The legacy of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween has endured for four decades trough some good and not-so-good sequels, offshoot one-offs, soft reboots, and remakes.
The identically-titled 2018 direct sequel that ignores everything since the original – save for some sly screenplay and delightful visual nods – does right by that legacy and uses the 40 years of history to incorporate themes of lasting trauma in ways rare to the genre. This is especially rewarding to those of us who have been longtime fans of the series. It also helps that much of the familiar killer-on-the-loose stalking in the film’s back half is well-executed while also folding into the narrative.
In the years since Michael Myers murdered her friends and nearly killed her as well, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, awesome in a return to her first film role) has had a rough go of it. One of her failed marriages produced daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who was taken away by social services when Karen was 12. Now a recluse living on a gated wooded property fortified with cameras, floodlights, a small arsenal and other defenses, Laurie’s been preparing for a day when the evil killing machine will return. That day arrives when Myers (played with fluid detachment and hulking menace by James Jude Courtney and returning “Shape” Nick Castle), who’s been silent in 40 years of institutional captivity, escapes during a patient transfer and makes a beeline for Haddonfield. On Halloween.
Setting up the showdown isn’t always smooth, the script from director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley front-loading a lot of exposition told clunkily through a pair of podcasters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) researching the Myers case and Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), Michael’s overseer. It’s a cool way to get Michael’s now cracked and weathered mask involved, though.
Other ties to the first film are more than fan service. When Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) peers out the window of her school – as Laurie did in the original – she doesn’t see The Shape, she sees her grandmother. There are may visual mirrors throughout that further entwine the tormentor with the person he tormented, and convey the lasting effects of October 31, 1978. Will Patton is also a nice addition as the new Sherriff, familiar with Laurie and that fateful night all those years ago.
Michael’s reintroduction to Haddonfield is predictably bloody, Green using an unflinching long take to observe him going about his murderous business calmly and with brutal efficiency. Kills are violent but don’t feel sequel-level gratuitous, with many taking place off-screen before the graphic aftermath is shown. Occasionally, the jokey nature of the script undercuts the bloodshed’s effectiveness but it never completely takes us out of the moment. Sometimes the comedy works, as when Laurie bluntly calls Dr. Sartain “the new Loomis,” and in the entertaining back and forth between Virginia Gardner and Jibrail Nantambu as babysitter and child.
The score adds tremendously to the experience. Carpenter returns to tinker with his iconic music, credited with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Daves. The famous notes are there, occasionally punched up with more bass and strings that provide a different type of sinister atmosphere befitting this new night of carnage.
That carnage is crystalized by Laurie’s story, now involving three generations of Strode women required to face the malicious force of nature responsible for their family’s defining distress. The film picks up when Curtis takes center stage in the final act, playing out her catharsis with a blend of strength and trepidation. Greer is great with her showcase moments and Matichak gives a sincere, naturalistic performance that recall’s Curtis’ turn in the 1978 film. There are moments when the terror becomes real for her that feel genuinely gutting. There’s also emotional relevance in how these new traumatic events tie into the relationships between mother-daughter and grandmother-granddaughter.
On the other side of the conflict, Michael again feels like that pure force of evil, terrifying and free of all ridiculous explanations of his nature and reasons of being. He’s fate personified, out to finish what it started all those years ago and create more collateral damage along the way.
Halloween 2018 smartly keeps things simple, taking cues from the original to build on its themes and play off its genre inventions; emulating it without feeling like a complete rehash. It’s a fine, and worthy, companion piece to a true classic.