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Film Review—Can ‘Halloween’ Reunion Recapture Horror Of The Original? Absolutely

Jamie Lee Cutis returns as Laurie Strode in "Halloween."

Posted Friday, October 19, 2018 - 12:05 pm

By Adam Sherman

In 1978, director John Carpenter invited audiences for a trip to Haddonfield, Ill. with a front-row seat to the killing spree perpetuated by Michael Myers.

Thus was born an new horror icon in the Shape, as well as a sub-genre known as slasher horror. It was followed by seven sequels, each of which – save for Season of the Witch, which had nothing to do with the character (though ironically would serve as Carpenter’s final involvement with the franchise until now) – tried to focus on the mythology surrounding Myers, for better and worse.

While financially successful in their own rights and usually receiving something of a cult following, most of the films didn’t leave the same impact as the late ’70s classic. There was a brief resurgence in the late-oughts when writer-director Rob Zombie rebooted the franchise with a remake and a sequel, but their impact fizzled out. It seemed that like the pumpkins associated with the namesake holiday, Halloween had finally rotted and bloated into nothing.

Yet, here we are, 40 years later. Writer-director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Snow Angels) and writer Danny McBride (who acted in Green’s Pineapple Express a decade ago) have brought forth a new film (awkwardly sharing the same title as the original in spite of its status as a sequel), with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to her iconic role of Laurie Strode, and John Carpenter returning for the first time in over twenty-five years as composer and executive producer.

On the 40th anniversary of the original, have filmmakers finally managed to recapture the magic of the original?

Absolutely.

Ignoring the events of all previous films save the original, Halloween picks up 40 years after Michael (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) slaughtered Laurie’s friends. In the decades that have passed, she has been grappling with PTSD and preparing for what she feels is an inevitable rematch – said preparation has resulted in two failed marriages and a strained relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), though her relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is rather decent.

Meanwhile, Michael has remained quiet and unmoved at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. That changes when a true-crime British podcasting duo (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) try to interview the duo separately. Michael escapes during a prison transfer, beginning his killing spree anew, while Laurie tries to hunt him down – with the assistance of Officer Hawkins (Will Patton) and Michael’s new psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) – and get the rest of her family to her safehouse. Thus, the stage is set for a final battle four decades in the making.

The film is great all-around, from the writing, to the directing, to the cinematography, lighting, and acting most of all.

Curtis steals the show as an aged, survivalist, traumatized Laurie Strode. In every scene, we can see just how much the loss of her innocence has defined her and left a scar on her soul. Greer is also given a bit more to do here than in her other recent franchise outings, successfully conveying someone who is exasperated by the childhood she had with a trauma victim as a mother. Matichak also does well as Allyson, being more open-minded and cordial with her grandmother’s issues and being more empathetic toward Laurie’s suffering – especially when she winds up witnessing similar traumas. See the connective tissue here?

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Halloween’s tackling of trauma and portrayal of humanizing victimizers couldn’t have come at a better time. Throughout the film several characters question why Laurie hasn’t “gotten over” her experience after 40 years. The answer is easily conveyed in a few scenes from Laurie’s perspective, demonstrating that in spite of all her preparation, she’s clearly still scared out of her mind that Michael will return and kill everyone she cares about. These fears adversely affect her relationships with the ones she cares about the most, yet wind up being well-founded. Why can’t she move past the trauma? Because of fear that no one will take her seriously, that they will only do so when it is too late, or that is only being asked about in service of the victimizer.

As stated earlier, Halloween tackles the humanization of victimizers in a rather interesting manner. Previous films in the franchise have attempted to give depth to the Shape in different ways, whether by implying a greater force behind his actions (a la the Thorn Cult in the fifth and sixth films), or by giving him another familial connection (by making Laurie Strode into his baby sister in nearly every film save the original or this installment).

Several characters throughout the film try to cut to the core of what makes Michael tick… and they wind up with no answers and worse than before. In spite of his residency in a mental rehabilitation center, Michael serves as an exception to – rather than an example of – the mentally unstable. When his fellow mental patients wander off after his escape, they are also relocated rather quickly and peacefully – two are said to have been found wandering near a highway, chasing butterflies while holding hands. The implication is clear. Michael is not someone who has an issue that he needs help with. He is not insane. There is no point in humanizing him; Michael is simply evil. By extension, the film argues that humanizing such powerful victimizers is pointless, and that the only option is to stop them.

To that extent, Michael himself is well-presented in this film. Not just driven by a supernatural cult, nor just some overly possessive big brother, Michael Myers is presented as not quite a force of nature, but as someone simply determined to keep moving and keep killing. The lack of reason or concrete motivation for his actions actually manages to enhance the terror of the Shape rather than detract from it. And as a result, Myers is truly scarier than ever.

While some of the film’s more minor characters come off as rather flat or one-note, Halloween successfully recaptures the magic that Carpenter brought to the big screen four decades ago.

Happy Halloween!

9/10

Halloween is distributed by Universal Pictures and stabs its way into theaters today.

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