By Christopher Henry
One of the most iconic sub-genres of horror is the “slasher film”. Originating in movies like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it has spawned hundreds of popular film series including Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. But one of the more popular and consistently re-imagined slasher film franchises is the “Halloween” films.
The original Halloween movie was released in 1978 and served as a break-out role for then-newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis. Its story centers around 17-year-old Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) being stalked by the masked serial killer and mental patient, Michael Myers (Nick Castle). Myers had been imprisoned in a sanitarium for 15 years after killing his sister. Following his escape, he goes on a murderous rampage and takes the lives of Laurie’s three friends. Laurie is able to fend off Michael until his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, shoots and eventually apprehends Michael. The film was followed by a 6 sequels that each brought about slight alterations to the origin story. Universal Pictures’ most recent Halloween film acts as a sequel to the original film only and essentially retcon all of the other films that came after.
This new story takes place 4 decades after the events of the first movie. Michael has escaped the mental hospital once again and heads back to his hometown for seemingly no other reason than to continue his murderous spree. Laurie Strode is now a recluse suffering from PTSD since Michael’s attack and has spent years training and weaponing her home in preparation for his escape. This lifestyle has alienated her from most of society including her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Michael’s latest onslaught leads him directly into Laurie’s path, setting up a thrilling confrontation 40 years in the making.
The movie has many positive elements that will satisfy primarily longtime fans of the story and its characters. The film is stylistically shot in a way that closely matches the original movie, triggering not only nostalgia but lending a classic and authentic feel to the imagery. John Carpenter’s music is excellently woven throughout the movie and remains one of its most haunting elements. There are several nods to the previous sequels which will equally thrill and confuse fans of the franchise. One scene in particular subverts the typical roles that Strode and Myers had previously played. It is Laurie who vanishes from frame and stalks Michael from the shadows, demonstrating triumphantly that the prey has now become the hunter. The film’s greatest saving grace is Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance as Laurie Strode. This is her 5th time playing the iconic heroine and Curtis clearly knows her character inside and out. She understands her trauma, her strength, and the importance moments of her journey. Every expression is purposeful, as she expertly portrays a damaged survivor consumed by revenge. Nick Castle and the rest of the cast also provide solid performances that help save the film from some of its flaws.
Nonetheless, it is riddled with missed opportunities and confusing story elements that are often only partially explored or abandoned completely. The question of whether Michael is simply a mentally ill human being or a purely evil force is raised but never answered. In addition, the dialogue consistently points to the duality and emotional link that exists between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode’s characters. Their lives were irrevocably shaped and affected by each other and yet even at the film’s conclusion we aren’t given any catharsis or a sense closure between these two characters. We were shown a woman who has obsessively waited years for this confrontation and the conclusion fails to pay off or match that emotional set-up. Considering the talent that Jamie Lee Curtis possesses, the filmmakers had an opportunity to deliver a truly emotional resolution and that was sadly not seized. They also made the controversial decision to remove the brother and sister relationship between Laurie and Michael that once existed in the canon. That relationship provided Michael with a logical motivation as to why he was fixated on Laurie. Removing that element not only makes his motivation confusing, but allowing it to remain could have added more weight and complexity to their impending stand-off.
The film also suffers from numerous pacing problems. The exploration of its characters felt very rushed and as a result, most of the exposition is conveyed through quick and dismissive dialogue. Perhaps the most confusing issues with the movie are characters who initially appear to have an important role in the story and are dropped with little to no explanation. Two examples of are Alysson’s boyfriend, Cameron, and Michael’s new psychiatrist, Dr. Sartain. Cameron’s only purpose in the story is to take Alysson’s phone, effectively cutting her off from the other characters in crisis. You could completely edit him out of the film and it would make little difference to the plot. Dr. Sartain’s character is an even greater disappointment. He was given an interesting motivation in the movie, revealing that he orchestrated Michael’s escape in order to examine him in the wild. However, he is swiftly killed after this revelation and with him an interesting and significant plot development is thrown out the window.
Based on the picture’s 1 hour and 46 minute runtime, I would surmise that much of this film is strewn about the cutting room floor. An additional 25 to 30 minutes could round it out a little more, provide additional character insight and deliver an emotionally satisfying ending. I would give this film a B rating. It is redeemed by the performances, cinematography, and score. The nostalgia of seeing these characters and the desire to root for Jamie Lee Curtis will be satisfying enough for most fans. However, this film will inevitably disappoint others with its lack of focus, heavy editing and inconclusive plot details. Despite this, it will likely still be a financial success and produce yet another sequel which will hopefully introduce more interesting plot points and answer some necessary questions.