Halloween – TIFF Review

Detoxifying after a summer-long, World Cup bender at Moscow’s Hotel Metropol bar with newfound drinking buddies Dimitri and Boris was as much a Herculean feat as the bender itself. Both Dimitri and Boris are not doctors, but claim they play ones on TV – presumably Russia’s answer to George Clooney and Anthony Edwards. After too many kale shakes and cayenne pepper/lemon cleanse drinks to count, I was finally medically cleared to fly. I landed just in time to hit all the Toronto International Film Festival parties and the whole-grain goodness that is Midnight Madness. Imagine the booze-fuelled frat party of the 16th Hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open combined with the heckling and cheering of the NFL’s most intense, hostile environments in Oakland’s Black Hole and you get an idea of the wacky, fun atmosphere that Midnight Madness produces. And I wasn’t disappointed when I attended the world premier of Halloween, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and directed by David Gordon Greene (Pineapple Express, Our Brand is Crisis).

Halloween (1978) directed by John Carpenter and written by Carpenter and Debra Hill, widely influenced all horror slasher films that came after it. Unfortunately, the Halloween franchise has been hit and miss since the original’s release, with inferior sequels and a remake directed by Rob Zombie. So it was seen as a bold decision that Greene and co-writer Danny McBride insisted that their follow up to the original would ignore all the sequels. This is not the first film series to take a gamble on a reinvention; the payoff was handsome for Creed, a fresh take on the Rocky franchise. Alternatively, I am less then impressed with what is currently happening with the Star Wars saga and will go back to watching my VHS tapes of Han shooting first (that’s right, Millennials. Deal with it). Greene and McBride’s take focuses primarily on continuing the mythology from the original with the sequels ignored from continuity.

The film introduces us to pretentious British podcast duo (Rhian Reese and Jefferson Hall) intent on re-investigating the story of real-life boogeyman Michael Myers who killed five people in Haddonfield, Illinois 40 years ago. Our intrepid Brits catch up to Michael at a high-security facility where we see more of him than ever; he’s unmasked and while we never see his full face clearly, it’s enough to tantalize the uberfans. Things happen as they do in horror films to move the story forward; Michael escapes and is on the hunt for the one that got away all those years ago, Laurie Strode.

Jamie Lee Curtis_Halloween 2018

Greene and McBride’s story examines what happens to the “final girl” after surviving a run-in with a masked killer, and while the idea was first presented in Halloween: H20, this incarnation frames the idea in a more grounded reality.

Curtis plays Strode as a survivor with many layers. On the one hand we see her suffering with PTSD and how that has been affecting her life since the original film, including an estranged relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and grand-daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Laurie is nervous, on edge; she startles easily and has isolated herself from society, convinced Myers will return for her. What hurts to see is how fractured the relationship is with Karen and husband Ray (Toby Huss); embarrassed by Laurie’s behaviour, we witness how most people who have suffered significant trauma see themselves and are seen by others.

At the same time, Laurie is also a survivalist, having devoted her life to preparation for Myers’ return since that fateful night. Reminiscent of Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 Judgment Day, Laurie is now trained, armed, and ready for her perceived inevitable second encounter with Michael. It is that Ahab-like obsession which led to her estrangement with Karen, but also provides a fulfilling, thrilling third act confrontation as three generations of Strode women take on Myers with a slight nod to Don’t Breathe, clever reversals and fan-serving Easter eggs.

Greene had a good visual eye that gives us the feel of Carpenter’s original (Carpenter also created the film’s score) while maintaining tension, and McBride provides some good laughs in appropriate moments of humorous relief. There will be some criticism about how the film should be dedicating more time to Curtis’ character and the psychological damage the early trauma has caused her. A fair comment, however, since we are dealing with a 100ish minute horror film and not a drama, there can be some forgiveness in that regard. Is it perfect? No, but neither was Carpenter’s original; Greene makes a worthwhile continuation that will please and entertain fans, which is the point.

Halloween premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be released on October 19.