I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact moment I went from liking David Gordon Green’s update on “Halloween” to loving it, but I think it was the moment it flipped from being a mere homage to John Carpenter’s slasher-movie classic to being a sturdy suspense thriller in its own right.
Certainly Green (“Stronger,” “Pineapple Express”), co-writing with his frequent collaborator Danny McBride, load up the early scenes of the movie with all the touchstones of Carpenter’s original. They include the ‘70s-era credit font, Carpenter’s eerie synthesizer theme, the mention of the late Donald Pleasance’s doom-saying Dr. Loomis, and especially the gray rubber mask that turned killer Michael Myers into an iconic horror figure.
The mask is introduced to the permanently institutionalized Michael by Aaron (Jefferson Hall), who co-hosts a true-crime podcast with Dana (Rhian Rees), whose examination of the Michael Myers case is proverbially poking a stick into a bear cage. Aaron and Dana also try to interview Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the psychologically damaged survivor of Michael’s 1978 attack. Laurie has turned her home into a high-security fortress in case Michael ever returns.
“I’ve prayed that someday Michael would escape,” Laurie tells Sheriff’s Officer Hawkins (Will Patton), who also was in Haddonfield on that fateful Halloween in 1978. When Hawkins asks why, Laurie replies, “So I can kill him.”
Laurie’s paranoia has left its mark on her family, notably her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who has endured lots of therapy to counteract hyper-secure upbringing. Karen and her husband Ray (Toby Huss) have a daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), a high-school senior who’s the same age Laurie was 40 years ago.
This Halloween night, Allyson is attending a high-school dance with her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold). At the same time, the prison bus transporting Michael crashes, and Michael is on the loose — pursued by his shrink, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), Dr. Loomis’ protege, who has made studying Michael’s evil his life’s obsession.
It takes a little time for Green to get us where we want to be: Watching Michael murdering teen-agers and striking terror in the heart of a small town. Once he gets into that groove, though, Green stages some nail-biting moments of suspense, while also throwing out some sly nods to the franchise. (It should be noted that Green’s love for Carpenter’s original means that he doesn’t recognize as canon many of the sequels, as well as the Rob Zombie-directed reboot.)
Curtis hasn’t had a role this meaty in decades, and she makes it memorable. Her Laurie Strode is haunted by the past, but grimly determined not to let that past repeat itself. Curtis is nicely matched by Greer, who’s always nothing short of wonderful, and Matichak to form a trio of take-no-prisoners women. Their three generations of scream-queen perfection is what ultimately gives this “Halloween” a fighting spirit of its own.
Opens Friday, Oct. 19, at theaters everywhere. Rated R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity. Running time: 106 minutes.