Those Carpenter piano notes get me right in the terror bone every single time they pop up. Seriously, that still gets to me.
There’s a danger in going into this film for those who worship John Carpenter’s Halloween as the quintessential name in slasher film. You worry that nostalgia might cloud your judgement, might keep you from being able to truly get down to the nitty-gritty of what makes a film relevant or interesting, and you’re afraid the tertiary instead of the slasher themselves. I first saw the original at 6 years old, left alone in my aunt’s basement while she prepped a holiday party upstairs, and I’ve been chasing that dragon of fear ever since. I may prefer the goofiness of the Jason Voorhees films or the outright hilarity of the Freddy Krueger franchise, but if I want real fear Michael is still looming in the shadows, behind a bush, or in a closet – speechless, unreal, and indestructible.
So then I hear that, of all people, Danny McBride is writing a sequel to the original film with director David Gordon Green. I like Danny McBride alright, thought he turned in the best performance in Alien: Covenant and This is the End, but I’ve always seen him as more of a comedic individual. So he’s now taking over the most hallowed of slasher films? And not to try to make sense of the convoluted sequel/rehash/sequel-to-a-side-story nonsense that the franchise has plagued itself with, but to actually just make a legitimate sequel to the original film? I was uncomfortable with that, but John Carpenter had partnered with Blumhouse Productions and given this whole project their blessing so I found that worth a try.
It’s a pretty decent sequel actually. Not everything works, but what does is some of the most pure slasher depravity I’ve seen in quite some time.
We jump ahead 40 years from the original and find Haddonfield, IL in a relatively comfortable position. They’re famous for the babysitter murders in the 70’s, but even the modern-day kids point out that far worse things have happened in the world and that Michael Meyers pales in comparison to some of the school shootings, terrorist attacks, and corruption plaguing their generation. It’s a new world and they just don’t see the relevance in a killer from their parents’ youth. And maybe that’s the point of the conversation. We have a lot of large concerns, from political outrage to gun violence, even international violence over things like religion. What does a small town series of murders matter? What is one killer in the face of the world?
To the town of Haddonfield it’s a local legend, but to Laurie Strode it’s everything. Jaime Lee Curtis is back for one more go at bat, a tussle with Michael that decides to separate them by blood and bind them by another force – trauma. The film is, deep down, about dealing with traumatic experiences and the way they can shred families, can tear apart an individual’s psyche, and can prove to be as haunting as any poltergeist. The things we experience in our youth become a part of us, mold us into who we are going to be whether we like it or not, and we can let them destroy us or make us stronger. Laurie has chosen to let it do both. She’s become an absolute militant force, complete with hidden basement shelter and enough gun skills to nail a target on the second floor through a window from across the street. Her skill is matched only by her obsession, the desire to kill Michael and end her torment physically by removing the manifestation of evil from the world completely. She’s allowed it to ruin her relationship to her daughter and son-in-law and it is wreaking havoc on her granddaughter. They cannot even have a family meal at a restaurant without her breaking down into tears over the idea that Michael Meyers exists, still in captivity. It’s a dark and evil world out there, but the personification of that evil is still walking about and his very existence is her torment.
Look, all this stuff works for me thematically but we need to get to Michael.
Michael Meyers is a changed animal in this film. He’s older at this point, presumably at least a decade older than his agoraphobic counterpart Laurie Strode. Michael has been in prison through 4 decades and has not spoken a word as far as any of the staff know. Loomis is dead, but recommended his execution before he passed and even offered to do it by hand. Care of The Shape (as Michael is known) has been passed to Doctor Ranbir Sartain, who has built an obsession over the back half of his career as he struggles to understand not just evil, but why the evil continues.
I’m going to be honest – this part of the story doesn’t work for me. The Doctor has his own little arc and they want him to be the new Loomis, even going so far as to outright call him such, and it just doesn’t work. The character is fine but the finale to his arc serves no real purpose to the larger story and actually leads to wasted screentime and characters (a nice cool visual moment though, super gross). Sartain is an absolutely pointless piece of the narrative and while they attempt to weave the theme of understanding evil in through his eyes I just feel that it was unnecessary. The point of that arc is that you cannot understand pure evil, only fight it or allow it in. So just cut to that, yeah?
There are odd beats outside of just that. The podcasters serve as a nice intro to the story but given that the inciting actions to Michael’s arc would have happened with or without them I don’t feel they were wholly necessary either. They exist to serve as a recap, a “last time on John Carpenter’s Halloween” type of narrative device that only sort of works. The performances are charming enough that I don’t mind the inclusion of the characters, but I wish they served a bit more purpose because anything that comes about because of their existence could have been included less clunkily. They’re fat to be trimmed and I can enjoy some fat here and there, but this bit is iffy.
This is Halloween and we absolutely have to talk about the score because John Carpenter is back with a vengeance. The man has been known to produce music for his own films for the entirety of his career, but this was always the one people remembered. The theme for this film, like that of The Exorcist or The Shining, is up there with the most easily recognized horror themes and the new score incorporates it wonderfully. It’s been a great year for film music, really a great decade, but having Carpenter back in the driver’s seat to score his film is kind of something special. Tracks like “The Shape Returns” and “Halloween Triumphant” will be gracing the playlists of film music geeks like myself for ages to come.
Look the film is far from perfect, no one will be saying it is a new triumph of any sort. But it’s a damn good part of this franchise and more loyal to the characters of Michael and Laurie than anything we’ve had in decades. I was incredibly skeptical when this was announced, the lingering bad taste of Rob Zombie’s second film still giving me the shivers (I like his first one, go ahead and @ me). What can I say, this is a highly entertaining bit of slasher fun! David Gordon Green goes bananas with the visuals and camera work as well, with things like the pumpkin head moment or the final shot of The Shape being gorgeously done. I’ll say that he plays a bit into the old-school era slasher visuals (stopped imagery, grainy lense filters in places, even the title credits are very much in adherence to how it all looked when Carpenter did it a generation ago) but it works in the final product, a companion piece to the original that invokes a pressing of the nostalgia button that works.
The Shape is back and it’s pretty good as long as you don’t shoot your expectations sky-high. Hopefully McBride and Green will listen to the audience on issues with this film and deliver an even better sequel because…that’s happening.