Halloween ★★★★

David Gordon Green’s take on Halloween lives in the shadow of John Carpenter’s original classic, and fully acknowledges its place in the shade. At first, the movie seems like it’s going to treat the 1978 film as a sacred text that needs to be continually summarized, referenced, and relitigated in classic legacy sequel/soft reboot fashion — in the opening act, it goes to great lengths to make you think about the first film as frequently as possible. After an underwhelming prologue that immediately (and somewhat hamfistedly) mythologizes Michael Myers, the movie essentially recreates the first chunk of Carpenter’s film beat for beat — a new Strode kid, Allyson, walks to school with two friends, sits in the back of class, gazes out the window to see something surprising. The visual language here is simultaneously a direct copy of the original movie and a pale imitation of it — everything looks about the same but feels much more watered-down. And all the while, there’s an exhausting amount of callbacks and verbal references to the events of the first movie.

But everything shifts after Allyson looks out that school window and locks eyes with someone outside: not Michael Myers, but her grandmother Laurie. It’s at this unassuming but critical juncture that the new Halloween differentiates itself from the old. It’s a story about family and trauma with an emotional core that the original movie never even considers developing. There are still some comparable moments between the two films after this particular scene — we see a parallel explanation for Michael’s escape from captivity and some classic long-take suburban murders — but the overall thematic purpose, rhythm, and mood have shifted for the better into something more original than a rote recreation of the ‘70s slasher.

The contemporary critical cliché is to complain about the idea that every horror movie and series is now “about trauma” and that we need a more varied pool of thematic focuses within the genre. But Halloween’s particular approach to the topic fascinates me — it’s particularly concerned with how people’s trauma inhibits other people’s ability to love and connect with them. And it successfully highlights the victim’s unshakable craving for some sense of closure and control, even if it means they embody the behavior that traumatized them in the first place.

Like fellow successful legacy sequels Creed and The Force Awakens, it grapples with the legendary iconography of the original movie by showing its impact on the next generation that suffers in its wake. Rather than lazily covering the same ground as the source material, this movie is in conversation with the original. It couldn’t possibly exist without Carpenter’s movie, and it never wants to replace it or pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s a companion piece to a superior movie, and since that superior movie works because of its perfect confluence of budgetary restrictions and strange idiosyncrasies, this newer one wisely declines to attempt to recreate the lightning in the bottle (for the most part). Instead, it mostly does its own thing while remembering the past. The cast is full of immensely likable performers, the jokes almost all land, and, most importantly, the horror setpieces are tense, scary, and quite memorable. If not for that shaky beginning and a bland visual palette, this would be an all-time favorite of mine.

Halloween ranked

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