This 11th film in the longest-running horror series ditches the previous timelines and continuity (or lack thereof) and positions itself as the direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original. A bold move, as a lot of muddled-yet-beloved horror history is scrapped by director David Gordon Green. That said, a brazen retcon can be a wise move for a flagging franchise, and this one sees Michael Myers back in Haddonfield, 40 years after the tragic night that saw Laurie Strode (a returning and terrific Jamie Lee Curtis) escape her masked assailant. In the intervening years, we learn that she’s alienated family members (chiefly her daughter, a well-cast but somewhat wasted Judy Greer), and taken a page out of Sarah Connor’s survivalist handbook by obsessively prepping for the eventuality that “The Shape” inevitably escapes. And would you believe it, an inexplicable late-in-the-day transfer from a psychiatric hospital to a maximum-security complex goes awry, leaving the kitchen knife-wielding juggernaut to resume carving his way through trick-or-treating suburbia.
The result is the strongest Halloween film since 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Steve Miner’s criminally overlooked post-Scream reboot of the series and Jamie Lee Curtis’ then formal return as Laurie Strode. This is hardly a glowing endorsement, as the Halloween franchise has significantly more downs than ups; the last two decades in particular have not been kind to fans, and include series nadir Halloween: Resurrection as well as try-hard auteur Rob Zombie’s drab reimagining of the series with his dual helping of Halloween and Halloween II. Still, this year’s soft-reboot feels like Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley all have a healthy appreciation for the source material and understand the slasher subgenre. They pay their respects to Carpenter with not one but two slick and appropriately tense tracking shots that see a sporadically obscured Michael wander the neighbourhood and wantonly murder from house to house. The script even pleasingly leads to a sly comment on the hallowed “final girl” slasher trope when three generations of Strode women face down the lone bogeyman in the third act.
The issue, however, is that while this is inarguably more treat than trick, this Halloween is nowhere near as sphincter-tighteningly tense as it should have been. The script oscillates in quality throughout and the narrative overstays its welcome when it strays away from Laurie to focus on her granddaughter (a one-note Andi Matichak) and her soon-to-be-sliced-and-diced mates. You also get the impression that the film relies a bit too heavily on nostalgia with the return of the Haddonfield setting and Carpenter’s musical score, resting on audience appreciation of the original in lieu of crafting a less tame instalment. If you really want to see a PTSD-suffering Laurie facing her demon once more, it soon becomes apparent that Halloween: H20 did it just as well, if not better, 20 years ago. This new instalment shares a similar structure to the 1998 outing (that now never happened) – a great opening, a strong finish and a middle act that’s hit-and-miss – and even shamelessly mimics its dread-laden gas station bathroom scene. 2018’s Halloween is a huge step in the right direction; but once the initial joy that this resurrection isn’t a dud starts to fade, you’re left with a perfectly entertaining film that earns its place in the upper echelons of the Halloween cinematic pantheon, but isn’t worthy of completely wiping the 40-year old slate clean, or sharing the exact same name as its iconic predecessor.
Halloween | Directed by David Gordon Green (US 2018), with Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer. Starts October 25.
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