Nutshell: I was worried this re-imagining of the Halloween sequels would be a disappointment. It’s not. It’s outstanding on its own merits, with plenty of chills, and a fantastic screenplay that gives fans what they want without turning into the Shout-Out Olympics. A fitting tribute to Carpenter, Curtis and, of course, Michael himself. Grade: A-
“There’s a reason we’re supposed to be afraid of this thing.”
Story: It’s forty years after Laurie Strode faced Michael Meyers on Halloween night. Her daughter Karen thinks she’s bonkers. Her grand-daughter Allyson just wants to get to know her better. But Laurie’s in her personal survivalist hideaway…at least until she finds out that Michael has escaped. Again. Wait, where’s Allyson?
Genre I’d put it in: Outstanding Sequels
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Part of the Halloween franchise. Though this one disavows any film other than the original ’78 classic.
Gotta say: Halloween has always been my go-to horror jam. What starts out as a fun teen horror romp turns into a seriously terrifying film that holds up today. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about all the sequels. Yeah, II was pretty darn good. But later on, things start spiraling down the drain, with outlandish stories and studio execs that just didn’t wan to see a cash cow truly die. And boy howdy did it show in the crapola fans had to sit through. I won’t dig into Rob Zombie’s remake and sequel. I think of these films as their own thing. Their own pointless, weird, messy thing. [Note: I’ll be calling this film 2018 from now on, to avoid confusion with earlier films.]
So when director David Gordon Green – mostly known for TV work like Vice Principals and Eastbound & Down – said he was going to try a Halloween series reboot? My interest was piqued. Then Jamie Lee Curtis signed on to reprise her role as Laurie, and I got very interested. When Danny McBride was scheduled to help pen the screenplay, I got a little nervous at first. He wrote Your Highness. ‘Nuff said. But he also wrote several E&D episodes, and lauded his horror geek fannishness, so I decided to let my excited self stay pumped. Good thing, because 2018 is easily the best of all that’s come after the original. (All apologies to John Carpenter, who wrote – but didn’t direct – II.)
From the opening credits where a smashed Jack o’ Lantern re-inflates (Michael’s back, baby!) to characters that fall from balconies only to disappear when someone’s back is turned, 2018 gives fans that know their Meyers lots of low-key fan service, but not so much that newbies won’t be able to enjoy the ride. Green channels his inner Carpenter, giving shadows and wide-shots ominous tones, using the same “keep it all in focus” direction Carpenter did with the original. If you don’t know what to focus on, you’re constantly looking everywhere for…something. And it works just as well here.
There’s lots of blue in the nighttime scenes, but mostly it’s beautiful color that belies the horrors hidden in the dark. (By the way, this Haddonfield is gorgeous. Lots of adorable houses, and a homey feel. I’d live there, if it wasn’t Michael’s main hang. Kudos to the folks that picked this neighborhood.) That dark is all the more creepy with Carpenter’s riff on his original theme. The tinkling keys are here, but there’s also a deep, raw booming that’s been added. Tweaked, yes. But still effective as hell.
Let’s get to Laurie, shall we? Curtis is amazing as a woman so deep into her PTSD that nothing and nobody can drag her out of it. She’s had two marriages, a daughter, and a granddaughter, yet she can’t help but keep herself on guard against the inevitability of Michael’s return. Of course everyone thinks she’s gone off the deep end, but that constant vigilance pays off once things go south. Curtis balances loving, protective matriarch with that razors-edge paranoia that she believes will keep her and her loved ones alive. It’s a powerful performance. As daughter Karen, Judy Greer – my favorite “will someone give this woman a lead role worth of her talents” actress – plays the fed-up daughter with just a touch of hope behind all the cynicism that’s built up over the decades. Without spoiling anything, let’s say there’s more to Karen than she lets on, and Greer does a great job portraying all aspects of this character.
The teen fodder (er, characters) get a bit more fleshed-out here than the original. They’re not fully developed, but there’s just enough info on each individual to make a decent decision about them, or be sad when their time is up. I credit most of that to the actors, who do a whole lot with expression and body language. Extra points for drawing me in go to Virginia Gardner as Vicky, Allyson’s friend who’s stuck babysitting while everyone else is getting their Halloween shenanigans on. Gardner gets a lot of screen time with her charge – and I’ll get to him in a sec – so she’s able to turn Virginia into an incredibly likable character I really rooted for. Add in the connection she has with her charge Julian, and their scenes are some of the best non-Laurie moments in the movie. Speaking of Julian, young actor Jibrail Nantambu walks the fine line between sassy and precocious perfectly. His Julian has the best lines of the entire film, and Nantambu’s performance is so enjoyable I can’t wait to see more from him.
There’s the obligatory doctor who knows exactly what Michael is. The late, great Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis is no longer with us (but do keep an ear out, as you’ll hear his voice-over in the film’s opening scene), so we get Haluk Bilginer as Dr. Sartain, Loomis’ former protege that may be just as obsessed as Loomis. Sartain is a bit over-the-top, but as the same can be said of Loomis, I’ll give him a pass. Sartain is intriguing, but doesn’t really give much to the story beyond the usual exposition and obsession. This character’s strange arc is the only weird-in-a-bad-way hiccup in the joint. But it is there.
2018 does get a bit ickier than the original. Not by much, but there’s definitely more red to be seen. Green seems to have kept to Carpenter’s “less is more” aesthetic, but be warned there are a few scenes that may gross out the casual horror viewer. I loved them though, and these scenes don’t overstay their welcome. Hints and flashes are the rule here, and that works on a terrified mind better than Karo Syrup overload. Special tip-of-the-hat to the Foley artists; they came up with some delightfully gruesome sounds that crank the shudders to eleven. Bravo.
What really makes 2018 work is that the story keeps Michael an enigma. There’s no backstory, no sister, no “Cult of Thorn” *sigh* to try to explain it all away. Here, Michael is just a psychotic killer who happens to have fixated on the girl who got away. That he’s able to slaughter a bunch of people along the way is simply icing on his bloody cake. He’s a killing machine with dead eyes. A Great White Shark that comes around during the most glorious holiday of them all. While the ending can go either way – it’s wrapped up nicely, but there is the slight hint of a sequel – I hope things stop here. Laurie, and Michael, have already traveled so far for so long. It’s time to give them a rest. Let’s let them enjoy a helluva good exit.
#Protip: Keep an eye out for P.J. Soles – aka Lynda from the original film – as Allyson’s teacher. It’s a quick cameo, but it’s totally awesome. Like, totally.