In his film comedy work, David Gordon Green has shown almost gleeful restraint in not blotting on his auteur stamp. Diving into laughs with Judd Apatow’s upstart squad, he’s always seemed less concerned about what could be than what would be. While so many directors of his general generation look to the ‘70s and ‘80s as aesthetics to be upscaled with a modern mindset, Green has rarely been such a fixer-upper guy. His The Sitter isn’t a gutted and renovated Adventures in Babysitting; it’s just a new version of that. Pineapple Express doesn’t have a Huey Lewis title track because that would elevate it; it’s ridiculous ‘80s-style stoner comedy just demands it. Even the idiocy of Your Highness is forgivable through the lens of a goofy fantasy-comedy tribute act. From 2014 to 2017, he seemed to be lost in forgettable dramas (who the fuck remembers Green did Manglehorn, Our Brand Is Crisis, or Stronger?), but as is often said, comedy and horror have more in common than you’d think, scares coming out of nowhere to hit like punchlines. And with Halloween, Green has returned to the strengths of his comedies, creating something that’s willfully beholden to genre tropes but is ultimately pretty damn enjoyable.
Equal parts H20x2 and revisionist Halloween 2, the film tunes out AMC’s entire October marathon of rotten sequels, picking up 40 years to the day after the original with none of the baggage of four decades of cinematic follow-ups. In this parallel universe, killer Michael Myers has been incarcerated in a mental institution, ever staying true to not getting paid for an actual speaking role. At the same time, Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode has, in her own words, become a “twice-divorced basketcase.” Unlike Curtis, who’s kept youthful through Activia and Christopher Guest’s improvisational humor, Laurie has become a paranoid, frazzled, grizzled mess—a crazed survivalist fixated on defending herself and her family from Myers’ inevitable escape. Consequently, her house is a panic room with a panic room, and her now-grown daughter (Judy Greer) was taken from her and remains estranged.
In keeping up with being such a deliberate sequel, Laurie also has a teenage granddaughter, who has her own group of utterly movie-clichéd high school friends. There’s a new Loomis, too—an aging psychiatrist (Haluk Bilginer) Laurie handily identifies as “the new Loomis.” True to sequel crowding, there’s also a couple very timely true-crime podcasters, the always-enjoyable Toby Huss, a concerned cop, and a spattering of other thin characters. And if that’s not enough tropes in one place, yes, there’s a contrived reason Michael gets his mask and jumpsuit again, and an even more contrived reason he escapes at all: of COURSE it’s an inexplicably wrecked asylum transport bus!
As strained as it all sounds, Green leans in hard enough to come out the other side. With a script co-written by Vice Principals’ Jeff Fradley and frequent collaborator Danny McBride, Green uses the overstuffed cast to stave off the genre’s often tedious build-up, jumping around storylines and opening almost anyone to be killed off in some truly brutal, visceral way or another. The writing trio also manage some glimpses of their humor in there, but perhaps more impressively build up some Dark Knight-style hero-villain perpetuation theory. The tactical, hyper-prepared Laurie mirroring Michael’s closet stalking and abrupt out-the-window disappearance provides an analogue that feels like an earned answer to the original’s criticism for being such distressed-woman porn.
With a very familiar typeface, Halloween’s opening titles carve a fairly on-the-nose metaphor: a rotted jack-o’-lantern in reverse time-lapse, restored to near its original state. The film earns it, though, giving its now grey-haired protagonist both a new beginning and a fitting end. This will almost certainly not actually be the end of the Halloween series, sure, but it’s as good a re-do as could be imagined. It’s not a reinvention but a soft reboot that, like Laurie, has learned what tricks to steal from its iconic antagonist: be efficient and a bit mechanical, but definitely not so plodding.
Director: David Gordon Green
Studio: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 105 minutes
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle