Editor’s Note: Vanyaland’s Nick Johnston is north of the border all week long for the Toronto International Film Festival; click here for our continued coverage from the fest and also check out our official preview.
It’s an odd thing to make a sequel to a film as dearly beloved to horror fans like John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece Halloween — anybody else remember the “gotta-take-a-shit mask” fervor that overtook many a comment thread after somebody reviewed the script for Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake and hated it? — and it’s an even odder phenomenon when someone like David Gordon Green is directing it.
The man, a once-indie director known for his small-town dramas and studio comedies with co-writer Danny McBride, is fresh off of the surprisingly great Stronger, which is about the aftermath of a tragedy and how it affects those who suffered through it. His Halloween is informed by a similar sense of theme, but never overwhelmed by it. It is, however, a fucking blast, and I think, if you’re a fan of the first film, you’re going to love it.
We’re not going to tell you very much about this movie, outside of its basic premise and one key fact: This is a direct sequel to the original movie, which means none of the other films have happened in this “timeline.” You already know that Michael Myers went on a killing spree back in 1978 after escaping from an institution, and that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) survived his attacks. Forty years later, Laurie is a survivor who has spent the last 40 years much like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Trying to ensure that if it ever happens again, she — and the people she loves — will be safe, often to the detriment to those relationships. Michael remains behind bars at a hospital, until, right before he’s about to be transferred to another prison, two podcasters arrive at the yard to ask him questions about his killing spree. Of course, he manages to escape at some point, and Laurie will have to face her fears, but that’s for you to find out later on down the line.
I really don’t want to get stabbed by a nerd in a Michael Myers mask, thank you very much, so that’s all you get.
First, it is scary as all get out, to the point where someone in my theater had a panic attack so bad I thought the theater was on fire. Green’s got a solid handle on wringing every last drop of tension out of a sequence, and his style feels his own. He never totally just apes Carpenter (which, let’s be frank, is what a good segment of the audience wants for him to do), though he places tributes to him all throughout the film, the crown jewel of which is an incredible mid-film tracking shot of the variety that the master helped to create 40 years ago. The elder director also composed the score for the new film (which is about as incredible as you might expect), but it’s full of modern touches, as it has an identity all of its own. Part of that new identity, though, is a brutality that is unfamiliar to JC’s take on the franchise (it’s often noted how bloodless the original Halloween is in comparison to some of its forbearers), and, boy, it is fucking bloody. Michael may have been scarier or heavier in previous films, but he’s never quite been this intense (no disrespect to Zombie). He has a presence once again, though it is a very human one, and it is invaluable. The Shape haunts every frame.
However, if you think this is going to be a real drag, you’re wrong. It’s got that trademark McBride/Green/Hill humor placed strategically throughout the film, with a couple of jokes that land so well you’ve got to wonder why they didn’t save them for an actual comedy somewhere down the line. Yet this humor doesn’t come at the expense of the victims, and it often humanizes those before they go under Michael’s knife. That’s just a facet of the film’s smart character creation and writing, which elevates minor roles in to scene-stealing standouts thanks to small well-captured tics and the work of an interesting cast. Chief amongst Green’s talents is bringing humanity and life to small-town communities, and he manages to bring Haddonfield above the generic slasher suburb via its inhabitants. Curtis is, per usual, excellent, and Laurie here is a haunted, messy person — a strong survivor in a way that isn’t pedantic. Her characterization informs everything about the movie, and it is rewarded by her efforts.
There are a few meager and mild complaints that I have — namely that the film takes its time to get going, and a few that I can’t reveal given their relevance to its third act — but Gordon Green and company have succeeded wildly and, on top of everything, have managed to add a cathartic message about surviving trauma to the proceedings. Its ending is close to the kind of fuck-yeah-bring-the-house-down that you’ll find in films like Get Out, and it is empowering and absolutely incredible.
We’ll have more on it after the film’s release, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that Halloween fucking rocks. If your audience doesn’t freak the hell out during that third act, well, check under your seat. Somebody might just have murdered everybody in your theater during the previews, and is hiding, waiting to make his move…
‘Halloween’ opens October 19. Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Featured image by Ryan Green/Universal, courtesy of TIFF.