After October 31, 1978 Haddonfield, Illinois and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) would never be the same.

John Carpenter’s 1978 indie hit Halloween was a game changer in the horror genre, spawning a slew of sequels and a multitude of imitators. After several sequels, countless retcons to the timeline and a Rob Zombie remake duology, Halloween—yep, just Halloween—is wiping away all of the previous sequel continuity and ready to be the definitive sequel in the series. Halloween was billed as Laurie Strode’s final face-off against the man she only narrowly escaped from forty years prior. It delivers on that premise, with a fair few bumps along the way.

Michael Myers has been imprisoned for forty years. But unfortunately for Haddonfield residents, after a prison transfer goes awry, Myers gets out in the open and is ready to strike again. However, not without the heavily-armed Laurie Strode planning to take him down for good.

Director David Gordon Green has an incredibly strange filmography, ranging from dramas like his critically-acclaimed debut George Washington and last year’s Stronger, to wacky comedies like Pineapple Express and Your Highness. For this film, he made sure that he visually delivered something akin to Carpenter’s original, and he does an admiral job mirroring the style even if he can’t deliver the haunting amount of tension and atmosphere Carpenter is known for. As much as Gordon Green is clearly passionate about the original, he definitely feels like a filmmaker who is new to the genre. Where the film’s direction is at its strongest is when Green employs smooth tracking shots following Myers through Haddonfield. Another successful aspect of this film is the visual call-backs to the original, which Green flips in really effective ways that is sure to satisfy the fans’ hunger for horror.

What frustratingly knocks the film down a peg is Green’s script, along with frequent collaborators Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride. As well as Laurie being an integral part of the story, we are introduced to her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). In the forty years after Michael’s incarceration, Laurie has extensively prepared herself for Michael’s return. Instead of being the vulnerable final girl like in the original, she echoes the toughness of Terminator 2: Judgement Day’s Sarah Connor, praying for Michael to escape so that she can end him—once and for all. Whenever Laurie is on screen the film is at its best, and Jamie Lee Curtis absolutely nails the traumatised yet strengthened nature of Laurie.

But where the film focuses a lot of its attention is Allyson and her friends. While Andi Matichak does a good job in her first prominent feature role, the film spends far too much time with her unlikable friends. Their character’s don’t get developed enough for anyone to care, and are painfully obvious cannon fodder for Michael—with some characters coming off as plot devices who only exist to propel the story along. There’s also a fair amount of comedy which is probably the most modern element of the film in comparison to the first. Some of it doesn’t work, often being starkly awkward and out of place. The humour only fully lands during a standout sequence involving a child (Jibrail Nantambu) who’s being babysat.

The first act focuses heavily on true-crime podcasters Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) who are determined to discover more about the 1978 Haddonfield murders. Unfortunately, the film never sets them to be anything but deliverers of exposition for those who haven’t seen the first film. We are also introduced to Michael’s new psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who Laurie not so subtly refers to as “the new Loomis”. The critiques of the series’ tendency to rationalise Michaels violent behaviour was an interesting meta element to the story, which was depicted through the podcasters and Dr. Sartain. Later sequels in the original canon put this down to him being a part of a Druid-like cult (yep, I’m serious), with Rob Zombie’s remake extensively detailing Michael’s traumatic childhood and home life as rationale for his behaviour. Halloween is actively criticising these characters for trying to understand and sympathise with such a figure. It’s an interesting element which I didn’t grasp until further thought after viewing, but it’s just frustrating that these characters weren’t more interesting.

Halloween is at its strongest when focusing on Karen and Allyson dealing with the trauma that Laurie and her manic behaviour has brought upon them. Allyson grew up in the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy while Karen was forced to train in preparation for Michael’s return. This intergenerational trauma is a compelling story element, but the film rarely pauses to explore it in much depth.

Despite how unfocused the film can be, a very strong third act ends the film on a high note. It brings the action to one central location, delivering some incredibly crowd-pleasing moments.

Halloween delivers just enough goodness to justify its existence, even though the film’s execution is frustrating at worst. It gets the iconic Michael Myers right and he feels like a threatening presence throughout, even though not every kill feels like it delivers on its full potential. Jamie Lee Curtis’s fierce lead performance keeps the film aloft. While Gordon Green hasn’t fully mastered creating a tense atmosphere yet, he does a very solid job visually flashing back to the original. It’s the script which limits the film from being a complete hit, with too many underdeveloped characters and a lack of focus, even though it delivers a great iteration of Laurie Strode.

If we end up getting a sequel—which we will considering its box-office performance in the US—hopefully some of the film’s noticeable kinks are ironed out, then we can get something truly worth a heart palpitation.

 

Halloween is out in selected Perth cinemas now.