. Desperate to save their story, the pair head for Haddonfield, Illinois to the fortress-like home of the survivor of Michael’s rampage, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) where they learn the original “final girl” has been patiently waiting for the inevitable day Michael returns to murder her.

Clearly still in the gripes of post-traumatic stress, Laurie has stockpiled guns, booby-trapped her house, and all but secluded herself from the outside world. Her relentless obsession with Myers has led to two failed marriages and the state-authorised removal of her young daughter. Karen (Judy Greer), now an adult with a doting husband, Ray (Toby Huss) and her plucky teenage daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), has a semi-estranged relationship with her anxiety-riddled mother, desperately attempting to always keep Laurie at arm’s distance from her family.

After it’s decided there is nothing further to be gained from psychoanalysing Myers at Smith’s Grove, the psychopath is loaded onto a bus to be shipped off to another facility, all of which takes place on the evening of October 30 aka one night before Halloween. Transporting a killer in the middle of the night on the eve of the anniversary of his beloved murderous holiday. Smart move. Naturally, Myers makes his escape, leaving behind a trail of carnage in his wake. And now on October 31, exactly 40 years to the day after his first rampage, Michael Myers is once again loose on the streets of Haddonfield, hellbent on finishing what he started.

With this premise and setup, Halloween could very easily have been nothing more than a lame nostalgia-fest, merely leaving you aching to revisit the original. While there’s a concerted effort to exist as its own entity, director David Gordon Green still wisely pays deep tribute to the 1978 film which he clearly has fond affection for. John Carpenter’s iconic original synthesizer score is back (refreshed by the composer, his son Cody and Daniel Davies) and the film’s opening credits feature the original film’s identifiable font. Even the way Green teases the introduction of Myers by placing him in the background of shots or far on the edge of the screen feels deliciously familiar.

Green understands how to deftly craft a sequel by capturing what made the original such a hallmark of the horror genre and repurposing certain key elements into beautiful homage. The spirit of John Carpenter’s original film is alive and present here, but never to the point of excessive rehashing. This is the extension of Laurie and Michael’s story we’ve long been aching for, gifting us both sublime nostalgia and fresh originality. That in itself sets Halloween apart from every other sequel in this franchise which all failed to understand this notion.

By today’s standards, the events of the original film seem rather tame. When Michael’s “massacre” comes up in conversation amongst a group of Haddonfield teenagers, one comments that only five people perished, perfectly capturing the way today’s youth would view such a historic incident. With U.S. shooting sprees so often leaving dozens of victims dead, the idea that so much fuss would be made over the deaths of less than half a dozen people seems rather laughable to a 2018 teenager. It’s a minor narrative point but it serves to highlight the way this screenplay brilliantly understand its modern context.

It’s partly why this sequel needs to up the body count to a level at which I genuinely lost count of. By the conclusion, I’d venture a guess the total number of victims lands somewhere around the 20 mark. Early in the film, Green interestingly chooses to leave many deaths to take place offscreen, which serves to highlight the random viciousness of Myers’ murders. But this is merely a tease at the horrors to come, with the subsequent killings becoming increasingly more violent and graphic as the film progresses. If you’re here just to see blood and gore, Green delivers in spades. Several death scenes will linger long in your mind, particularly those of likeable characters you foolishly expect to make it through the night.

But a bloody gore-fest is nothing without a filmmaker who knows how to craft these scenes in interesting ways. Green captures Myers’ savage door-by-door assault on several unsuspecting Haddonfield residents with a gloriously inventive single-take tracking shot that stands as one of the year’s best sequences. It’s almost four minutes long (try to remember to breathe) and really is quite stunning to behold. Later in the film, he uses the concept of a backyard sensor light to raise the tension of the film to breathtaking levels. And the film’s gripping conclusion is a masterclass on how to expertly wrap up a piece of horror cinema.

Curtis has the time of her life with this gift of an opportunity to properly revisit the role which made her a star but one that has been so haphazardly handled over the past four decades. Laurie’s life has been stolen by her murderous tormentor, and it’s finally time for her to stop playing the victim and reclaim her own narrative. In the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, it’s a theme that perfectly fits today’s world. She bears the scars of her past but is tired of letting them define her. Curtis plays Laurie with an intoxicating mix of both crippling pain and determined strength, delivering a wonderfully layered performance we rarely see from this genre. And when she finally unleashes the furious assault she’s spent 40 years preparing, the results are spectacular.

As is to be expected, the supporting cast isn’t given as much to do as Curtis but take what’s offered and run with it. Greer is so often cast as the dotty best friend, so it’s decidedly refreshing to see her given a role with more meat on its bones. There’s a deep conflict between Karen and Laurie, gifting Greer and Curtis some terrific scenes together. Matichak proves to be a worthy successor to Curtis, if the franchise decides to take this direction, with Allyson receiving almost as much screentime and narrative focus as Laurie. Together, they create a wonderful trio of potential “final girls” that you genuinely cheer for.

There are some minor issues here which pull the film back from a perfect score. As with most horror films, there’s a few too many convenient plot holes and idiotic character choices which are hard to overlook. The narrative hardly breaks the mould either, with many familiar tropes and scenarios playing out as seen in practically every example of this genre. But when the end result is such a fabulously entertaining thrill-ride of scares, chills, shocks, and laughs, these negatives are easily overlooked.

With one foot in the past and one firmly in the future, Halloween is both a glorious trip down memory lane and a brilliant journey forward. Where this franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess. For now, we have the sequel we’ve always wanted. The dogs days of this saga are behind us and Michael Myers is back to his brilliant, brutal best. The opening credits of Halloween feature a squashed and rotting jack-o-lantern coming back to life via reverse time-lapse. There could be no better analogy for this film. Welcome home, Michael.

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle, James Courtney
Director: David Gordon Green
Screenplay: Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Producers: Malek Akkad, Jason Blum, Bill Block
Cinematography: Michael Simmonds
Production Design: Richard A. Wright
Music: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies
Editors: Tim Alverson
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: 25th October 2018 (Australia)