Almost Great: Halloween (2018)

After seven (mostly) ridiculous sequels, a remake, and a sequel to a remake, Jamie Lee Curtis has returned to reprise her role as the original “scream queen” in “Halloween” (2018) (not to be confused with “Halloween” [1978] or “Halloween” [2007]). To make things a little less confusing, and far less ridiculous, the team behind this new Halloween movie decided to ignore everything that happened in the sequels, effectively erasing it all from the lore (Laurie is not Michael's brother in this), in favor of making a direct sequel to the original 1978 classic. This ends up being a great decision, as the effect of “the night he came home,” on the Strode family is what makes this a welcome, but not flawless, addition to the franchise.

The film picks up 40 years after the first film ended. Michael Myers has spent this time detained in a mental institution after being caught at the end of the original film. Everyone’s favorite cheesy Psychiatrist Dr. Loomis has been dead for some time and has been replaced by Dr. Sartain, who has been trying to get Michael to speak for what we assume to be a couple of decades. If this sounds familiar it’s because it probably should; Much of this film plays out like other “soft reboots” we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in recent years (think “Jurassic World” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”). Fortunately, this film decides to do some really neat things that make it far more unique and creative than those other films.

The driving force of this movie is Laurie Strode (played brilliantly by Jamie Lee Curtis), and the way she’s written into this film is far and away the best thing that any filmmaker attached to this property has done in 40 years. While Myers has been literally stuck in an institution, Laurie Strode has been figuratively stuck in one. She’s spent the last 40 years as a sort of “doomsday prepper,” forever haunted by the night Myers came back to Haddonfield and killed many of her friends. Her fear, paranoia, and insistence on being prepared, has been so unhealthy that it at one-point lead to her 12-year-old daughter being taken from her by the authorities, and while many years later she does have a relationship with her family (her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter all play prominently in the film), it’s certainly been strained by damage her trauma has done to her.

I found it interesting that this was the second horror movie this year (the other being the brilliant “Hereditary”) in which the main theme relates to the passing down of family trauma. It was definitely the most interesting aspect of this film and the reason why this is the first film in this series (including the original) to ever make me feel any emotions what-so-ever. There isn’t a member of this family who doesn’t earn your empathy. Whether it be Laurie herself, who clearly has never been able to live a normal life, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who has been dealing with her paranoid mother for decades, or her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who is stuck between them, you can’t help but feel sorry for them. Unfortunately, the film is bogged down in a few areas, and while these issues don’t “break the movie,” they certainly keep it from exceeding expectations.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it’s constantly jumping between the interesting plot that I described above and the standard Hollywood slasher trope of having a bunch of teenagers inserted here and there to act as “knife fodder” for Michael Myers. The teenage characters are clearly placed in the narrative because the horror genre’s key demographic is the 14 – 30-year-old crowd. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly fun to watch Michael slay these dumb kids, but it also feels like the filmmakers (this film was written and directed by David Gordon Green with writing credits also going to Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) weren’t quite willing to risk going all in on their more “grown-up” premise, and it hurts the film tremendously.

Another issue I had with the movie is the same one I have with all of these “soft reboots.” When you take a scene from a classic film, put a spin on it, and throw it back on screen, it can’t help but distract you a bit as you’re immediately taken out of what you’re watching as you begin thinking about the movie being referenced instead. Some of these moments were admittedly neat, and the movie is certainly self-aware (Laurie calls Dr. Sartain “new Loomis” at one point), but the callbacks keep it from feeling wholly original. I will say that the one very welcome callback to the original is John Carpenter’s new score. The music is fantastic, and never gets old.

All of that being said, chances are you don’t care about the minor issues I’ve pointed out, and you’re just there hoping to have fun watching Michael Myers terrorize some people. Well, have I got some news for you: he’s a blast. What this film does to re-energize the character of Michael Myers is amazing. For the first time in 40 years, Michael is scary again. There is nothing cheesy about him. He’s more brutally evil than he’s ever been and watching him “walk and stalk” is likely to be the most fun you’ve had at the cinema this year (the final showdown between Laurie and Michael is especially glee-inducing). Some may complain that the kills in this film are too gory (they were very subdued in the original), but I would disagree. Without spoiling them (that would be criminal), I’ll just say that he does some nasty stuff to people in this, and the camera doesn’t shy away from showing you every on-screen death in graphic detail.

One of the great things about the original “Halloween” was that it was very bare bones. Laurie was a thin character, but that worked to the movie’s strength because it didn’t have a whole lot to say aside from, “we’re scaring the shit out of you.” This one is quite different in that, while still being lean and scary, it has a very emotional story to tell, and it does so far more effectively than I’d imagine most will have anticipated. Unfortunately, it also gets in its own way by losing focus on what makes it special by wasting our time with throwaway characters who you won’t remember five minutes after leaving the theater.

Grade: B

(Make sure you check out our special holiday episode for more discussion on the “Halloween” franchise.)