Even more than the 40 years worth of sequels it spawned, or even the entire slasher horror sub-genre it practically birthed, probably the most unexpected and wholly unintended outcome of John Carpenter’s eternally influential 1978 thriller HALLOWEEN is the ridiculously convoluted continuity built over five directly related sequels and two reboot films. Who would have ever thought that the sleek, suspenseful, and — most importantly — *simple* tale of masked killer stalking and murdering teenage babysitters over the course of one Halloween night would lead to a jumbled mess of plot and character inconsistencies and contradictions, and *multiple* alternate timelines, not even counting last decade’s pair of refreshed-by-design Rob Zombie-directed films? The fact that David Gordon Green’s 2018 addition to the series bears none of the usual indicators of a sequel in its title and simply shares the name of the original film is a succinct and bold mission statement: to bring this unwieldy series back to the bare essential basics — and he, armed with original, legendary leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis, get that easier said than job done in entertaining, if unavoidably familiar, fashion.
Carpenter and original co-writer Debra Hill are themselves largely responsible for the character and story mess that developed over the last 40 years, thanks to a rather out-of-nowhere but completely game-changing twist in their script for 1981’s HALLOWEEN II: the reveal that the first film’s “final girl” Laurie Strode (Curtis) was the sister of masked murderer Michael Myers. The arbitrary and forced familial connection then informed, if not completely dominated, all of the related sequels ever since, and was the very core of Zombie’s revisionist pair of films. In a rather controversial choice, Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley have truly stripped the premise down to the basic 1978 foundation, completely ignoring any and all sequels that came before this one. So in this latest revised timeline (the mainline series’ *third*, if keeping count: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 being the first; 1, 2, 7, 8 being the other), Myers (played by, in an inspired move, his 1978 portrayer Nick Castle, along with James Jude Courtney) was apprehended by authorities not long after his disappearance at the end of the first film and has spent the last 40 years behind bars. Laurie may no longer be a blood relation (addressed in one of a few cheeky throwaway in-joke lines), but Michael still remains a looming presence over her life to this day. The lingering trauma of that fateful night has resulted in her being a virtual shut-in with a paranoid obsession to prepare for her tormentor’s possible (or, in her mind, inevitable) escape, leading to a strained relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), whom she trained for the day since she was a child; and teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
Of course, Laurie’s preparations and training prove to be justified, for Michael is soon back roaming the streets of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night after a botched prison transfer. From this moment on, all of the convolutions to set up this new scenario, including a subplot about a pair of podcasters that proves to be little more than an exposition dump device, pretty much fall by the wayside as the film settles into the expected pattern: Michael kills various people on his way to a climactic confrontation with Laurie. While he does not stray from the time-proven formula, Green hits the required beats with finesse, with one elegantly creepy long take sequence that follows Michael‘s predator-prey stalking of one unfortunate resident being a standout example. Given that the template Carpenter set has played out to the point of parody over the years, there are some welcome, but not distracting nor excessive, dollops of humor, which certainly came courtesy of McBride’s pen.
To put it mildly, the slasher genre has never been the most generous to actors, but Curtis here reminds why she has been the shining exception to the rule. In a true testament to how she brings her well thought-out A-game to an assignment most would dismiss as a throwaway (or, in this case, an easy paycheck), the Laurie found here is a vastly different take from Curtis’s previous decades-later return to the role in 1998’s HALLOWEEN: H20. If that version of the character was a more proactive, pro-forma “kick-ass” one informed less by story history than the ’90s SCREAM style of horror (and, to a certain degree, Curtis’s celebrated turn four years prior in TRUE LIES), the Laurie here, while certainly having a core of strength, has a deeply haunted quality that more believably tracks with the character as left at the end of the first film. Laurie puts on a convincing face of toughness, and indeed she has prepared well for her long awaited moment of truth, but Curtis makes it clear in her eyes that fear is the great motivator here, and for all the weapons training she has had since, she’s still that young woman cowering in the closet, knife reluctantly in hand. So when her face finally meets his mask after all this time, there’s a weight and stakes to the moment unlike any similar one in any other film in the genre.
But the real bread and butter of a film in this genre is the fright and fun factor, and this film delivers enough of both. If Green is ultimately plays it a bit safe by remaining beholden to formula and fan service with his HALLOWEEN, any lack of genuine surprise is made up for by the reliability of its craft, energy, and palpable love for Carpenter’s durable creation and the popcorn power of a shamelessly simple thrill ride experienced with a cinema audience.
By Michael Dequina