2018, R, 109 min. Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Virginia Gardner, Miles Robbins, Will Patton, Toby Huss, Jefferson Hall.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Oct. 19, 2018
When David Gordon Green announced he was taking on the Halloween franchise, there was general befuddlement. Green's métier (aside from diversions into stoner comedy à la Pineapple Express and Your Highness) has always been damaged people: those left with scars so deep that they influence every movement they make. So it's the Green that made Joe, not the one that directed 12 episodes of sports comedy Eastbound & Down, that takes on the legacy of Oct. 31, 1978, in Haddonfield, Ill., and what that night did to Laurie Strode, the sole survivor of the babysitter murders.
Ignoring the entire convoluted mythology of the seven sequels (aside from some delicate Easter eggs that never feel intrusive), Green and co-writer Danny McBride go to the basics of the franchise: Laurie (Curtis) survived the massacre, and has lived knowing that Michael Myers is still alive in a state-run mental institution. The damage that has inflicted on her, knowing that the bogeyman is still alive.
The trigger for the return of the Shape (played in part by Castle, the original man under the mask, and by Courtney for the more physical and visceral scenes) is the intrusion into his asylum of a pair of British podcasters working on a Serial-esque show about the killings. Rob Zombie's controversial and (I'll say it) underrated reboot tried to create a real-world Michael, explaining his pathology as nature and nurture: Green's version is that pure, unstoppable force of evil, as described in a recording by the late Dr. Loomis (a stellar imitation of Donald Pleasence). But it's not Michael that's interesting, it's Laurie. After Curtis went toe-to-toe with him as some form of avenging angel in what was supposed to be their final encounter in 1998's Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, now she shines in a remarkable performance as a self-described two-time divorcée basket case. Her trauma is echoed in her daughter Karen (Greer, finally given a meaty role as the adult who has tried to flee her mother's neuroses), and her granddaughter Allyson (Matichak).
What's important here is the years of change, the time elapsed: Michael has been trapped in amber, immobile, never communicating, waiting for the day that he gets to do the only thing he desires – to kill and kill again. Laurie has been dealing with what he did, and it has cost her everything. Green and co-writers McBride and Jeff Fradley's thesis – beyond the very effective gore – is really about how we process these kinds of events, showing both the strengths and limitations of Laurie's response (basically, go paranoid survivalist) and Karen's touchy-feely approach, with Allyson left suspended between the two.
With original director John Carpenter's blessing, Green manages something that is both a tribute to and an evolution of the 1978 classic, with moments designed to create resonances that are not just re-enactment but part of his bigger theme of trauma-causing scars (there are also, in a nod to his days as an Austin resident, a couple of subtle visual nods to the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). He keeps the necessary sense of dread – after all, the original is built around the inevitability of the murders, and Green keeps most of the actual deaths offscreen, instead leaping from fear to discovery. It's a thumb in the eye to a genre where the idea of a cool kill has often buried narrative, and one that is well placed. He may have been an unlikely choice, but undoubtedly an incredibly effective one.