Having original “final girl” Laurie Strode return to the Halloween franchise after decades away is not a new idea, although given the underwhelming way it turned out in 1998’s Halloween H20, you can’t really blame director and co-writer David Gordon Green for taking another crack at it. Like H20, Green’s simply titled Halloween ignores previous series continuity to follow up directly on John Carpenter’s 1978 original, which followed deranged killer Michael Myers as he stalked a group of teenage babysitters in Haddonfield, Illinois.
Here, Michael (James Jude Courtney) has spent the past 40 years locked in an institution for the criminally insane, tended first by Dr. Samuel Loomis (the late Donald Pleasence’s character from the original movie) and, following Loomis’ death, by Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who’s become a bit too attached to his favorite patient. Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley use the somewhat cheesy device of a Serial-style investigative podcast documenting the Myers case as a way to reintroduce the major players and catch the audience up on the story.
The podcasters first attempt to talk to Michael (who remains mute after all these years), and later meet with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, back for the first time since 2002’s franchise low point Halloween: Resurrection), who’s devoted her life to methodically preparing for Michael’s return. She lives in an isolated house that she’s turned into a fortress, and she’s estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), whose upbringing was dominated by survivalist paranoia. Curtis plays Laurie like a slightly wearier, more frayed version of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a woman whose life has been consumed by anticipating an apocalypse that no one else believes in.
Laurie is right, of course, and when a bus transferring prisoners from the hospital to a new facility crashes, Michael escapes and starts making his way back to Haddonfield, intent on finishing what he started 40 years earlier (and killing a bunch of other people along the way, obviously). What follows is effective but largely familiar, as Michael takes out various expendable side characters, leading up to his final confrontation with Laurie, Karen and Karen’s daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). For all Laurie’s extensive preparation, she fares only slightly better against Michael than other Halloween protagonists (including her past self, in various continuities) have, and the supporting cast is full of the same generic teens as dozens of other forgettable slasher movies.
Green attempts to portray the way that Michael’s attack has overtaken Laurie’s entire subsequent life, something that both H20 and Rob Zombie’s superior 2009 version of Halloween II took on, with varying degrees of success. Curtis brings a certain haunted quality to Laurie, but she’s frequently sidelined in favor of less interesting supporting characters, and the dynamic between her and the resentful Karen is underdeveloped. Despite its hints at exploring something deeper, Halloween is mostly just a decent horror movie, delivering the requisite jump scares and fake-outs.
Green, whose eclectic career ranges from stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) to hushed dramas (All the Real Girls, Snow Angels) to the recent inspirational biopic Stronger, may seem like an odd choice to helm a horror movie, but he’s a dedicated craftsman, and he’s clearly studied Carpenter’s work closely. Green’s movie is often suspenseful and stylish, with a number of tense set pieces.
Carpenter himself returns as executive producer and to compose an updated version of his iconic musical score, alongside his son Cody and Daniel Davies. The result is a perfectly respectable addition to the Halloween franchise, an improvement over many of the disreputable sequels and a far better return for Curtis than H20 was. There’s no real reason it needs to be anything more.