"...simple in design and abyssal in anguish..."

No New Tricks, Very Few Treats

(111118) “Halloween” isn’t the first time the franchise has decided to shift gears, attempting to rework the brand name for a fresh run of sequels. Heck, it’s not even the first time Jamie Lee Curtis has been involved in long-time-coming installment, popping up in 1998’s “Halloween: H20” to complete her arc as battered babysitter Laurie Strode. After four decades of strange creative decisions and wacky character arcs, the new “Halloween” hopes to link arms with the old “Halloween,” with co-writers Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley, and David Gordon Green (who also directs) bringing back Curtis for another long-time-coming showdown with the masked monster, hoping to give fans a proper continuation after they’ve sat through a few rotten ones. The Shape is back, in a proper killing mood, but the writing isn’t pushing for a fresh take on old holiday business, playing to the faithful with a formulaic endeavor that only colors outside the lines for a few brief scenes.

True-crime podcasters Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees) are trying to crack the psychological code of the imprisoned killer, Michael Myers. Doing an episode on the 1978 Haddonfield Murders, the duo attempts to make contact with Myers, who’s about to be transferred to a new facility and buried in the prison system. They also reach out to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who was wrecked by the carnage she witnessed decades ago, spending the rest of her life preparing for a rematch with Myers, destroying her relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), in the process. When the bus carrying Myers is smashed open during a car accident, the event sets the silent monster free on Halloween, taking him to Haddonfield, where he restarts his reign of terror. Caught in the mix is Allyson (Andi Matchiak), Laurie’s granddaughter, who’s hanging with her friends during a high school dance, unaware that Myers is out in the wild.

Joining the reboot cause is producer Jason Blum, who’s known for making horror films on the cheap, ensuring greater profit. His influence is noticeable in “Halloween,” which, despite the horror icon showdown, feels very small, keeping the action regulated to a handful of characters, while most of the feature takes place in Haddonfield on Halloween night. The tighter scope doesn’t always inspire a richly cinematic experience, but it does remain on Laurie’s nervous breakdown, which is the most inspired addition to the effort. In the new “Halloween,” Laurie is an older woman, ruined by trauma and controlled by fear, living her life in preparation for a reunion with Myers. She’s lost her daughter while trapped in paranoia, and she’s secretive with Allyson, trying to maintain contact, hoping to correct the mistakes she made with Karen. Curtis is game for anything the screenplay offers, creating a genuinely intriguing direction for Laurie that does away with everything that’s come after the 1978 John Carpenter classic. I’m sure some will be distressed with a grand erasing of continuity (in Green’s movie, Laurie and Myers are not siblings), but Curtis enthusiastically runs her fingers through the fresh dramatic soil, and while Laurie isn’t the primary focus of the screenplay, her scenes are the highlights of the picture.

The podcasting angle is timely, and it does offer an organic way to reunite Myers with his mask, restarting his evil engine as the monster stalks his way back to civilization. Once “Halloween” returns to Haddonfield, there’s not much in the way of newness, watching as The Shape wanders through the old neighborhood, picking off neighbors. To match up the old and new, the writing introduces a younger generation of prey, bringing back a babysitter, marijuana, and plans for a sexual experience, teeing up Myers to do his deadly thing. The slasher sequences are violent, but it’s hard to shake the dullness of such attacks, which offered more punch and style from Carpenter 40 years ago. Green is merely tracing over old news, which slows the movie down. Obnoxious adolescents don’t help the cause, with far too much screen time devoted to their inflamed loins and broken hearts, revealing a larger push to make Allyson a key figure of the new franchise.

In a weird way, “Halloween” is similar to "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens," which also recycled iconic conflicts to help reacquaint the audience with a film series they once loved. However, there’s also a downside with this type of fan service, as “Halloween” feels a little fatigued at times, with even Laurie openly challenging deja vu, referring to Myers’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir (Haluk Bilginer), as “the new Loomis.” “Halloween” comes off simple in design and abyssal in anguish, but the killing spree eventually takes top priority, giving the faithful a new opportunity to see “Classic Myers” in motion, brought to life via a masterful score from John Carpenter (joined by Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies), who delivers a righteous synth-n-shred sonic pummeling to secure screen tension. Green wisely brings the master back into the fold, gifting the eleventh chapter in the ongoing series (or its first real sequel according to the producers) a grander presence than it often deserves, but the helmer isn’t inspired to do much more than provide a functional, fuss-free “Halloween” movie, and that’s exactly what he achieves here.

Directed by:  David Gordon Green
Written by:  Screenplay by David Gordon Green, Danny McBride & Jeff Fradley. Based on the characters created by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Starring:   Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak
Released:  101918
Length:  106 minutes
Rating:   Rated R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity

HALLOWEEN  ©  2018 Blumhouse Productions
Review © 2018 Alternate Reality, Inc.