David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) may be a soft reboot/sequel of the sort that seems to be our punishment in whatever circle of hell this is, but it’s a far better movie than it ought to be for something that was made to revitalize a brand.
It’s not as good as John Carpenter’s original, just to get that out of the way. Not everything improves with age—looking at you, Will Patton’s acting.1 And the cut could have done with a more ruthless edit. The movie has a hard time getting started, and it leaves a couple subplots weirdly underdeveloped, like we’re missing key scenes despite all the exposition. But once the movie finds its footing, it puts all kinds of unbearable tension on the screen for the good old blood-pumping Halloween action that lets you know that you’re alive.
The synopsis is the same as it was forty years ago. Deranged mental patient Michael Myers (Nick Castle) has been institutionalized for years in a waking but unresponsive state after committing bloody murder in suburban Haddonfield, middle-America Illinois, on Halloween night. A switch flips in his reptile brain, and whatever spirit animates his body decides that it’s time to ditch the funny farm and get back to the work that he’s been neglecting. He picks up in Haddonfield on Halloween, right where he left off. A bunch of teenagers die. But Laurie Strode (the worshipful Jamie Lee Curtis), his increasingly compulsive obsession, fights back. Many of the scenes—and the kills—from the original appear in this version in one form or another as restagings, reimaginings, or complete rip-offs, with occasional, supremely satisfying role reversals that can bring an audience to its feet.
So much for the soft reboot. Now let’s talk about the sequel half, which is where the movie really kicks into gear. It isn’t content just to be the Halloween that the studio thought that it was buying. It genuinely wants to break new ground, starting with the connection between Michael and Laurie. Gone is the ham-fisted brother/sister dynamic that’s been canon to the franchise since Halloween II (1982). In its place is something better, something that I wasn’t expecting, that gives the rehashed story beats a different kind of significance, which you can then take back to the original film. How many others of these endless soft reboots open the source material to a new interpretation? I’m going to go ahead and say none of them. (I’m also going to advise you to stop reading now if you want to wait and hear it from the movie, because I’m about to tell you what it is.)
What this new Halloween suggests is that Laurie and Michael are strange attractors. They’re each other’s unfinished business. The fact that the one hasn’t killed the other is what keeps both of them alive and going. They even have a homing instinct for each other, although Michael can access it more easily than she can, since he has less of a forebrain to get in the way. This whatever-it-is that binds them together—their metaphysical codependency, or that they’re the same symbiotic organism, or that either is the shadow that the other is casting—implies that neither can die unless both of them do. This is how Laurie has always managed to escape him. This is how Michael can get back up after taking a hail of bullets in the chest. It’s not the conspiracy from The Cabin in the Woods (2012). It’s quantum entanglement. Spooky action at a distance.
Which means that if one of them survives, so does the other.
1. Then again, Will Patton wasn’t in Halloween (1978).