The Halloween franchise hasn’t had much to gloat about since the release of the original movie. The first sequel had turned a tense movie about stranger danger into a clone of its own clones. Following the third entry, the so-called “Jamie Lloyd trilogy” established a bizarre and non-sensical cult plot that went nowhere and died too slowly. A first attempted reboot in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, attempted to clear the air from the overwrought plotting of the previous films, but ended up being devoid of any meaning or tension. That thankfully ended as soon as Halloween: Resurrection exited theatres. While completely detached from the original films, the Rob Zombie series tried to bring something new and interesting (if mean spirited) to the series. To the loss, perhaps, of the air of mystique surrounding the character of Michael Meyers.
Halloween (2018), then, finds itself in the position of needing to justify its existence by reminding people why there even were so many sequels to that first movie, all while tackling said sequels and their insprations and erasing them in one fell swoop. As such, it ends up telling a story about legacy, obsession, and the intergenerational trauma caused by surviving a night of high-terror, and inescapably feels like three different movies that were meshed together into something that’s both surprisingly cohesive yet somewhat disjointed. And for the first time since the original movie, the series has something that could be called a sequel with content worth watching.
Set forty years after the events of the 1978 movie, Halloween finds protagonist and final girl Laurie Strode still dealing the aftershocks of surviving The Shape’s murderous march, and having spent the majority of her time preparing for the day he would escape custody. Her trauma having shaped her life, she has difficulties developing and maintaining intimate bonds. Her daughter resents her upbringing, as she (rightfully) felt she never got a healthy upbringing. Her granddaughter wants more of her in her life, but has trouble understanding what she went through, and wishes she’d just get over things. She’s been through three divorces. Basically: an emotional wreck. Who can fight, shoot various types of guns, and has a house that’s armoured up for an invasion.
There are some thematic cues shared between Halloween and H20, to be sure. But while H20 was about Laurie trying to escape her trauma by sheer avoidance, only to have to confront Michael when he actually shows up (turning from victim to fighter with an alarmingly rapid speed), this new one is about Laurie wishing for a confrontation, so that she can turn the tables on him when he inevitably does. If H20 was a misaligned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this Halloween is Moby Dick with a kitchen knife.
Michael, meanwhile, spent the last 40 years in dead silence. The early parts of the movie are about people trying to understand his motives, and the lengths they will go to get a reaction from him. Really, they’re a stand-in for followers of the series’ quest to understand Michael, as well as previous series directors and writers’ attempts at giving meaning to his actions. And the movie gives them a simple answer, as Michael (now acting once more as The Shape) systematically kills them for no discernible reason other than “they were there”.
Really, that’s all there is to it. They were there. They had something he wanted. He kills them, he takes it, he moves on. There’s nothing to understand about his motivations, no reasoning. Michael wants, so Michael takes. Simple as that. If this sounds simplistic, it’s because it is. John Carpenter’s 1978 classic was a starightforward affair, and this one follows suit. For the most part. Being a sequel, it relies and plays on expectations, and it manages to do so without betraying the story it’s trying to tell.
It’s that simplicy that allows this Halloween to be the first sequel with actual gravitas. Director and writer David Gordon Green, along with Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride understood this is what made Carpenter’s original work. This gave them more room to play with the cinematography and soundscape. Much care and, for lack of a better word, love is injected into the production of this film, and it is the first movie in the franchise that doesn’t feel like a cheap cash-in. The movie never relies on cheap jump-scares, opting instead to play with tension and audience expectation. John Carpenter’s soundtrack adds weight to the onscreen action (or lack thereof). And a special note should be given to The Shape’s “face”, being one that manages to be both expressionless and yet still infused with an eery sadness. It’s easily the best version of the mask since the original repaint of a Captain Kirk mask.
The payoff of it all being that this is a Halloween movie worth multiple viewings, as it feels neither cheap nor gratuitous (save, perhaps for Michael’s reasons).
Of course, as with all previous entries, Michael is defeated. And like previous entries, his body is never recovered. But the weight of his actions loom over the survivors, and the movie ends with the raising of one final question:
Can you escape a legacy of trauma, even after confronting it?