Review: David Gordon Green Brings the Scares with 'Halloween'
The Halloween franchise has had a rough life since its original debut in 1978. The series has tried its hand as an anthology series. It’s brought back series legend Laurie Strode as an estranged relative to Michael Meyers. And it’s been rebooted by Rob Zombie to little fanfare. The mishandling of this 80s horror franchise joins the ranks of The Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, which all tried to strike while the iron was hot, but resulted in entries that left plenty to be desired.
Now, we have David Gordon Green taking a stab at it. The director who burst onto the scene with George Washington, but then later went on to direct Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and The Sitter, is now tackling one of the most beloved horror icons of all time. On paper, you would scoff. Maybe even dismiss it. But the fact that Green is now jumping so obtusely into horror stands outs something unique, that he has such a compelling vision in mind that he would want to diverge from his usual wheel house. Luckily, the final result is best the Halloween film we’ve had since the original, retaining authentic scares, imbuing nostalgic fun into the film, and upholding the notions of the franchise while also standing on its own.
Set forty years after the original, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) now lives as a survivor who trains and prepares herself for the impending return of Michael Meyers. On Halloween, Meyers breaks free and returns home to Haddonfield, Illinois. Having prepared for this moment, Laurie works to save her family and kill Meyers once and for all.
What is most surprising about the film is how scary can be. Green knows how to shoot horror that’s for certain. For someone who hasn’t really dabbled into horror, it’s welcoming to see a director enter the genre with such assuredness (a la Jordan Peele last year). Within Halloween, we see all the tricks of horror used in smart, efficient, and admirable ways. Cheap jump scares are pretty much non-existent, effective building of tension can be seen periodically, and Myers is a force to be reckoned with, not a caricature of a horror icon. Two scenes in particular involving a motion detector light and a gas station bathroom are two instances where Green flexes some serious economic use of horror tropes to generate some serious frights. After seeing something like The Nun more recently, it serves as a great contrast and an example of horror done right. Not as good as this year’s Hereditary, but commendable none the less.
Surprisingly, this film is very fun and enjoyable. An oxymoron I suppose, but it has the fun texture of cult horror film while also retaining sincere horror moments. The fun aspect can be attributed to the rational use of comedy and tasteful callbacks to prior entries in the franchise. As someone who has a very critical perspective of comedy in non-comedy films, I found the use of jokes to be strategically used here. Not in your face, but rather natural. It’s a fine line it toes because too much will break the tension, but Green seems to be aware of the pulpy aspects of the genre. It is co-written by Danny McBride, so one can assume some of the film’s comedic aspects came from him. Regardless, the comedy is fun and doesn’t break the atmosphere of the film, but rather contributes to the over all feel and tone of the film.
Adding to this are the callbacks. This film retcons the cannon of the Halloween franchise by positioning itself as a sequel to the original film and wiping away all other entries. Even though entries are technically wiped, there are still references to them. Masks from Season of the Witch, replicating iconic shots, and pulling fake jump scares accompanied by Carpenter’s iconic sound queues are all apart of the callbacks Green usess to remind you this is paying homage to the franchise, while also being its own thing. The audience at the screening I went to was having a great time with both the comedy and the call backs, eliciting plenty of laughs and cheers.
How the film delineates itself is in the story it tells. Laurie Strode is a scream queen no more, and instead, a hardened survivor who has prepared herself for the return of Michael Meyers. Her character is empowered in the film and not positioned as ‘the final girl’ that we see all too often in horror films. This change in character marks a stronger delineation between this entry and others in the franchise, which found itself a new female lead to take on Strode’s position. The horror genre is so intrinsically tied to scream queens and final girls, and even though we get part of that in Laurie’s granddaughter, the new characterization for Laurie herself is much more of a character rather than a trope that the original Halloween helped create. It would have been interesting to see a female director handle something like this, but for what we got, it’ll pass.
The fact that the film makes slight appeals to nostalgia that honors the franchise while asserting its own identity that is not holistically dependent on the original is the biggest strength of David Gordon Green’s Halloween. With effective scares, gruesome deaths, and a firm grasp of the slasher genre, Green’s iteration can stand on its own without being beholden to past iterations or tropes within the genre. Could this film have been improved upon? Certainly, but for a franchise that has been dragged through the mud, rebooted, and then rebooted again, I am very content with what I got. Even happy.