Nick Castle in HalloweenUniversal

Michael Myers has plenty of admirers. That’s the big takeaway from the new edition of Halloween, a curious sequel that functions as both the 11th entry in a long-running franchise and a direct follow-up to the 1978 John Carpenter film that started it all. Directed by David Gordon Green, this 2018 Halloween is not the first in the venerable slasher series to cast aside some of the more convoluted elements from its decades of lore. But it does that all out of pure devotion to Carpenter’s genre-defining work and its totemic villain: that silent, jumpsuited, knife-wielding monster, Mr. Myers.

This is a sequel that ends up feeling like a direct homage. It’s not a piece of perfect mimicry, but a clever echo of the original that ends up emphasizing the elegance of Carpenter’s low-budget thriller, in which a masked killer chased an innocent babysitter around town. Boiled down to its core, the 1978 Halloween was about the chilling permeability of the suburbs and the ease with which American domesticity could be disrupted. Green’s new movie sticks to that theme, and does it well, but the film only shows hints of being something more interesting until its excellent final act.

Halloween begins with the most bloodcurdling example of chaotic evil in the 21st century: a pair of true-crime-podcast hosts. Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) are fascinated by the Haddonfield murders of 1978, where Myers (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney), an escaped mental-hospital patient, stalked a teenager named Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and murdered her friends. Green’s script, written with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, ignores the plotting of the Halloween sequels that revealed Myers and Laurie were siblings. Here, Myers is just a savage killer who happened to cross paths with her decades ago.

Aaron and Dana, microphones in hand, visit Myers at a sanitarium but fail to provoke an obvious response from him. Their mention of Laurie does spark some kind of awakening, though, because soon enough Myers has escaped and is on the warpath, out for revenge. His main target? Laurie, who has moved to a fortified home out in the woods, and is played with edgy brilliance by Curtis, sporting a wild mane of gray hair. Having never quite gotten over 1978, Laurie has become somewhat of a crazed hermit, waiting with shotgun in hand for the day her old nemesis comes home.

That reversal should be the key to Green’s pitch. The old dynamic of Carpenter’s film is being flipped, in a way: Now Myers is the prey, and Laurie the hunter. But that’s not really how the story progresses—instead, as Myers rampages toward town, the action shifts to Laurie’s estranged daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who has rejected her mother’s apocalyptic outlook, and Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), who very much resembles 1978 Laurie. Allyson is out on the town with her friends, one of whom has a babysitting gig; to her, Laurie is just a kooky grandma, and Michael Myers no more than a creepy bedtime story.

As Myers reaches Haddonfield, Allyson and her pals are placed squarely in his sights, and Halloween becomes just another slasher film, though Green assembles some expertly tense sequences. This is a project that’s been attempted before: In 1998, there was Steve Miner’s Halloween H20, also starring Curtis, set 20 years after the original and similarly focused on an ultimate showdown between Myers and Laurie. That was even more horror-by-numbers; Green’s film has a little more artistry to it. But still, all his best tricks are borrowed from Carpenter, right down to the chilling, minimalistic score (composed by Carpenter himself, along with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies).

The reason the first Halloween felt so bold was its simplicity—imagine making a horror movie about a stranger murdering a bunch of other strangers and just titling it after the scariest holiday! Green’s Halloween, like many other imitators, can wring plenty of stress from a scene of a babysitter checking behind the closet door for a boogeyman. In its portrayal of Laurie, the film has the potential to dig beyond homage, but she’s largely sidelined from the action until the denouement. Other new twists on the old tale, like a loopy psychiatrist played by Haluk Bilginer to replace the departed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) of the original, are gratingly self-referential.

In its last 30 minutes, Halloween finally stops playing the hits and tries something really different. I won’t spoil beyond that, but it works. Curtis’s performance is genuinely poignant and restrained, mostly avoiding the twitchy clichés that Laurie’s post-traumatic stress might encourage. Dumping the hacky sequel concept that Laurie’s related to Myers makes her motivation simpler and crueler; this is a revenge tale for each character, and once Green starts telling it from both sides, the film sings with purpose. Halloween takes its time warming up, but when Curtis grabs the reins, it does more than enough to justify its curious existence.

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