For years, the Halloween franchise has stood as a dilapidated house. What was initially built as a gorgeous mansion decades ago was not treated well by time, as various architects came in and, without the consultation of the original builders, altered things to the point of unrecognizability. So many changes over time eventually rendered it uninhabitable — but it’s never been a total teardown. The strength of the original plans established a sturdy foundation, and it’s just been waiting for a new creative voice to come in and take advantage of the structure’s solid, still-remaining bones.
As it turns out, the creative voice Halloween has been waiting for is writer/director David Gordon Green, who has come in to strip away everything except for what made the house incredible in the first place. Along with co-writer Danny McBride and producers John Carpenter and Jason Blum, Green has managed to create something honestly extraordinary, in that it’s simultaneously both a wonderful tribute to the story that started it all, and a post-modern reflection that often giddily subverts everything that’s perfect about the legacy of the killer Michael Myers.
Set 40 years after the 1978 original in the fictional suburb of Haddonfield, Illinois, the new Halloween erases all previous sequels from the continuity in order to tell its story about the infinite impact of trauma and the scars it leaves behind. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the perfect embodiment of this, still recovering from the night when she was a teenager and Michael Myers escaped incarceration from a mental institution to go on a killing spree. Because of this horrifying event, Laurie has spent her entire life building walls around herself, both metaphorically and literally, and paranoid parenting led to her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) growing up alienated.
Laurie’s name is synonymous with an urban legend in Haddonfield, and she is kept at an arm’s length by Karen and her family — though her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) does her best to stay in contact. Still, Laurie lives like she does because she knows the day is coming when Michael will return, and when he does, she wants to be ready.
Of course, Laurie is entirely right, and on Halloween night, Michael makes his move. With nothing but murder and mayhem on his mind, The Shape returns to his hometown, reclaiming his classic mask in the process, but isn’t fully aware of the surprisingly formidable foe who has not only been waiting for him, but diligently preparing for his arrival.
Although it’s not technically a reboot or a remake, the new Halloween does still have to try and avoid the dangerous hurdles of both — but part of what makes the experience so fantastic is just how it flips things and turns those potential weaknesses into strengths. At its core, it has the same high-concept setup as the original Halloween, but it’s never stale, only like it’s getting back to basics (after all, it was partially the simplicity of the 1978 film that made it so terrifying). And while there are specific references and homages, they’re never played straight-up, instead always energized by a little twist that adds new context and consideration. It feels like home — albeit with new drywall, a fresh paint job, and a reshingled roof.
Perhaps most importantly, it manages to bring back the heavy and horrifying atmosphere that John Carpenter manifested four decades ago, and the new beautiful and fear-inducing soundtrack that Carpenter has recorded is only part of it. David Gordon Green may not be an experienced horror director, but he is an artist who knows genre and sequence construction, and he creates real magic here. His Halloween isn’t as terrifying as the master’s, but it is both tremendously scary and a real crowd-pleaser. He can ratchet the tension to 10 when he needs to — with a brilliant long take following Michael through a couple of houses, and a disturbing adventure in babysitting being the major standouts — but he also knows what the horror fans really want and plays to those sensibilities. This is a movie to see opening weekend if not just because it deserves to be seen with the biggest, most enthusiastic crowd possible.
David Gordon Green is the brain, but Jamie Lee Curtis is the heart of Halloween, and it’s her impassioned performance that really pushes the film to be something special. This isn’t her first big return to the role of Laurie Strode, having been in both Halloween: H20 and Halloween: Resurrection, but it is a shot at redemption given the dismal quality of both those titles, and being given much better material she is phenomenal. As portrayed in the movie, Laurie is an immensely sympathetic character, as while Michael didn’t successfully murder her 40 years ago, there’s no questioning that he killed something inside of her. She isn’t a protagonist who leans on that pain, however, as she chooses to let it strengthen her and give her the power to fight back. She is a hero of action, and it’s endlessly entertaining to watch her stay a few steps ahead of her would-be killer and turn the tables on him.
The Halloween franchise on the whole isn’t without its few bright spots (I’m actually a particularly big fan of the Michael Myers-less Halloween III: Season Of The Witch), but there’s no denying there have been more disappointments than successes. This new movie makes the immensely smart decision to act as a tabula rasa, and it’s shocking how well it works. It’s smart, scary, well-timed, immensely entertaining, and one of the best times you’ll have at the movie theater in 2018.