Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday), Judy Greer (Ant-Man), Andi Matichak (Orange is the New Black), Haluk Bilginer (Ben-Hur), Will Patton (Armageddon), Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Director: David Gordon Green (George Washington)
Writers: David Gordon Green & Danny McBride (Your Highness) & Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals)
Runtime: 1 hour 46 minutes
Release Date: 19 October (US, UK)
John Carpenter’s Halloween popularised what we now call the slasher movie, and a dozen sequels, reboots and rip-offs later, Michael Myers still continues to stalk the streets of Haddonfield like it’s 1978. The franchise has been on something of a hiatus after Rob Zombie’s bizarre duology that took the series in a bold but wholly unnecessary direction, and now it’s in the hands of…the guys behind Pineapple Express and Your Highness? OK. I guess after it turned out half of Key & Peele made one of the best horror movies of the modern age, all bets are off.
The Halloween series has one of the most needlessly complicated series mythologies ever, with multiple timelines and retcons that make creating any sequel at this point seem pointless. This time around, the film wipes the slate clean and serves as a direct sequel to the original, disregarding all previous entries and their various developments. We’re back to just Myers and Laurie Strode, with no brother/sister dynamic, druid cults or kung-fu Busta Rhymes to complicate things. This in turn opens up the opportunity for this new Halloween to return to the roots of the franchise whilst also letting it venture into new territory, and for the most part it succeeds. The film is undeniably a Halloween film from the get go, paying homage to the structure of the original whilst peppering in new twists and gradually shifting gears throughout. Its approach to the filmmaking feels completely old school, but in terms of content and ideas it is very much a modern film at heart, exploring complex themes like the generation gap, post-traumatic stress, and the very concept of evil itself.
However, whilst Halloween is incredibly good at raising these interesting questions and setting up new twists on the familiar tropes, it isn’t so good at following them through. Especially towards the end, as the story’s goes increasingly into uncharted territory, the movie keeps fumbling the ball with its many ideas. Interesting new concepts are brought up and almost immediately dropped, threads set up well in the beginning only get half-baked resolutions, and by the abrupt conclusion it’s unclear what the film’s final thesis even is. Throughout its first two acts, Halloween seems to pose itself as a postmodern autopsy of its own franchise, but by the third those contemplative explorations end up taking a back seat to the entertaining but expected slasher scares. I’m fine with this movie being a deconstructionist exploration of the genre or just another example of it. I just wish it had picked one and stuck with it.
What ultimately drives Halloween from the beginning and over the finish line is Jamie Lee Curtis’ phenomenal performance as Laurie Strode. Touching on similar ideas from Halloween H20 but taken to their logical conclusion, the film’s vision of an elderly Laurie simultaneously motivated to action by her experience in the original but also traumatised and embittered by it is a fascinating character study. Her harsh exterior and emotional instability make her a hard character to like, but deep down you know she’s right and capable of taking action. This dynamic is further put to the test by her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), with the former being embittered by her attempts to prepare her for the horrors and the latter being sympathetic but concerned about her mental state. The rest of the cast do a reasonably fine job, fulfilling their slasher movie archetypes but with just enough modern flair, but it’s Curtis that carries the movie throughout and redefines what it means to be a final girl. Seriously, she deserves an Oscar nomination for this performance.
On a technical level, the new Halloween falls very much in line with the aesthetic of the old Halloween. There are no overly slick camera tricks, buckets of gore or out-of-place rock music. Though some of the kills are a little over-the-top, this otherwise sticks to the grounded approach of the original film and that restraint is not only refreshing but actually adds to the horror. John Carpenter even returns to contribute to the film’s score, not only bringing back the classic themes with new twists but some wholly new material too that feels straight out of his 80s synth wheelhouse.
Halloween has certainly taken the right approach to revitalising this often-abused franchise, delivering what is certainly the best entry in decades. However, its execution is notably flawed, as it can’t quite decide if it wants to take the series in new directions or make a straight-up no-frills throwback. The old school aesthetic, the fascinating subtext and Curtis’ landmark performance make it an experience more than worth watching, especially for slasher fans, but it isn’t quite the new gold standard for the genre some have called it. There are better examples of a modern slasher than this Halloween out there. It’s just that this one is still better than the vast majority of its imitators.
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10