‘Halloween’: Rejoice! This Brutal Horror Remake Is Killer [TIFF Review]

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In 1978, legendary filmmaker John Carpenter used just a few basic components to create one of the all-time great slasher flicks: a psychopath, a chilling score, and a teenage girl. All these years later, fans remain hungry for more stories featuring the cold-blooded killer, Michael Myers. Director David Gordon Green has taken on the challenge of modernizing “Halloween” for audiences today. This new version scrubs away the convoluted “Halloween” mythology from various sequels and carries on after the series’ creative high-point.

Forty years have passed since Michael Myers’ infamous Halloween killing spree. In this story, authorities captured Myers after his rampage through Haddonfield, and he’s been locked up in an institution ever since. The teenager who survived, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), still hasn’t recovered from the incident. She’s haunted by thoughts that he will escape and come after her. Laurie made it her mission never to get caught off guard again, and now she lives her life like a doomsday prepper; there’s an arsenal tucked away in her basement/panic room. Laurie’s anxieties about her tormentor caused a rift between her and her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). But all three women need to be on the same page after the bus transporting Myers crashes and sets him loose. If there’s one thing they all agree on, it’s that he’s coming for them.

“Halloween” should appeal to the series’ diehard fans as well as newcomers. Moviegoers with no knowledge of the original can still enjoy this first-class slasher flick without feeling like they’re missing out. This project is about as close as you can get to remaking a film without being an actual remake. Screenwriters Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and David Gordon Green throw in lots of nods and winks to the original for the hardcore fans. These three hilarious men didn’t give their comedy chops a chance to atrophy either because many of the references they drop are worthy of at least a snicker. But don’t worry, they didn’t turn “Halloween” into a comedy.

Michael Myers has the leanest mythology out of Hollywood’s iconic slasher flick antagonists. He lacks Freddy and Jason’s supernatural menace and the personality of Ghostface from “Scream.” So why is it that the most vanilla killer of the lot remains so popular after all these years? Part of it is his unflinching demeanor and his intense drive to murder, but mostly it’s the single-minded way he goes about killing. Freddy kills victims in their sleep and Jason stays close to the woods (when not taking Manhattan). Myers, on the other hand, is a threat to strike anytime and anywhere.

The first third of the film takes place in broad daylight, and even that doesn’t stop Myers from murdering anyone in his path. He shows up at a gas station in the middle of the day and leaves behind a grisly trail of bodies. The chilling part is that he’s not skulking around. This guy isn’t playing by the serial-killer-movie rulebook, and that’s terrifying. Monsters are supposed to stick to the shadows but this guy steps in through the front door. This is one aspect of the original film that this version gets pitch perfect. Green’s older version of the killer feels as authentic as Curtis returning to play Laurie.

Myers racks up an impressive body count throughout the picture — a few of his murders don’t even take place onscreen. Somehow, the instances when characters stumble across his mutilated victims are just as disturbing. Myers operates like a cold, soulless cipher, and despite his drive to take life, he shows no pleasure in the act. Whereas Jason takes a perverse joy in getting creative with his kills, Myers style is more functional. He will grab a hand full of hair to slam someone’s head off a wall, but he has it in him to also turn that head into a jack-o-lantern. Several deaths look custom built to impress gore hounds so the squeamish should consider giving this movie a pass.

The most significant change from the original “Halloween” isn’t the violence, score, or story beats; it’s the themes. Green is too savvy a filmmaker to revel in an old-school slasher movie’s schlockier elements. Instead, he chooses to comment on the toll violence takes on its victims. “Halloween,” asks the audience to consider the pain and trauma Laurie endured for their own pleasure. Watching slasher movies to see killers stalk young woman for kicks isn’t too far removed from why the Romans flocked into the Coliseum. Not only does the script ask viewers to recognize Laurie’s suffering, but it also punishes Myers’ adulators. It’s a novel take on the material that wants the audience to reconsider what it means to be a horror flick’s final girl.

On paper, this 2018 reimagining doesn’t need to exist, but moviegoers should be glad that it does. Studios will keep on rehashing their valuable assets, and Green’s interpretation of the property plays out as the best-case scenario. “Halloween” is a love letter to the original picture and entertaining on its own terms. Thrilling, atmospheric, and brutally violent, Green delivers exactly what fans want from the series and then some. [A-]

Check out all our coverage from the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival here.

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