The Movie Guru: Jamie Lee Curtis more interesting than Michael Meyers in new ‘Halloween’
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Rated: R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity.
Screenplay by: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley
Based on characters by: John Carpenter and Debra Hill.
Directed by: David Gordon Green.
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle and more.
Grade: Two and a half stars.
What is the scariest form of evil?
Is it the kind that normally stays buried beneath a charming smile, making you feel safe until the moment it snaps out and slices your throat? Or is it the evil of a child’s nightmares, that faceless monster in the shadows driven by an insatiable, mindless desire to kill and destroy?
The new “Halloween,” a direct sequel to the original, re-commits to the earlier movie’s vision of Meyers as a relentless, inhuman evil. A backstory that has, at times, become ridiculous has been stripped to the bare essentials, returning him to the thing that rises up out of the shadows. It’s by far the best of the sequels, and one of the few that seems to treat Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie at all seriously, but it also highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of Meyers as a villain.
The movie sees itself to the only true sequel to the original film, dismissing all the others with an early line that calls a key plot point they share nothing more than a “vicious rumor.” It reconnects with Laurie decades after her first run in with Meyers, showing her as a paranoid survivalist with an estranged daughter and granddaughter. Meyers has been incarcerated for decades, but when he escapes during a transfer the killings start again.
“Halloween” uses Meyers’ relentlessness well, filming his murders to play on every primal button the audience has. The movie wisely hides his face even before he gets his mask back, because even facial expressions are more humanity than Meyers is allowed to have. He is, as Curtis’s character says at one point, the boogeyman—a personification of what we’re all afraid is hiding in the dark. Here, for the first time in awhile, he comes close to achieving that.
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The problem is, that can only go so far. Featureless, personality-free evil is about the most boring thing you can think of, narratively speaking. Motivation is a huge propulsive force in plot, and the moment we understand Michael’s at all, he becomes less terrifying. Leave it as the huge question mark that it is, and you build a movie around what is essentially a big blank space.
Curtis does everything she can to make up the difference, and her vision of an older Laurie is tragic but gripping. Still, the very structure of the movie demands that she’s only half the story, and the moment you can look past the fear you realize there’s nothing else there. The movie tries to distract the audience by upping the atrocities Michael commits, but some of them simply aren’t physically possible for someone with a kitchen knife and even the greatest recorded human strength. The minute your brain points that out, Meyers loses even more of his power.
“Halloween” did manage to unsettle me enough that I checked the backseat of my car for any serial killers who might have been waiting there, but the time I made it home from the theater, any lingering sense of dread had vanished completely. Michael Meyers might be the boogeyman, but these days he just doesn’t hold up to reality.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.