Slasher movies don’t often do anything for me. More often than not they follow the same formula of teens and acquaintances of said teens getting hacked to bits — lather, rinse, repeat. Simply put, and to use the words of Bart Simpson, “Knife goes in, guts come out.” For these movies to be truly terrifying experiences they need that extra oomph. The new Halloween movie from David Gordon Green, a direct sequel to the 1978 movie that ignores the decades of unworthy sequels, has that extra oomph. In fact, it has numerous extra oomphs. It is the perfect slasher movie for our time, one that laces the gory kills with a masterfully crafted, relentless sense of dread and tension and bevy of terrific performances.
Taking place 40 years after the events of the original, wherein babysitter (the most dangerous profession to have in a horror movie) Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) survived the rampage of masked killer Michael Myers (a.k.a. The Shape). In the years since she has become the sort of survivalist the Discovery Channel would center a Doomsday Prepper-style show around, stockpiling weapons and preserved veggies in a makeshift bunker, all preparing for the day Myers inevitably comes back. Of course, Myers does escape imprisonment after two English journalists seek to get a rise out of him for their ominously-narrated podcast – and guess where he goes.
As he makes his way back to the site of his original crimes – Haddonfield, Illinois – Myers paves his path with violent murders, including of the podcasters. Green walks the tightrope between gore and atmospheric tension like a panther, letting the presence and weight of Myers send chills along your arm, and showing just enough of the blood and violence to send the shock up your spine. A great example is a scene where the bus full of convicts, including Myers, is derailed, then come upon by a child and his father that looks old enough to be his grandpa. The dad moves to investigate, and then the child, doing the dumbest thing in any horror movie, follows with a rifle in hand. The area is laced with corpses, and while other movies would’ve probably shown them being slaughtered, leading to the crash, this one lets the bodies and the black of night do all the heavy lifting. We can assume what happened to them, and we know the man responsible is still out there. It’s all mood and suspense, only for the scene to come to a shocking conclusion with the strangulation of the child. It’s brutal but quick enough to not overstay it’s welcome, bringing a tense scene to a ghastly finale. Like a panther, I tell ya!
The movie is filled with these kinds of kills, including an impressive two-shot sequence wherein Michael kills two poor neighborhood residents. These scenes are as much a masterclass in slasher movie filmmaking as the ones in the John Carpenter-directed original. Speaking of, the man himself returned to executive produce and curate the score (along with his sons), which changes up the classic theme just enough to be both nostalgic and effective. But along with the terrific kills and music, the movie is benefitted by strong performances from the cast, like Judy Greer as Laurie’s daughter, Karen, and newcomer Andi Matichak as her granddaughter, Allyson. Along with Curtis, they make up three generations of women affected by that night 40 years ago, and they each have their own, distinct personalities that offer a different viewpoint on how the tragedy is dealt with emotionally.
As great as they are, the award for most entertaining performance surely goes to the young Jibrail Nantambu as Julian, the child a doomed-from-the-start babysitter is watching. There is no bullshit in him, and he hilariously gets out while the getting is good when Myers shows his face, never for us to see him again. He is a major source of humor in the movie, which is saying something for a movie that’s much funnier than it has any right to be. Learn from him, audiences.
The pièce de résistance Curtis’ work, delivering one of her best performances yet as Strode, a woman so prepared to deal with the return of Myers, but remains so terrified of him. There’s one scene where Myers, having broken into Laurie’s home after the foolish act of Karen’s husband (Toby Huss), is lingering somewhere in a dark room. Laurie, big-ass rifle in hand, investigates in a long, fantastically drawn-out and suspenseful scene. What lasted with me the most about this moment was the deepness and pace of Strode’s breath. As prepared as she was she is still horrified by Myers and what he can do, and Curtis infuses that internal terror naturally with her new, badass Sarah Connor exterior. She’s a true survivor, and her performance has layers to it that’s hard to find in other slasher movies.
At the end, when Myers is defeated, the movie has indeed gone through the usual steps of any slasher movie story. As well, there’s room for a sequel, and even though he was trapped in a burning basement Myers was likely able to play the best game of Dig-Dug the world will ever know and get himself out. But the traces of convention aside, I found myself endlessly entertained and on the edge of my seat with Halloween. I love virtually everything about it, which is something I can say about maybe three or four slasher movies. It goes beyond what I, or likely anyone else, would expect, delivering everything I wanted and so much more. This is one I will be revisiting for years to come, and is in every way a worthy successor to the original, and is, in some ways, even better.