The New 'Halloween' Is Kind of Fun, and Kind of Dumb (Review)
The Halloween franchise has had a history much like many other horror movies, littered with bad sequels, reboots, unnecessary additions to the villain's backstory and, more than anything, diminishing returns. We've seen legendary horror icon Micheal Myers depicted as a relative of his most tortured victim, a cursed murderer preventing the apocalypse, and a psychopath fixated on the ghost of his dead mother. So when a new entry in the franchise was announced, simply titled Halloween and featuring original actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle returning as Laurie Strode and Myers, it was hard for me to really get that excited. Horror movies are relatively cheap to make, so whenever a new one is released the question is usually this: is this a production company capitalizing on a franchise's name to make money or is this an actual attempt to reinvent a classic? When it comes to Halloween, these intentions are unclear, but the results are largely middling.
Halloween finds Laurie Strode shortly before the 40th anniversary of her near-death experience with Micheal Myers, and she is not exactly doing well. Affected deeply by her run-in with death, and convinced that Myers will one day come home again, Laurie has become a sort of niche doomsday prepper, fitting her house with extra security and training herself in the use of firearms. Naturally, her obsession has led the rest of her family to view her as somewhat of a nut, with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) almost completely cutting her out and doing everything in her power to keep her at a distance from Allyson (Andi Matichak), Karen's daughter. Without spoiling too much (not that this will really surprise anyone), Myers does in fact manage to escape, sending Laurie on a desperate quest to take down the semi-supernatural terror and protect her family.
Laurie's journey has a natural conclusion; that being whether she will be able to deal successfully with her trauma or let it control her. But while the beginning and ends of the movie highlight this theme, the middle chunk plays out more like a grab bag of ideas that the director had for a Halloween film. Of course, there are the typical horror movie teenagers and other easy to hate characters, there to be killed in creative ways by Myers. These peak in creativity fairly early, which unfortunately means there is a lot of Micheal Myers stabbing people and nailing them to walls with different sharp objects. Almost none of the characters killed feature prominently enough for their deaths to matter, but on the plus side, two of the film's most obnoxious caricatures, a pair of British true crime podcasters whom we are told have won many awards but are clearly terrible at their jobs, are dispatched quickly.
It is hard to fault Halloween for sticking to this tried-and-true formula established by the 1978 original, especially since it can at times be very effective. While jump-scares are relatively light, James Jude Courtney (and Castle to a lesser degree) is such an imposing presence as the new Micheal Myers that he makes any murder sequence seem instantly more terrifying just by being in it. Watching him stand and stare silently before brutally taking down targets effectively invokes the spirit of the original without beating the audience over the head with references or callbacks. This is made even more clear when the callbacks are implemented in the ham-fisted way that callbacks often are. While an inspired sequence references the finale of the first film but with Strode and Myers' roles reversed, it goes on for so long that it jumps from a clever wink and a nod to the equivalent of the writers yelling "Hey you! You remember Halloween, right?!"
Frankly, Halloween is also kind of dumb in parts. Most characters besides the three Strode girls seem to mostly exist just to move the plot forward. Besides the aforementioned podcasters, there is also a Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a psychiatrist who floats in and out of the story at his own discretion, but mainly to get the more important characters to more convenient locations so that the plot can move forward. His motivations are absurd and cartoonish, and Frank Hawkins (Will Patton), a sheriff with an emotional stake in the fight against Myers, doesn't fare much better. Almost 100% of the heavyweight acting comes from Jamie Lee Curtis and Andi Matichak. Curtis' traumatized Laurie Strode is both nuanced and affecting, and Curtis does a masterful job portraying a woman who is trying to remain strong in the face of her worst fear. Matichak, while not given the opportunity to wield such a strong arc, manages to play a charming and troubled teenager without resorting to being obnoxious and exaggerated, a balancing act that often seems damn near impossible for up and coming actors.
The music, a slight modification on original director John Carpenter's original score (created by Carpenter himself), is also somewhat of a mixed bag. While it's fun to hear the ominous score and iconic notes of the original, there are times when it is glaringly obvious that those 1978 sound effects aren't used anymore for a reason. Which. really, is a good way to sum of the movie as a whole. In an attempt to recapture and recreate what worked about the original movie, the new Halloween has inadvertently ignored many of the steps that films have made since that movie came out. Elements like an uncomplicated plot and a straightforward but menacing villain work, but others, like a cheesy score and forgettable stock characters, just don't hold up.