We should all be so lucky as to have a grandmother like Laurie Stode. By the beginning of the most recent entry in the “Halloween” franchise, the original final girl has grown into a badass bound and determined to protect her family from Michael Myers, the Shatner-masked serial killer who turned her life inside-out 40 years ago, by any means necessary. Played, as always, by a riveting Jamie Lee Curtis (“New Girl”), the same moxie that endeared her to audiences all those years ago is still there, but there’s something broken, too — something that Michael took from her that she never got back. A more focused film would see Curtis’s rendering of that brokenness and know to focus the movie on that, but in its quest to replicate as much about the original as possible, the newest “Halloween” misses out on the greatness right in front of it.
I’m not going to act like there’s no pleasure to watching Laurie and Michael go head-to-head “Clash of the Titans” style. When it happens, it’s a sight to behold, an edge-of-your-seat, knockdown-dragout fight with crowd-pleasing moments and breathless tension galore. It’s unarguably awesome, but you have to sit through an hour of the plot spinning its wheels and director David Gordon Green (“Stronger”) running down his “Halloween” checklist to get there.
So not only is “Halloween” about Laurie hunting Michael after his escape, it’s about Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak, “Evol”) running around on Halloween night dealing with relationship trouble and trying not to get murdered. It’s about Allyson’s friends, who also try not to get murdered but don’t have the good fortune of being the direct descendant of the first movie’s heroine. It’s about a doctor who believes Michael is pure evil and has developed a strange fascination with him, and who is explicitly called “the new Loomis.” All of these have some direct analogue to the first film, and while Green’s staging of these homage-driven plotlines clearly shows his love of the original film, homages alone aren’t enough to make them interesting. They inevitably feel like distractions from the main event instead of stories and characters worth caring about all their own.
Even the cinematography cues meant to play on audience nostalgia fall flat. The 1978 “Halloween” famously opens with a tracking shot from Michael’s point-of-view that follows him as he murders his sister. It’s an iconic shot for a number of reasons: the technical accomplishment of it, the innate cheesiness — why does Michael turn to watch the knife in the middle of the stabbing? — the voyeuristic thrill, the twist ending that the murderer is a six-year-old boy, the list goes on. The new film shoots much of its action in the same way, but here the tracking shots feel strangely perfunctory. They lack the kinetic thrill and immediacy offered by the best historical uses of the technique, and this is coming from someone so prone to praising films that include tracking shots that it arguably constitutes a form of bribery.
What’s more, when the new film actually goes off the beaten path, it can be a treat. The Laurie-Michael storyline should have been given far more focus, but it’s still engaging thanks to the catharsis of watching Laurie regain her agency. The cinematography apart from the tracking shots, can be downright gorgeous at times, especially in its use of wide shots and inventive available lighting. The cast is mostly game, with Jibrail Nantambu in his big screen debut playing what is objectively the best character of the year in film.
The nostalgia cues aren’t all bad, either, with a kickass new score from original director / composer John Carpenter, his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies (“Zoo”) that plays on the original but adds a number of propulsive new layers. More importantly, Green makes the wise choice to keep Michael in the background for most of the first act, his murderous intent removed from the forefront of the frame but never from the forefront of Laurie’s and the viewer’s mind. The director’s understanding of what works in the original film can’t be denied, but that all too rarely carries over into understanding what works in his own film. When it’s good, it’s good, but far too often it’s a monotonous retread of the original’s greatest hits.