A lot of reviews will tell you that 2018’s Halloween is, after 40 years and 10 movies, the best Halloween movie since John Carpenter’s 1978 original, a movie so influential it inspired an entire genre that dominated cinema’s horror landscape throughout the 1980s.
Objectively, that may be true: this Halloween sequel is slick and surprisingly well-written, with some great production design and cinematography (by Michael Simmonds), and terrific performances, especially from Jamie Lee Curtis, returning to the role of Laurie Strode for the first time since a brief cameo in 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection.
But there’s one thing missing here: this sequel to one of horror’s most iconic film franchises is almost completely devoid of atmosphere.
2018’s Halloween is directed by David Gordon Green, the indie director who has made some of the best films of the past two decades (including the wonderful George Washington and 2013’s Nic Cage-starring Joe) along with barely-watchable stoner comedies like Your Highness and The Sitter.
Nothing in Green’s filmography suggests he has a hand for horror, and nor does his Halloween. To be fair, the director doesn’t even seem to be trying to generate scary-movie atmosphere; as Michael Myers hacks and slashes his way through Haddonfield, the murders feel closer in tone to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than your typical slasher movie.
That could be an interesting take. Rob Zombie went for something different in his two Halloween movies – a kind of vulgar brutality – and Halloween II, at least, succeeded in generating an genuine aura of unpleasantness as opposed to the usual thrills and chills.
But apart from Green’s restrained, barely-there direction, 2018’s Halloween is strictly a routine slasher movie in conception – and a surprisingly well-constructed one, at that.
Ignoring the seven previous movies considered canon, and Zombie’s two reboot-sequels, this Halloween picks up 40 years after the original, with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode a reclusive grandmother who lives in an isolated cabin in the woods.
While her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) enjoy a typical suburban life in Haddonfield, Strode is still terrified of Michael Myers, who has been imprisoned at the nearby Smith’s Grove facility after killing five of her friends 40 years prior. (Why not, say, move to Australia?)
There are a wealth of other characters here – from the “new Loomis” doctor (Haluk Bilginer, who’s excellent) to an empathetic sheriff (Will Patton) and an assortment of the usual horny teenagers – but most of them exist purely as horror movie fodder.
You know exactly what happens here, as Myers escapes and murders his way back into Haddonfield on Halloween night. His first on-screen victim, upsettingly, is a ten-year-old boy, perhaps a nod to Carpenter’s Assault in Precinct 13.
In-between the gruesome kills – which occur, mostly, off-camera, with the audience treated to graphic reveals of the bodies – Green and co-writer Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride) spice things up with some light comedy, such as having a pair of cops chat about PB&J and banh mi sandwiches while heads are being stomped down the street. .
Green has a great sense of his young characters; there are scenes between Allyson and her boyfriend, and babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardner) and her charge that feel far more real than anything we typically get out of a slasher movie. But he has no sense of horror movie atmosphere: there’s zero tension watching these characters cluelessly strut around as Michael Myers lurks in the shadows, only a kind of sad realization that they will eventually meet a gruesome demise.
That is, until, an end-game sequence between Strode and Myers that plays out as a role-reversal of the original film’s climax, with a shotgun-packing Strode hunting down the wounded killer in the dark throughout her house. This five-minute sequence, finally, is terrifically suspenseful, and almost makes up for everything that had preceded it.
For most audiences, I suspect 2018’s Halloween will be a sufficient seasonal treat; it’s fleetingly gruesome but never scary, devoting time to building characters and developing its story rather than wandering around a haunted house. And it’s a satisfying continuation of the original film’s story in ways that other sequels haven’t approached.
But for fans of horror movies, and in particular the Halloween franchise, this just isn’t going to satisfy; even something like the recent Hell Fest had more atmosphere than what’s on display here.
Is this the best Halloween sequel? I’d say it falls squarely in the middle.
1. Halloween (1978)
2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
3. Halloween II (1981)
4. Halloween II (2012)
5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
6. Halloween (2018)
7. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
8. Halloween 5
9. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
10. Halloween Resurrection
11. Halloween (2007)