John Carpenter’s Halloween is a staple of the horror genre. It was one of the first slashers, and it’s one that has truly stood the test of time. It’s led to a franchise of sequels varying in quality. Star Jamie Lee Curtis has returned for some of them but has gone on record saying that this new Halloween, a direct sequel set 40 years after the original, is the only one of them that had a story worth telling. And she might be right.
Laurie Strode (Curtis) has been petrified her whole life. After the trauma she experienced as a teenager, watching loved ones die at the hands of mysterious masked killer Michael Myers, Laurie’s life has changed forever. The almost crippling PTSD Laurie suffers from has strained all of the relationships in her life, and her family looks at her like she’s crazy. But, she’s done being scared. She’s been preparing for the day that has finally come. Michael Myers has escaped from the psychiatric hospital where he’s been all this time. And on Halloween night, exactly forty years later, Michael and Laurie are ready for battle.
David Gordon Green, who most recently made the excellent Stronger, has created something truly captivating. It has a lot of serious and hard-hitting things to say about family trauma and post-traumatic stress, and it’s also a well-done slasher movie. It tries to have it both ways, but Halloween works best when it’s talking about PTSD. Even though newer characters are sufficiently interesting enough, they feel like filler until we get back to the story of the Strode family. The character of Laurie is so well-observed and drawn, that even newcomers to this franchise will understand why she’s such an iconic character. It would be very easy to look at Laurie Strode as the paranoid, crazy, bitter old woman, and Curtis’ nuanced performance makes that impossible.
Jamie Lee Curtis has played this role off and on for the last four decades, but this performance feels like the one she’s been waiting to deliver for 40 years. Laurie is basically the conspiracy theorist who knows the day of reckoning is coming, but she’s right to, and she’s ready to fight back. I could easily write a full-length accompanying piece to this review about the production design of the Strode home. She’s tucked away in this bunker, and you know everything you need to know about Laurie at this point in her life before Curtis even comes into frame. She’s broken, but she’s tough. She’s loving, but she’s fed up. She’s terrified, but she’s prepared for war.
Green directs this with lots of visual flair and many visual nods to the original movie. It looks and feels like one of the best ‘70s B-movies. It’s very stylized and intense and haunting. Green has a lot of fun with horror movie trappings, but he uses them in an effective way. There’s an eerie, unsettling, relentlessly creepy mood established very early on that doesn’t really let up. The music is also fantastic. Green is reusing versions of the original Carpenter score, with his team putting a new spin on it.
I’m not a massive fan of the Halloween movies so any criticism that might arise from any kind of inconsistency will be lost on me. Having said that, I had a great time with this one. It’s lean, made from basic horror ingredients, and all the more effective for it. The most interesting thing that we get here, however, is the observation of something that’s consistently ignored in the horror genre. What kind of a mark does all of the violence, pain, and trauma inflicted on characters in horror movies leave on its victims? How do these characters deal with post-traumatic stress, nightmares, pain, trauma, and grief? It brings up some interesting ideas, doesn’t explore them completely, but leaves viewers with something to talk about after the show, which is more than you can say for the average slasher flick.