Halloween (2018), the reboot of John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic of the same name, combines expert filmmaking and fiery performances. With a sly play on genre tropes and a refreshing dose of social commentary, Halloween is a welcome addition to the horror canon. It offers genuine scares while critiquing modern desensitization to mass violence and challenging the stereotypes of female horror protagonists.
In making Halloween, writer and director David Gordon Green along with co-writer, and frequent collaborator, Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Eastbound and Down) ignored the original film’s seven sequels. Halloween returns to Haddonfield, Illinois exactly forty years after the masked serial killer Michael Myers’ (Nick Castle) ‘babysitter murders,’ of which then-seventeen-year-old Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was the sole survivor. Laurie, now a grandmother, has never healed from the trauma of her ordeal; she has isolated herself in a doomsday bunker in the woods, waiting to exact her revenge. Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) struggle with their strained relationships with her, but when Myers escapes from prison, the three generations of Strode women must either hunt together, or be hunted.
This year, films like Hereditary and A Quiet Place have proven that artistically-bold and character-driven horror films can lead to box office success. Halloween jumps on the bandwagon, taking a surprising number of stylistic risks for a mainstream slasher, especially in its cinematography. Director of photography Michael Simmonds laces the film with some truly stunning visuals, including suspenseful long takes, surreal lighting, and optical illusions using shadows.
While it would be remiss to call Halloween a horror comedy, Green and McBride tap into their trademark sharp-witted humor for some genuinely funny sequences. Still, the comedy does not overshadow the horror, which remains visceral and grounded in reality. Indeed, Halloween does not shy away from practical gore effects, depicting some stomach-churning deaths. Green and McBride have updated the restrained, understated horror of the original, replacing it with a more gruesome and believable terror. As Alison and her friends point out, in a world where terrorism and gun violence have made death into just another daily headline, it takes a lot more than suburban teenagers’ stab wounds to make an impact. As Myers snaps necks and crushes skulls, against bone-chilling sound effects, Green and McBride intentionally prompt the viewer to reconsider why it takes so much for modern audiences to feel moved by suffering and death.
Modern horror remakes have a bad rap of either failing to capture the spirit of the original or producing a lacklustre, identical copy. Green and McBride manage to walk the line between homage and innovation—a dash of ‘70s flair and a handful of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to the original serve garnish an already engaging story. Halloween also relies on a strong supporting cast. While the usual suspects are all present—the hot blonde, the comic relief, the clueless boyfriend—Green and McBride’s writing turns these classic tropes on their heads to create sympathetic protagonists and subvert predictable narrative beats.
The amped-up violence is not the only component of the film rife with Green’s social commentary. Arguably, Halloween’s greatest strength is its female leads. Jamie Lee Curtis infuses her iconic role with charisma and raw emotion, supported by excellent performances from Greer and Matichak. Green and McBride are not interested in fetishizing violence against women—in fact, most of Myers’ victims are men. The combined forces of three generations of Strode women are an inspiring example of the potential that horror, a genre often criticized for misogyny, holds. The women in Halloween are proof that scream queens do not have to be virginal, flawlessly beautiful, barely clothed, or brutally abused to carry a horror film. On the shoulders of its three heroines, Halloween succeeds at hearkening back to the beloved classic, while giving it a grisly yet socially conscious update for the twenty-first century. Green and McBride prove that as a genre, horror can be both canonical and reflexive.