'Halloween' kicks off Fantastic Fest in smart, scary style
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, and took five lives, including many of Laurie’s friends. Young Laurie barely survived the attack. After being wounded seemingly fatally, Myers vanished into the night, leaving Laurie a 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.
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 Laurie Strode (a terrific Jamie Lee Curtis), she has gone full Linda Hamilton from “Terminator 2,” Sarah Conner as a heavily armed grandmother.
Twice divorced, probably alcoholic, she is alienated from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer, 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 granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
Green gives Myers an appropriately mythic opening. Two British podcasters interested in the Myers case come to the sanitarium where he is kept, 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 area, back to us, surrounded by other, increasingly agitated patients as the podcasters 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.
“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.
The 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 that nearly prompted a standing ovation from the audience).
But this is Curtis’ show; her third-act confrontation with the man who destroyed Strode’s life plays out with tension and chills. While not without flaw, Green and Curtis have given the original the bookend it deserves.