The boogeyman is back, and his warped face mask, stolen mechanic's overalls and gleaming kitchen knife too. But Michael Myers' return isn't the entire point of the latest (and second greatest) Halloween. While the creepy convicted killer stalks the streets of Haddonfield, Illinois as if he's never left, Jamie Lee Curtis' resourceful and determined Laurie Strode is back as well — and in the current version of events, she's spent four decades preparing for this very moment.
Once a 17-year-old babysitter targeted by an escaped criminal asylum patient on October 31, Laurie is now a silver-haired, gun-toting grandmother. Living in a compound-like property in her hometown, she's so intent on facing her attacker that she has dedicated years to this very purpose. Laurie's now-adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer) resents her for the impact that it had on her childhood, while teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is caring but concerned. Regardless, Laurie knows that Michael will come for her — and when he again breaks free en route to a new psychiatric facility, she's proven accurate.
Carnage ensues, just as it did in John Carpenter's original slasher classic. As Haddonfield trick-or-treats like it's any other Halloween in any other place, Michael adds more notches to his body count, Laurie lies in wait and Allyson follows in her grandmother's footsteps like it's 40 years earlier. Directed by David Gordon Green (Stronger) and co-written with frequent collaborator Danny McBride, 2018's Halloween knows how to incite bumps, jumps and screams, many of which will be gloriously familiar to seasoned Halloween buffs. But, with Carpenter's blessing and a new musical scorefrom the horror maestro and composer, this take on the franchise also knows how to carve its own path.
Now reaching its 11th instalment, Halloween unleashes the series' fourth different timeline, ignoring everything else except the initial 1978 flick. Black Mirror just announced that it's making a choose-your-own-adventure episode, but this franchise has been doing it for decades. Viewers can pick the cultish thread that eventually connects the first five sequels (including the Michael-free Halloween III: Season of the Witch), Laurie's first big return in Halloween: H20 and its terrible follow-up Halloween: Resurrection, or Rob Zombie's two remakes, however the series' next chapter is the most thrilling, perceptive and satisfying. Green and McBride are clearly fond of Carpenter's seminal work, stripping the saga's underlying suburban nightmare back to its terrifying basics, while contemplating the consequences of terrible trauma. Their film recognises the scariest fact of life: that truly awful things happen for absolutely no reason, and that they cast a dark shadow.
That makes 2018's Halloween a powerful account of the ways that horrific acts shape the lives of survivors, as well as a celebration of women rallying to reclaim their own story. Nothing robs inexplicable terror of its potency quite like its intended victims refusing to be defined by fear. Thankfully, this Halloween isn't just thoughtful — it's thoroughly entertaining, even when it's hitting recognisable notes. Balancing the old and the new is a game that this sequel plays as well as Michael plays cat-and-mouse, from subverting genre tropes initially established by the series, to lovingly nodding to its many predecessors. When the true crime podcasters (played by Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) who kickstart the film's narrative visit Haddonfield's cemetery, and when Laurie calls new doctor Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) the "new Loomis", franchise devotees will want to cheer. When the movie turns Laurie into Michael's boogeyman, rather than vice versa, everyone will want to applaud.
Of course, as plenty of horror shockers have demonstrated over the last 40 years — including a few Halloween follow-ups — it's not enough to simply work through the Halloween checklist. While 2018's Halloween does that with finesse and fondness that goes beyond mere fan service,it also feels the part thanks to its unsettling atmosphere and ample blood splatter. There's lingering menace in Michael Simmonds' (Nerve) cinematography, both when it's mirroring old shots from the original and bringing its own flourishes. Collaborating with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, Carpenter's score reworks the iconic synth and piano-heavy music that has served the series so well, but with a suitably bleaker tone. They both contribute to the sequel that Carpenter's seminal picture has deserved for all of these years. That said, 2018's Halloween does present a conundrum. It's the perfect culmination to the long-running franchise but, more than any other chapter, it leaves the audience pumped for more.