The latest entry in the Halloween franchise is both a dazzling tribute to the original film as well as a unique, standalone story. It’s filled with deviations from the familiar slasher formula, but it also carefully incorporates an adoration of its predecessor that feels respectful but not overpowering. By balancing these two seemingly divergent concepts, director David Gordon Green has made a truly special horror sequel.
Set exactly 40 years after the John Carpenter original, this new Halloween pretends none of the other sequels happened (sorry, Josh Hartnett). What did happen was, in 1978, a man named Michael Myers killed a bunch of kids, leaving behind a lone survivor named Laurie Strode. Strode was deeply traumatized by the experience and spent the next four decades preparing for what she believes is Michael’s inevitable return.
Years of fear and paranoia have taken a toll on Laurie (played once again by horror queen Jamie Lee Curtis), and now she’s very much isolated. She’s divorced, she drinks, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) resents her, her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is confused by her, and the last thing she wants to think about is her family when she suspects the boogeyman is on his way. And on the way he is.
Curtis’ complex, gritty performance grounds the movie and gives it an emotional, inimitable feel. How often are heroes in horror movies not just ready for their adversary, but on the hunt for them? Not often, and rarely for the entire film. But Laurie is a very active protagonist. She’s strong, capable, and driven, but also deeply flawed and kind of broken. Curtis wraps that all together into one package, giving Halloween a sheen of sadness that endears not just Laurie, but the other characters, to the audience.
That extends to Karen and Allyson, who drive the other storylines in the film. Each has their own problems, but the film is structured so we mostly see them through Laurie’s eyes or reacting to Laurie’s character. In doing that, both daughter and granddaughter get infused with Laurie’s sympathy and strength, and Greer and Matichak are each up to the task, creating very believable, realistic characters.
The strong performances encourage the audience to feel emotionally invested in the characters, and as a result, the scares are that much more effective. Halloween isn’t quite as terrifying as the original film, but the tension throughout is palpable. From the very first scene, Green’s camera angles, editing, lighting (or lack thereof), and use of music all work to build suspense. Sometimes it’s scary, other times not, but it’s never, ever comfortable. This film will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time, whether out of fear or just plain stress.
Plus, while there are some brief respites, that intensity snowballs over the course of the film. Green’s strong, steady build works wonders by the end, leading up to the wild third act where Michael and Laurie finally reunite. On the flip side, it hurts the first part of the movie a little, because there’s so much more exposition than action.
Throughout Halloween, Green peppers in delightful references to not just the first film, but other franchise installments as well. This begins almost immediately with a slightly updated, but still recognizable, take on Carpenter’s musical theme and even trickles down to the unmistakable orange font used in the credits. That attention to detail is great, but it’s lacking in some other spots. The film leaves a lot to the imagination—things like aspects of Michael’s escape, large chunks of his backstory, the impact of particular injuries, etc. Much of this is left either totally unanswered or barely implied, which can feel like a flaw. And yet, you have to remember this is a film very much driven by Carpenter’s original. In that movie, we never know why Michael does what he does. We accept him as superhuman somehow. And yet, the “hows” and “whys” are rarely, if ever, significant. It’s about characters and scares—and Halloween has both.
Halloween isn’t just a really great horror movie, it’s a great movie, period. It’s rough around the edges at times but wins you over with its passion, its originality, and its excitement. Ultimately, it makes you hope we don’t have to wait another 40 years to see the continuation of this version of Michael Myers’ story.
Halloween, which has its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest this week, opens wide October 19.