Forty years ago, Laurie Strode had the Worst. Halloween. Ever.
A silent, relentless killer named Michael Myers roamed the streets of (the fictional) Haddonfield, Illinois, stalking babysitters and taking lives. Young Laurie barely survived. After being wounded seemingly fatally, Myers vanished into the night, leaving Laurie a screaming wreck.
David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” picks up exactly 40 years after John Carpenter’s iconic film of the same name ends, ignoring every previous sequel for a sharp combo of fan service, humor and stabbing. Lots of stabbing. And impalements. Can’t forget a good impalement.
Ultimately, however, “Halloween,” written by Green, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride, isn’t really a movie about a serial killer; it’s a movie about trauma over time, how it shapes us, deforms us and runs our lives.
When we see present-day Laurie (a terrific Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her iconic role), it is clear this is not the terrified girl from 40 years ago. She has gone full-Linda-Hamilton-from-“Terminator 2,” Sarah Conner as a heavily armed grandmother.
This stance has come at a price. Twice divorced, probably alcoholic, Laurie is alienated from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer with never enough to do, as usual), who was raised in essentially a survivalist household, perpetually on guard for Myers’ return. Laurie struggles to maintain a relationship with her surprisingly normal granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Allyson would like to know her grandmother better, but Karen, still a wee bit of a mess from her own lunatic upbringing, is reluctant.
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Green gives Myers an appropriately mythic opening. Two British podcasters interested in the Myers case come to the sanitarium where he is kept and are escorted to their subject by Myers’ psychiatric doctor Sartain (Haluk Bilginer).
Green shoots a mess of extreme close-ups, a few establishing shots, then shows us the checkerboard rec area, where Myers stands in his own space, back to us, surrounded by other, increasingly agitated patients as the journalists try to get a rise out of Myers. Smash cut to opening credits that pay tribute to the original. Perfect.
As you might imagine, things go a bit wrong when Sartain (whose plotline gets more than a little silly) and some guards attempt to transfer Myers to a new facility. (Has a prisoner transfer in a thriller ever gone well? Those buses roll over so easily.)
Soon, Myers finds his true face again. He is back on the street, 40 years to the night after his rampage, and man, is he ready to kill.
“Halloween” is a solid flick throughout, but it pops every second Curtis is on screen. A smarter actress than her career would suggest, she transmits the stakes here with an emotional heft that never, ever veers into hysteria. She knows exactly how dangerous Myers is, and nobody else does.
A solid supporting cast gets most of the laugh lines. Miles “I should be in a Jack White biopic” Robbins, Dylan Arnold and Drew Scheid play Allyson’s teenage friends, who are exactly as disappointing (in different ways) as you might expect. You probably know what happens to them. National treasure Toby Huss (who has looked 60 for a decade) plays Karen’s husband, a nice guy who tries hard to keep the peace between his wife and mother-in-law.
Green sprinkles the flick with tributes to the original (including a reversal of sorts of the 1978 film’s most famous scene, which nearly prompted a standing ovation from the audience when the movie screened at Fantastic Fest).
But this is Curtis’ show; her third-act confrontation with the man who destroyed Strode’s life plays out with tension and chills. The movie is not without some flaws, but Green and Curtis have given the original the bookend it deserves.