n trailers and TV spots, the 2018 Halloween leans heavily on Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode the Badass. She’s been waiting 40 years to kill her tormentor, Michael Myers, practicing her marksmanship and building out her home defenses, right down to the hidden bunker beneath her kitchen counter. But what’s not captured in advertising is how much Laurie hurts, how much she encounter with Michael as a teenager upended her life forever, damaging her family and future. Halloween may not be subtle about how Laurie deals with her trauma (for example, by chugging any alcohol at hand), but it’s still surprisingly heart-rending to see a slasher movie deal so forthrightly with the wreckage its killers leave behind. More than just a 40-year-old grudge match, Halloween is about generational damage, as Michael’s violence is visited upon Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
But Halloween needs more than the Strode women to be a proper slasher. While much of what you’ll read about the new Halloween are the ways in which it’s innovative, it’s clear the moment Michael attacks a gas station just how much 2018’s Halloween isn’t a deconstruction, but a slasher movie down to its knife-scraped bones. The body count is high and knifes poke out the other side as Michael stabs his way across Haddonfield, Illinois.
David Gordon Green and his co-writers, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals) pay close attention to the 1978 original, resurfacing lessons other sequels lost. This new Halloweenisn’t referential or stuffed with easter eggs. There’s no embarrassing shout-outs. (It’s one of several ways Halloween is a better sequel to a decades-old franchise than The Force Awakens.) Instead, there are smart inversions of moments from the original, one of which sent up a roar of cheering in my theater.
In both the 1978 original and 2018’s Halloween, we spend substantial time viewing events from Michael’s perspective. Unlike in sequels, where Michael pops up anywhere and everywhere, seemingly omnipresent, there’s a deliberate, lumbering reality to where and how Michael stalks. In ‘78, the camera follows Michael following Laurie; in ‘18 we watch as Michael bludgeons and cuts a swathe of destruction through adjoining houses. When he disappears around one corner, his subsequent move doesn’t teleport him somewhere else. Instead, we wait for him to reemerge, our breaths held, as his next victim looks out the blinds towards us. Michael is deliberate and constant in this latest Halloween in ways he rarely was in previous, inferior sequels.
Unlike the sex-charged Rob Zombie versions, full of high school girls who talk just like Zombie’s omnipresent, foulmouthed bumpkins (who happen to listen to music preferred by a middle-aged man), the ‘18 Halloween feels more naturally teenaged than any slasher since Scream. Like in the original, teenage life is dangerous in Halloween because of the separate society high schoolers have from adult life. The slasher genre post- Halloween has commonly moralized teenage sex and drug use, making the sexpots and potheads easy victims. (This is not as true in the original Halloween, where Laurie shares a joint in a car.) In contrast, the latest Halloween takes Allyson’s high school drama as seriously as the end of Laurie’s decades-long ceasefire with Michael.
All of this makes for a Halloween that’s characterful, surprisingly funny and one of the best horror movies of 2018. But this generational split narrative does have downsides. Gone is the tight focus and effortless plotting of the original, which could be as easily followed on mute. The plot of this Halloween feels more episodic and less unrelentingly real-time as the original. After smashing up the Haddonfield trick-or-treat scene, Halloween takes a breather, teeing up events for the final confrontation miles away, at Laurie’s forest compound. This requires a character decision many will loathe, but I found charming because it mirrors our own inability to understand what makes Michael tick (and presumably the writers’ frustration at same). Regardless, this plot turn is quickly overshadowed by Laurie and Michael’s fist-clenching face-off.
It’s a showdown that’s remarkable for its sustained tension as well as its restraint. This isn’tFreddy vs. Jason, with Laurie going knife-to-knife against the Boogeyman with martial arts. Instead, it feels calculated in a way an encounter obsessed over for decades deserves to be. And, like all of the best-laid plans, it quickly falls to pieces. It may be Myers driven into the closet with the slatted doors this time, but Halloween reminds us why Michael is the original Boogeyman, and still the best.