“Do you know how I’ve prayed everyday that he would escape,” says Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) of her once and current pursuer Michael Myers, “so I can kill him?”
“Well,” replies the policeman she’s speaking to, “that was a dumb thing to pray for.”
This moment, which inspired a ripple of hearty laughter at my screening, gets at what works so well about the new “Halloween.” The script, cowritten by director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express,” “Joe,” “George Washington”) and Danny McBride, is sharp and funny about occasionally calling out its own horror tropes without going too far into “Scream” territory and breaking the fourth wall. Instead, the characters’ moments of self-awareness and humor — for which the child being babysat (Jibrail Nantambu) is the undoubted MVP — serve to make them and the danger they face feel that much more authentic, and “Halloween” has always worked best when it’s close to home.
The 11th entry in its franchise, this “Halloween” ignores the events of every other one but the 1978 original (the only one I’ve seen, conveniently enough) in order to function as a direct sequel. That conceit, plus the return of John Carpenter as executive producer and Curtis in the lead role, gives the film rare license for a horror sequel to focus on finishinga story rather than prolonging it, building to a fundamentally satisfying showdown between masked slasher Michael Myers and the one victim that got away.
We’re reintroduced to Myers through a pair of investigative podcast hosts (with British accents, for maximum pretentiousness) visiting his facility just days before he’s scheduled to be transferred elsewhere and locked in solitary for good. After unveiling his old mask and shouting at him in vain to “SAY SOMETHING!” they go visit a less-than-hospitable — in fact, straight-up agoraphobic — Laurie Strode to convince her to face her almost-killer, saying there’s a “great deal to learn” from the horror she experienced.
This belief, also expressed by psychiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer, “the new Loomis,” as Laurie calls him), becomes a running theme that hits on Green’s throwback approach to the material — people (or Hollywood producers) keep wanting to understand more about Michael Myers, but Laurie (and the filmmakers) know that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of his evil. He doesn’t exist to be understood or talked to or reasoned with; he exists to kill or be killed.
This time around, after Michael inevitably escapes his captors while in transit, he has three generations of Strodes to contend with, between the survivalist, trauma-driven Laurie, her estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and empathetic granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). This is one of those horror movies where viewers are enthralled not just by the impending threat, but by the protagonists’ craftiness in evading and combatting it, too.
But man, how about that threat, though? Some of the film’s best scenes are those more or less unrelated to the plot, simply following Michael stalking amidst trick-or-treaters and through suburban homes, the camera gliding smoothly between inside and outside to show how easily he does the same. As in the original, viewers are encouraged to search the frame for his presence at all times as the tension builds methodically and unbearably through familiar details rendered newly ominous — a kitchen knife drying on the dish rack, a clothesline blowing in the dark, the sound of someone breathing just off-camera. The kills themselves are also memorably brutal and effectively button-pushing, both in their suddenness and manner of execution.
This is everything Michael Myers should be — a threat simultaneously close to home and unknowable, terrifying for the casualness and curiosity with which he kills and upgrades weapons like a first-person shooter video game character. Green’s success is in understanding what’s so timelessly scary about this cinematic boogeyman, and infusing that with a few well-observed modern elements before getting to the confrontations and clever role reversals that finally resolve the original’s cliffhanger ending.
In the opening credits, we see a rotted jack-o-lantern regaining its shape in a reverse time lapse, and by the end, this implication of a franchise reborn actually feels earned. As for whether or not it will remain the franchise’s final conclusion as Green and McBride seemed to intend, count me in the same camp with Carpenter and Laurie Strode herself —there aren’t new insights or discoveries to be made from Michael Myers at this point, just box office receipts. Unfortunately, for Hollywood, that’ll probably be enough to warrant another 10 sequels.