Zack Hohenstein, E23 Reporter

Forty years have passed since Laurie Strode’s first encounter with Michael Myers. John Carpenter’s 1978 film “Halloween” introduced two of the genre’s most iconic characters and horror filmmakers have been trying to emulate their success ever since. Unfortunately, the series has subsequently been plagued by mediocre copycat films including sequels and reboots of Carpenter’s original. The effect that the film had on the industry is indisputable. It practically invented the slasher genre. With its iconic characters, score and mood, “Halloween” is a hard act to follow up. This is clear in director David Gordon Green’s new movie, also called “Halloween.” The sequel never quite feels as fresh or effective. It is certainly not an iconic horror masterpiece as the original was. But then again, it does not have to be; It would be unfair to expect. Instead, Green has done what many others have failed to do: create a “Halloween” sequel worth its name.

One important detail to keep in mind about this new entry in the franchise is it relates to previous films. In the interest of keeping things simple, let’s just say that it doesn’t. Erasing the franchise’s entire history except for the original, Green’s “Halloween” is a direct sequel to Carpenter’s “Halloween” from so long ago. What does this mean? Laurie Strode, again played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is no longer Michael’s long-lost sister. Now, she is merely a survivor from his original killing spree. She has a daughter, but not the psychic one depicted in previous films. Her son in “Halloween: H20” also has been erased from the series’ lore. Michael also is no longer part of a magic family-killing cult. He is just a man who decided to kill random babysitters in the seventies and has been incarcerated ever since. There is no apparent motive for this behavior, though there are many who search for one in the new film. This reality is far scarier and more intriguing than the bloated and sloppy pieced together lore from the now defunct sequels between the two “Halloweens”.

The premise is satisfyingly simple. Michael escapes the psychiatric facility he’s called home for forty years and returns to setting of his killing spree all those years ago: his fictional hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. This is where Laurie Strode still resides. She has been preparing for his return, outcasted by the community, her paranoia has alienated her family and friends. Her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) also live in Haddonfield but are distant from Laurie. However, they are all thrown together to fight for their lives when Michael returns.

Recapturing the unsettling mystery behind Michael Myers is the key that makes this new film work. Things are far more disturbing when there appears to be no rhyme or reason for his disposition to simply murder people. Light on the jump scares that have become the annoying habit of modern horror flicks, “Halloween” relies instead on its unsettling atmosphere and updated musical theme to achieve its haunting atmosphere and chilling mood. More than anything though, this movie is fun.

Despite a slow start, Green’s film finds its feet about halfway through and doesn’t stop running. As expected, brutality is not in short supply here. Necks are snapped, fingers are shot off and jaws are ripped open. At one point, a flashlight is shoved through a severed head creating a wonderfully morbid jack-o-lantern. Many of these scenes pay homage to the original in their execution as well, adding to the welcome nostalgic feeling that the film most certainly aimed for. These moments delivered on expectations. What wasn’t expected were the more comedic elements of the movie. While co-writer Danny McBride has his roots in making people chuckle, the franchise is not known for its sense of humor. Though this was not my first time laughing during a “Halloween” flick, it was my first time laughing at intended humor. Albeit there are a few comedic bits that do not work, including a boy telling his father that he’d rather go to dance class than go fishing. But for the most part, this added dose of levity worked toward the film’s benefit.

The performances in Green’s movie are solid enough. Curtis plays her role of Laurie Strode for the fifth time in her career. Executing the trauma, fear and resilience that would come with the character’s past, this is her most complex portrayal yet. For the most part, it works. The young cast of the film is more impressive, though. Allyson and her friends are the newest batch of degenerate high school kids who try to escape Michael’s butcher knife and together they supply the movie with its best moments.

While the newest entry in the series is far superior to many that came before it, there are some detracting factors that prevent it from reaching the height of the first film. The plot’s twists and turns have been twisted and turned on many occasions already. The routine can’t help but feel redundant at times. An underdeveloped and silly cliché subplot involving Michael’s psychiatrist headline some of the more frustrating moments of the film. Like all slasher movies, the characters make stupid decisions in crucial situations. For the enjoyment of the film, a viewer is casually asked to overlook these scenarios and just accept that they are laws of the genre.

Green’s “Halloween” works. It all feels right even if it’s not profoundly necessary. The story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode is put under a fresh perspective and this provides just enough change to avoid being a bore. Updating the story for modern audiences, the cast and crew of the film have crafted a quality sequel that leaves the door open for future entries. Whether or not these entries should actually be made is a different question.

Official Rating: 3.5/5

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,