The Halloween franchise now spans forty years, long enough to spawn a host of terrible sequels, cheap knock-offs, and clever send-ups. This latest offering wisely heaves out the garbage of most of its predecessors and hones in on the trend-setting original, where Michael Myers terrorized a young, innocent Jamie Lee Curtis. Like the genre itself, Curtis has lived long enough to be a grandmother, and this experience has transformed her clichéd teen princess into a rough and ready horror badass. Halloween can’t escape a few of the tropes it helped pioneer, but strong performances help anchor the story and make it the best installment since the first.
Michael Myers spends the opening scenes standing mute in a foreboding asylum, until two obnoxious podcasters descend and try to coax the killer to speak. They present him with his iconic, cadaverous mask, awakening the soulless evil within and prompting him to become a relentless, robotic Terminator. Laurie Strode (Curtis) is his Sarah Connor: She’s been stockpiling guns and booby-trapping her armored Amityville house for decades. The locals regard Strode as a heat-packing Boo Radley; her family has grown weary of her Myers-themed jeremiads. Her emotionally scarred daughter (Judy Greer) attempts to shield Laurie’s granddaughter, Allison, (Andi Matichak) from the family past.
At times, Halloween feels like it was built from two different scripts. Just like a million other horror movies, characters behave stupidly to advance the plot: They peek in closets and creak up pitch-black staircases, despite knowing there’s a superhuman man-golem out there with a butcher knife. But then the movie surprises with moments of real quality, where its characters resemble something you almost never see in a horror movie–actual human beings: Will Patton’s road-weary sheriff, the daughter (Greer is terrific as a woman who loves and is petrified of her mother) and Curtis, who brings real fury and focus to her empowered protagonist. Every now and then, the writing and acting synch up, and you actually root for a few of these characters to live.
If Halloween doesn’t blaze any new trails, it still goes where it’s been before better than most. Director David Gordon Green covers the film in a layer of Spielbergian atmosphere–flashlights slice through dense fog, actors gaze widely at some offscreen menace. The music, built around the familiar theme, is engagingly retro. As gory nightmare fuel and cheap entertainment go, Halloween does a great job at being kinda good.