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Michael Myers is one of the first truly implacable horror villains. No matter how far you run, how well you hide, or how much you hurt him, he will just keep coming after you. And unlike the Terminator franchise, there is no apparent motive or reason behind his killing. Those qualities are front and center in Halloween, the latest sequel to the beloved John Carpenter slasher movie. Unlike the other sequels that focus on Druid cults or Michael’s psychology, director David Gordon Green and his screenwriters modernize what made the original such a popular, suspenseful success. Along the way, they also stumble into an intriguing meditation on the nature of evil.
It has been 40 years since Michael Myers (Nick Castle) terrorized Haddonfield, Illinois, and killed three people. Now he lives in an asylum where his doctor (Haluk Bilginer, taking over the Donald Pleasence role) is obsessed with him. Myers has never once spoken, to the chagrin of the doctor and two English podcasters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) who confront him with the infamous mask. Myers escapes after a disastrous transfer from the asylum to a more secure facility, and soon he is back on the prowl in Haddonfield. This time, however, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is ready for her foe. Packing an impressive arsenal in her remote home, she prepares for a final showdown with Myers while protecting her estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
At first, David Gordon Green may seem like an odd choice for this material. He is primarily known for art films like George Washington or comedies like Pineapple Express, but he slips into the horror genre easily. In fact, the set-up/punchline structure of a joke is somewhat similar to the suspense/release trope we find in these kinds of films. There are many, many sequences where we watch innocent victims go about their night, with Myers stalking them in the distance, and part of the film’s joy is the ways in which he springs into gory action. The script—co-written by Green along with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley—mixes questionable character choices with plausible ones. If you see Halloween in a theater, part of the joy is how everyone will groan as someone wanders down the wrong hallway, or when the crowd falls into tense silence.
Rather than expand the mythology of the films like the sequels attempted with mixed success, this Halloween keeps the characters and situations grounded. The action unfolds over Halloween night, with Allyson going to the school dance with her boyfriend. The choice of making Laurie single-minded in her hatred of Myers, to the point that she alienates everyone else, is a plausible one (Curtis is terrific in the role, not sugarcoating Laurie’s failures and reminding us why she was once an effective scream queen).
Green’s background in independent film serves him well, as does the screenplay assist from McBride, a comic actor who is known for his brash, vulgar characters. There are several funny scenes in Halloween, and they’re all grounded in character. There is a terrific comic riff between a babysitter and the foul-mouthed kid she’s watching, and their rapport is so good they almost deserve their own movie together. And during the film’s climax, somehow there is a protracted conversation about sandwich purity. This focus on idiosyncrasy is a welcome reprieve from the dour world-building frequently found in slasher movies, and it’s astonishing it took this long to find filmmakers who really understood that audiences get more scared when they care about who gets killed.
Between the podcasters and a psychologist who thinks he can find the key to unlocking Myers, Halloween is a critique of our obsession with crime. Sometimes there is just no understanding someone, and accepting evil for what it is—banal, cruel, unflappable—is the first step to hindering its allure. There are some twists in this film that are a rebuke of previous sequels, with the ones directed by Rob Zombie receiving the most attention. In fact, John Carpenter’s involvement in this film—he produced it and co-wrote an update of the film’s iconic score— further suggest Green understands these characters better than his predecessors.
As Michael undergoes his rampage, murdering people in ways that are both blunt and creative, there is a macabre, borderline respectful method to his madness. His constant silence reasserts him as a great existential villain, so this Halloween follows the original 1978 fright-fest into the horror cannon.
Halloween opens Friday in theaters everywhere.