There are two opposing films running simultaneously in David Gordon Green’s Halloween, a reboot/sequel of an endlessly rebooted/sequelized series. One, led by Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as Laurie Strode, pushes the horror genre into more cerebral, violent terror, with an eye on the very real effects of childhood trauma and assault. The other larger, dumber film drags that first one screaming back to the ’80s like some 50ish guy thrusting his high school yearbooks into your face to shriek about how cool he was in the greatest American decade — bruh!
Yeah, I know John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s first Halloween was released in 1978, not the 1980s. But Green’s film’s slasher lineage doesn’t even stretch back to his supposed source material; it’s as if Halloween’s knockoffs had replaced the original in the director’s mind. What made the 1978 version work was the overwhelming sense of dread from being the third party to Michael Myers’ surveillance of these teens. The serial killer watches, and sometimes we watch him watch, and other times we simply wait to see him watching. Too often, in this version, Green doesn’t seem to know where to put the camera to elicit that sense of surveilling or being surveilled. Worse, that incompetence often works hand in hand with overwrought dialogue.
Take a scene of two bumbling police officers staked out in a car once Michael Myers is on the loose. The camera’s POV is what it would be in a comedy, inside the car, cutting back and forth between the cops as they debate báhn mì sandwiches. Characters chattering amid murders in a horror movie often add crucial texture, as in the original Halloween, when Lynda, Laurie and Annie bitch about school. In that case, though, we have already been shown that Michael is watching the girls from a distance. What they’re saying isn’t important; what matters is their carefree attitude in juxtaposition with a homicidal maniac. Here, there’s no tonal friction. Green’s setups signal us to listen to every inane bit of dialogue, drawing time and energy away from the dread with vanity comedy.
But let’s get to what really works here: Curtis. We meet Laurie in her super-sealed woodsy compound, almost 40 years to the day after the murders that took place in 1978 — this film negates all the previous Halloween sequels. Laurie is a tactical assassin now, training in knives, combat and armory, but not so adept that it becomes implausible. She’s not Rambo; she’s just employing the Malcolm Gladwell rule that expertise comes with 10,000 hours of practice, so she can kill her old assailant if the chance ever presents itself. Soon, a couple of British journalists fashioned in the vein of Serial investigative podcasters pay Laurie for an interview. (Quick aside: Journalists really don’t pay for interviews, guys.) They think Michael Myers’ transfer to a maximum-security prison and subsequent life sentence is a bum deal for him, because maybe he could be rehabilitated, and maybe Laurie just needs to talk with him. Yeah, no.
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Donald Pleasance’s Loomis gave Michael a full-on Diagnosis: Evil decades earlier, and Laurie is not about to extend him any sympathies. What I enjoy most about this hardened, hurting version of Laurie Strode is that she could actually exist. Curtis portrays this infamous victim as bearing all the signs of PTSD: She’s claustrophobic, jittery, a tsunami of conflicting emotions who never sits with her back to a door. She’s also not a great mom. Green and his co-writers, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, have succeeded in creating one compelling antiheroine, but it’s Curtis who acts the shit out of the role.
Too bad that Laurie’s story is only one of this Halloween’s two movies. Whoever made the decision to slash up some hot and horny teens to round out the movie has seriously undercut what might have been a horror achievement of the weight and importance of Get Out, a film in which older women finally get their justice. That vital storyline is not just undercut; this Halloween makes a mockery of it.
Do you know how fucking good Judy Greer is? Do you know how much incompetence it takes to completely waste her in a role like the one she has here, as Laurie’s annoying and futile daughter, Karen? The majority of Karen’s screen time is shared with her dumpy husband (Toby Huss). He actually declares at one point, “Oh, I got peanut butter on my dick,” interrupting Karen’s dialogue, and frankly her entire character’s development, for no other reason but to indulge the filmmakers’ giggles. And then, shoehorned into that mother-daughter tale is another mother-daughter tale, with Allyson Strode (Andi Matichak), and all of her inconsequential buddies who serve only as a series of boring victims as the killer works up to his final boss: Laurie.
All of this brings me to something that needs to be said: Men should not have solely written and directed this movie. The hubris it takes for three men to sit down and think that they’ve churned out the #MeToo message we need right now is just breathtaking. John Carpenter is indeed a horror master, but the original Halloween and its heroine were so fucking memorable because Debra Hill had a heavy hand in writing the girls’ dialogue and characters, imbuing them with whip-smart but relatable personalities and autonomy, rendering the cliché nudity more forgivable. Michael Myers was the murderer but there was no doubt it was always the girls’ story. The new Halloween could have been a game changer. Instead, it’s the drunken blackout after the game — a terrible time with too many men waiting to take advantage of women and their stories.