David Gordon Green’s Halloween has opened to an impressive response. It has surpassed Wes Craven’s Scream as the highest grossing slasher film of all time, and revitalized interest in a series that many thought was long dead. But is the movie good? In short, yes. Green’s Halloween has many moments of cinematic artistry the likes of which the series hasn’t seen since Carpenter’s 1978 original. But the film does have some flaws that just hold it back from true cinematic greatness.
Jamie Lee Curtis can rest assured that she’s not one of those flaws, the actress delivering one of the best performances of her career. Rather than hide from Michael as she did in H20, this iteration of Laurie has spent forty years amassing an arsenal in anticipation for his return. It’s the kind of role most would have played purely for cheers, but Curtis’ strength comes in capturing a profound sadness that has followed this character since 1978. In many ways, Michael is the most important person in Laurie’s life, an obsession that has come at the expense of her family.
Laurie struggles to connect with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). She does an interview purely to get money for Allyson, breaks down at a family dinner, and enters her daughter’s home unannounced in an effort to teach her that she’s not adequately prepared. Her efforts are sincere, but the damage has been done. The conflict between Laurie and her family provides a deeper emotional depth than we see in most slasher films. When they finally face off against the killer, we really want them to succeed.
Judy Greer and Andi Matichak do very well in their respective roles and provide good foils to Curtis. Greer’s Karen is the most distant from Laurie, avoiding contact whenever she can and even stating Laurie isn’t welcome in her home. She also wears a Christmas sweater to distance herself from the holiday of Halloween, a subtle but interesting bit of costume design. Matichak’s Allyson is a lot more understanding. She acts as something of an ambassador between the two, trying and failing several times to get them to connect in some of the film’s more emotional sequences. Ironically, the only force strong enough to bring the family together is Michael. In that regard, Halloween doesn’t disappoint.
James Jude Courtney is excellent as Michael. He manages to find the balance between a normal man and a possibly supernatural force that Castle did so well in the original, which is no wonder since Castle coached Courtney extensively on set. He captures the movements of the original Michael perfectly and has joined the ranks of Castle and Dick Warlock (Halloween II) as the finest performers for the character.
Courtney’s work is showcased in a number of creative sequences. In one sequence, Michael stalks a pair of podcasters at a gas station in order to reclaim his mask. Courtney plays the scene in the background, discreetly picking off members of the staff as he works his way up to his victims. His talents are most evident during one of the film’s centrepieces, a three-minute unbroken shot that follows Michael through multiple houses as he kills people at random. Courtney delivers the scene with an unnerving calmness, which makes the murders seem all the more brutal. It’s the scariest the character has been in a long time.
Another virtue of the film is the score by John Carpenter. Musically, this score is some of Carpenter’s finest work, recreating several musical pieces from the original while also instilling the film with its own unique sound. Rather than simply repeat the piano score of the first, Carpenter’s new soundtrack has an electronic synth motif. It both recalls the original score while propelling it into the modern age. It’s these new pieces by Carpenter that really shine, elevating the film to become something more. Without Carpenter, the film’s weaknesses would have been all the more problematic.
The film’s weaknesses aren’t as numerous as its virtues, but they are noticeable. The first act of the film works very well, but the middle suffers a number of problems. It suffers from a reliance on plot contrivances that come at the expense of some compelling stories. Allyson’s friends Dave (Miles Robbins) and Vicky (Virginia Gardner) instil the film with a certain likability that we usually don’t see in slashers, and are a welcome presence whenever they’re around. But the film spends so much time on other unnecessary side characters that the pair aren’t as developed as Annie and Lynda in the original. To be fair, Dave is given more character than the ill-fated Bob Simms in the original.
Vicky spends most of her scenes babysitting a young boy named Julian, played by Jibrail Nantambu. The pair have wonderful chemistry, and spending more time with them as the original did Laurie and Tommy would have been welcome. The audience certainly wouldn’t have complained as young Nantambu is clearly a favourite of the film. It also would have provided some great opportunities to show Michael’s phantom-like stalking that made the original so unsettling, which the film is sorely lacking in.
Many forget the original spent most of its time following Michael as he prowled the streets in a car, peered through windows, and toyed with his clueless targets before the actual killing. It was this build up, rather than the deaths themselves, that was so effective. Green’s film lacks the same patience as the original, which makes the bite not as sharp. It also would have explained several script issues. In the original, Michael stalks Laurie and her friends all day. In this film, he seemingly happens on Allyson and her friends without any setup.
The weaknesses in the script are especially evident with a pair of subplots, both conceived for relatively small purposes. A romantic subplot about Allyson and a boy going to a dance exists purely for Allyson to lose her cell phone, and a curious story involving Michael’s psychiatrist is introduced seemingly for the sole purpose of getting Michael to Laurie’s doorstep. Both stories are hastily ended once those goals are accomplished, leaving us wondering why the writers didn’t choose more simple methods. Michael, for instance, could have gotten Laurie’s address from the aforementioned podcasters as they already had it along with his mask. It’s a more effective solution, and more simple.
That’s perhaps the film’s biggest problem. It’s too busy. The original film worked because of its simplicity. This script injects several unnecessary characters that bury the ones we want to connect with. Even Laurie’s struggles are often forced to the sidelines, leaving some of the more interesting aspects of her trauma, like remembering her dead friends, unexplored. All the film really needed were the stories of Laurie and her family, Vicky and Dave babysitting Julian, and Will Patton’s Frank Hawkins trying to protect his community. Throw Michael into the mix stalking Allyson and her friends while the rest of the cast is hunting him, and you’ve got the makings of a horror classic. Anything else is only a detriment to the story.
For its flaws, the film thankfully ends on a high note. Halloween delivers a rewarding final confrontation that offers some real closure to the Laurie character. Her trauma with Michael is what drives a rift between her and her family. How poetic is it that his return is what finally brings the three together against a common enemy?
All the elements were in place to make this just as good as the original. That the film came so close in many ways makes Green’s sequel the most frustrating entry in the series. A lot of the other films never had a chance at being great. This one did. But that it misses true greatness doesn’t mean the film is without its virtues. Green and company clearly cared for Carpenter’s film, setting this entry apart from the cynical cash-grabbing titles that preceded it. These filmmakers really slaved to create a worthy sequel, and though they didn’t create a masterpiece, this is perhaps the closest any Halloween sequel will ever come.
Final Verdict – 7.5 / 10
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