‘Halloween’ thrills once again with PTSD survivalist story

Scaring up a near-record $77.5 million in its opening weekend, the eleventh sequel in the horror franchise proves to be the best and most profitable yet.

When John Carpenter’s “Halloween” hit theatres in 1978, it struck the perfect chord of disturbing horror within commercial boundaries. The babysitter-murderer movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis was gritty and lo-fi with sleek production design and original music that helped it earn healthy box office returns. Since its release, the slasher classic has influenced contemporary favorites (see “It Follows”), and is now seen as a pivotal moment in redefining the horror genre.

Exactly 40 years later, David Gordon Green (“Stronger”) disregards all the sequels and spinoffs spawned since the film’s release for a direct sequel that is scarily effective if not as brilliant as Carpenter’s. Welcomely unexpected, I found this new version galvanizing in its choice to explore the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on Laurie Strode (Curtis). The lone survivor of Michael Myers’ (James Jude Courtney) infamous stalk-and-slash is now an alcoholic, gunslinging survivalist with an estranged relationship from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and a tentative one with her teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).

Written by Danny McBride, David Gordon Green and Jeff Fradley, the sometimes-funny, sometimes-spooky screenplay jumps a generation and is set on the same night in everytown Haddonfield, Illinois. Viewers are briefed on the backstory by two English podcasters who are investigating the murders before Myers is transferred to a maximum security prison. The busload of inmates inevitably crashes and the true-crime detectives don’t get much work done either, leaving audiences waiting for a last act showdown in the hidey-hole of Strode’s fortress-like home. These last thirty minutes are a blast to experience in a crowded theatre this time of year, not unlike last year’s blockbuster “It.”

The interplay between actresses during the dramatic final act works so well that I wish the rest of the movie knew it could rely more on them instead of its snappy twists and pacing. Curtis is a commanding screen presence here alongside the always reliable Greer and rising talent Matichak. Their combined efforts can’t make up for an overall lack of tonal consistency, but the movie keeps the dreadful electronic score in tact as well as the enigmatic quality of Michael Myers. With Carpenter returning to punch up his iconic soundtrack and the boogeyman still moving at glacial pace, Myers remains a personification of evil on which viewers can project any of their fears.

Sacrificing some slow build-ups for comedic bits, Green’s “Halloween” forgets that the scariest part of these movies is the anticipation and dread just before a slasher sequence or jump-scare. While his movie features some undeniably exciting set-pieces, what works most in his favor is the sense that Laurie Strode has personal ownership over her story. Some viewers might be surprised to learn that she’s a person, not a basket-case, who had to live with what happened to her on that fateful night. It’s hard not to interpret film in terms of society, but as I thought while the credits rolled about her character living in fear and finally deciding to hunt down her predator, I felt that Curtis herself could be speaking for anyone who is using this moment to take back their own stories of fear, trauma or abuse.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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