The ultimate successor to a purely evil classic.
There are few films as seminal as John Carpenter’s Halloween. The 1978 horror behemoth pioneered filmmaking revolutions in the horror genre some may take for granted, one of the main advances being the tactful use of POV shots to transport us behind the eyes of our villain. Its legacy is tainted slightly by its many, many follow-ups, however, with several sequels and half-reboots turning Michael Myers into some nonsensical being, rather than what he is at his core; a cold-hearted, calculated and ridiculously strong killer. Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake gets a bad rep, understandable considering it verges on snuff-status. But he undoubtedly laid the groundwork for this long-awaited, true successor to Carpenter’s masterpiece.
40 years on from the infamous Haddonfield killings, Michael Myers returns for a final face-off with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who narrowly avoided his blood-thirsty streak. The trauma of that fateful night has plagued her life; she’s obsessed with, what she believes is, the inevitable return of Myers, so much so she’s been through two marriages, and lost custody of her now grown-up child, Karen (Judy Greer).
There’s an unexpected poignancy to the whole affair. This isn’t just Curtis embodying reckless badassery (don’t be mistaken though, she is a badass), Laurie is genuinely affected by the mental hunt which has pursued her even after Michael was locked away. We watch as she completely breaks down over the smallest glimpse of the killer getting on board a bus, shackled and totally out of reach, but still inconsolable. David Gordon Green is the director, whose unlikely and eclectic filmography includes heartbreaking biopics like Stronger, but also stoner comedies like Pineapple Express. You can see his experience in the latter being breathing through the genre thrills you’d expect, adding a layer of pure, human conflict and emotion above fear. The scariest element of the slasher isn’t necessarily the event; have you ever thought about how our heroes and heroines cope with such a horrible ordeal?
While Carpenter’s flick was very much ahead of its time, Green’s is more a product of right now. Nostalgia is all the rage nowadays, which makes his intoxicating cocktail of grin-inducing throwbacks (classic font on the opening credits, dialogue regarding Donald Pleasance’s Dr Loomis) and smartly written, up-to-date storytelling all the more pleasing. We’re reintroduced to the world through two successful podcasters who, insanely, want to tackle the story of Haddonfield. While their dynamic (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rhees) doesn’t translate very well through their performances, it’s an effective way to kickstart the narrative, tapping into the worldwide obsession with serial killers and crime-mysteries that has seen Netflix’s pockets lavishly lined.
The opening passage into slasherville is welcomely brisk, and that’s when the film really gets into its stride. Of course, it wouldn’t be a true genre piece if there weren’t some helpless teenagers to play with, would it? One of whom is Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matachak), who as well as dealing with typical adolescent troubles, has a fairly sketchy relationship with her mum regarding her gran. But once again, the inclusion of teens doesn’t roll eyes as much as it could, thanks to refreshingly realistic and understanding writing. Green is on script duties alongside Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, and the team manage to evoke a physical reaction you may not entirely be prepared for; laughter. There are some really funny moments throughout, most of all coming from young Jibrail Nantambu as Julian, a child under the watchful protection of a babysitter, who possesses a hilarious energy akin to that of Craig Robinson.
But the writing team also strip away much of the melodrama that can have a troubling tendency to distract from the fun, focusing on meaty character development, solid laughs and of course, spectacular kills. Green’s direction in this regard is absolutely spectacular, taking us on a set-piece ensemble thrill ride that sees Myers return to the screens in his most scarily brutal incarnation yet. He does have a habit of never letting a shot soak in a moment, almost always zooming in slowly in the beginning, and occasionally reaching a little too far stylistically. But when Myers is let loose, from a horrific bathroom assault to the suburbia he craves, Green settles in.
There are some deliciously intense long-takes, as kids all dressed up roam around him, unbeknown to them of the force of nature that towers above their heads. The manipulation of suspense is expert-level craft here, and Green has the brass courage to follow through with even the most maddening of murders. He doesn’t turn Myers into some supernatural entity, he just makes him an unbeatable foe, someone no matter how fast you run, how well you hide, he will always find you and kill you. Lead cinematographer Michael Simmons frames the malevolence well too, taking inspiration from the film’s predecessor but also radiating the dawn of a new era (one shot is a cracker, especially in the #MeToo era). As a character aptly says, “The notion of being a predator, or fear of becoming prey” keeps the spirit of Myers alive.
Above all other successes, Carpenter’s score (composed by himself alongside Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies) is sensational. Bouncing, pulse-pounding, enchanting and masterfully aligned with the terrors, it’s easily one of the finest soundtracks of the year and a potent reminder of how staying true to a melody can yield effective results. There are some reliable genre tropes, some of which are less forgiven than others, but that’s the thing – you don’t ride new rollercoasters for something new, you’re chasing the excitement you remember, and you’d be disappointed if it didn’t hit a few aspects of that memory. Green’s Halloween captures that sensation; an honest, brilliantly executed throwback to a groundbreaking film that dares to go forward.