Jamie Lee Curtis, Will Patton, Nick Castle
dir. David Gordon Green
I wasn’t at all disappointed with my first trip out to the cinema since Spectre, taking in David Gordon Green’s take on the Halloween franchise. To say that this, the eleventh film in the franchise, is the best since the original film is to damn it with faint praise.
That’s not to say that there aren’t missteps in this film, because there are, including an absolutely massive one towards the end that very easily could have derailed the entire film, but everything else that is here is good, so good in fact, that it covers up whatever issues the film might otherwise have going against it.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, now not the sister of deranged killer Michael Myers. Curtis plays Laurie as an absolutely broken mess of a woman who has carried the trauma of “the night HE came home” in 1978 with her ever since. She has a very strained relationship with her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (newcomer Andi Matichak) due to her lifelong obsession with preparing and fortifying for the inevitable return of Michael Myers to Haddonfield.
Where Halloween is at its most successful is when it’s something of a character study on the effects of trauma on a variety of people. The interplay between Laurie and her family is the backbone of the film. The audience comes in with firsthand knowledge of what happened to her at the hands of Michael Myers back in 1978, but her daughter and granddaughter don’t have that information, so at the same time you can feel Laurie’s pain when her family doesn’t listen to her or heed her warnings, but you also feel strongly for the rest of her family as they plead with her to let Myers go and move on with her life. The emotional journey that Judy Greer’s character, for example, takes through the film is a compelling one, as we see her lying to her daughter about talking to Curtis’ character in the beginning of the film to having to slowly march headlong towards Curtis’ “final” (how many times have we said this in this franchise?) with Michael Myers.
Myers, on the other hand, is an interesting character in this film, thanks to the dual portrayals of him by James Jude Courtney and the originator of the role, Nick Castle. Castle portrays The Shape in his pre-mask moments, and does an outstanding job, giving Myers a surprising physicality for an older man who is perhaps somewhat vulnerable without his venerable mask and trademark coveralls. The two actors in this film pull off an impressive feat, returning the character of MIchael Myers to actually being “The Shape”, a faceless void of evil that subsequent filmmakers after Carpenter tried desperately to understand, while also bringing a depth to the character that, in retrospect, Rob Zombie could only have dreamed of bringing him. It is clear in this edition of the franchise that Michael Myers is a flesh-and-blood man (albeit one with a ridiculously high pain tolerance), and Castle manages to bring enough of a semblance of humanity to him while also reclaiming that idea of the blank void of evil that made the original so frightening. It’s a terrific performance by both actors.
With all of this terrific work being done by veterans such as Curtis, Greer, and Castle, it would be easy for the film’s younger cast to get lost in the shuffle, but thankfully David Gordon Green has stocked this film with some absolutely tremendous supporting characters. Although technically a supporting character, Andi Matichak is a revelation as Laurie Strode’s granddaughter. Enough can’t be said about how good she is in this film, doing more than justice to the concept of the type of role that Jamie Lee Curtis helped to bring to the mainstream with her original turn as Strode in 1978. I can’t wait to see Matichak in more films, and hopefully some more Halloween films, as we move forward. She’s a rising star, no question.
Will Patton is also on hand as Officer Hawkins, who is essentially the stand-in for the usual sheriff character that we’ve gotten in most of these films. Patton is his usual excellent self, bringing a credibility to this type of role that we’re not used to seeing in these films. Also a highlight among the supporting cast are Virginia Gardener as a babysitter named Vicky and Jibrail Nantambu, the actor who portrays the young boy that Vicky is babysitting for on Halloween night. Their scene is at the same time both hiilarious and absolutely terrifying. Nantambu’s character is one of the best non-Strode characters to be introduced to the franchise on quite some time. It’s a bit part and doesn’t connect to the overall narrative of the film, but it’s definitely a highlight of the film.
The only misstep that Halloween makes is in the twist it tries to force down the audience’s throat towards the end of the film as the film moves into the mode of trying to bring us to the confrontation between Strode and Myers. Without going into spoiler territory, the motivation for the twist can be decoded if you really think back on the film afterward, but in the moment, it leaves you completely scratching your head in the moment and takes you completely out of the film for a few moments, also thanks in no short measure to the brief blend of horror and potentially unintended comedy that immediately follows. It should be said that it’s an absolute testament to Curtis, Greer, Matichak, and Courtney for pulling this film back on track as the film comes to its climax, as the twist threatened to completely derail the film.
The climax itself is one of the most heart-pounding stretches of any Halloween film, including the original and, thankfully, makes you forget the misstep that sets it up. The confrontation is everything you’d want it to be and more, and the four principal actors involved completely knock it out of the park.
David Gordon Green, despite a misstep here and there, has effectively crafted a horror masterpiece with his follow-up to John Carpenter’s original. Speaking of Carpenter, he provides a truly excellent score for the film as well, mirroring his original score in 1978 while breathing new life into it as well. With the Halloween franchise now back on track, hopefully Green can be enticed to return to bring us more.