Relaunching a horror franchise is never easy. When the franchise stems from one of the greatest films in the history of a genre? Even tougher. Making a sequel to Halloween (1978) remains a tall order even forty years after its release. The Shadow looms large, both figuratively and literally, but the recent Blumhouse feature takes that challenge head-on. Diving into the deep end, writers Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, and Jeff Fradley craft something special here, something that should appeal to those outside the normal Halloween franchise. Rather than just slash away, Halloween (2018) wishes to examine how trauma and violence can have ripple effects through generations. As a result, the story reframes Jaime Lee Curtis’ most iconic role.
Halloween (2018) takes place forty years after the events of the first film. Ignoring the features that followed John Carpenter‘s original, the new Halloween finds Michael Myers in Smith’s Grove forty years after Halloween in 1978. A podcast run by investigative journalists (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) come to ask Michael questions. After meeting Michael and his doctor, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), they go on to meet Laurie Strode (Curtis). She’s been hidden away from the world, set up on a compound. She’s even driven away her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). As Allyson celebrates Halloween with her friends, Michael breaks out and begins his pursuit of Laurie.
What helps the movie stand out from the pack of other horror films comes from how the writing jumps into the thrills. It knows what audiences want, and gives them to us in crazy fashion. There are scenes early in the film that call back to the original film, inverting it in some scenes to fit the story. Some may compare it to The Force Awakens or Jurassic World in that regard. However, unlike those films, the twist on the original film brings out a commentary on trauma and the ways in which it changes us. Laurie can never be the naive girl she was at the beginning of Halloween night in 1978. Instead, she becomes a Sarah Connor inspired heroine, always ready for the day when the one who destroyed her life comes back so that she can kill him.
In doing so, the narrative drastically shifts away from the Final Girl trope. Metaphorically, the story constructs a heroine in the #MeToo era. A woman, destroyed by trauma is given her chance at revenge. It also works to remind us how psychologically damaging death and violence can do to people, especially when that violence leaves us without friends or family. After decades of school shootings, including the Parkland shooting, this speaks to a larger problem in society. Sometimes, the monsters don’t always wear masks.
Critical readings aside, Halloween should continue to please horror fans for its own merits. Early in the film, the feature struggles to get its bearings with long scenes and lots of dialogue. After about 25 minutes, the feature snaps into place. Once that occurs, the editor turns the narrative into a locomotive. Once it gets moving, there’s nothing to slow it down.
The film might be the best shot in the franchise since the original. One particular tracking shot jumps to mind, expertly choreographed with many moving pieces. The kills during the scene are very cool and add to the menace of Myers. Kills throughout the film are excellent and deliver great callbacks to other films in the franchise. With a deliciously high body count, Michael takes on a bit of Jason with the creativity in some kills. Green and the writing crew also know how to utilize Michael well, incorporating in the heavy breathing and coldness required for the killer.
Curtis shines throughout the film, delivering the intensity that has made her such a great Laurie for years. She’s given a showier and more complete role this time out. We’ve seen strong performances from Curtis in the franchise, but this will likely go down as her best to date. Greer actually gets something to do this time out, other than be hysterical. It’s a nice change of pace. Matichak surprises as Allyson, showing off the chops to legitimately take over the franchise should it continue. The trio of women are the stars of the film and get the opportunity to shine.
Finally, it would be remiss to ignore the stellar score that features throughout the film. John Carpenter returns and pulls out a masterful score that fits within the universe. It’s the best score since Halloween III: Season of the Witch and should become iconic in its own right. There are several scenes in the film that build because of the tension the score creates, making his work far more than just fan service. Carpenter displays a knowledge of what makes us cringe, and helps elevates multiple moments throughout the film with his unique ear for the unsettling.
Overall, the new version of Halloween rises as one of the best films in the franchise. While it does not hit the peaks of the 1978 version, it provides the franchise with a very strong entry. Halloween jumps back into the limelight as the premiere slasher franchise, and it retakes the crown. With a strong box office, let’s hope this kicks off a new and innovative run for the genre and the not the knockoffs that defined 1980s horror.