SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Halloween, now in theaters.
When it comes to the horror genre, and slasher movies in particular, the usual expectation is to see the killer carrying out numerous acts of violence, spilling blood at every turn and allowing the audience to participate in as much of this gore as possible. It's a truism that stretches across numerous fan-favorite franchises, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Child's Play, Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
However, David Gordon Green's direct sequel to John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween adopts a very different and oh-so subtle approach to all of its predecessors. One would assume it would have drawn its biggest influence from the original, which has been praised as one of the best slasher flicks ever, but instead this new Halloween takes lead from a film that isn't even slasher-related: Jaws.
Throughout this new story, Green doesn't present every kill Michael Myers makes on screen. In fact, he alternates between on and off-screen deaths, showing the aftermath at one turn, and then switching to Myers in the act for another murder. It's a smart approach as it doesn't saturate the screen with violence and run the risk of becoming a generic slasher outing. Sure, we love seeing Michael snapping unsuspecting peoples' necks, plunging knives through throats and stomping in skulls, but having the audience see jaws split open and cops' heads turned into Jack-o'-lanterns off-camera is a great way of letting them fill in the blanks. It's inviting and hides the villain so well, leaving you wanting more.
This is a trope Steven Spielberg perfected in 1975's Jaws, which has influenced countless films across all genres. Teasing the monster, showing its fin and then hinting as to what it could really do rather than explicitly showing it was a stroke of genius. It heightened the anticipation for when we finally witnessed it in its full glory, mouth open and ready to chomp into humanity. Halloween does this in its own way, building to when Myers finally confronts Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her family, his lifelong mission. It's similar to how Jaws kept eating bathers in New England, seemingly beckoning Roy Scheider to battle in the finale.
In that film, we're placed in the shark's underwater perspective, watching how it traverses the ocean, pulling some people down while swimming past other potential victims. Not everyone's a kill, but as more deaths occur, things get progressively bloodier as bodies and limbs wash ashore. Green employs a similar kind of hide-and-seek method in Halloween, using sharp cutaways and jump scares to limit how much we see the slasher, allowing him to pop up every now and then in a cathartic manner, just like Jaws' shark. And when he does surface, it's unadulterated bloodshed and chaos. In both cases, the directors are buttering us up for when things get unhinged in the final act, allowing all this subtlety early on to build and build into a huge payoff.
Tthis is a bold approach, and not an easy thing to pull off. Gareth Edwards got a lot criticism for employing a similar technique in 2014's Godzilla, which only unleashed the creature in the end to audience's dismay. The Jaws approach to horror works in Halloween because there are so many victims on display; as he sets his stage, Green can afford to take a break and let us imagine what Myers does. Not everything needs to be spelled out.
This immerses us deeper into the character, keeping us anxious as to what he'll do with the next victim. Green, like Spielberg, masterfully whets the audience's appetites for the main event. Judging from Halloween's critical and financial reception so far, well, this strategy clearly worked wonders.
Halloween, directed by David Gordon Green and starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, Toby Huss and Haluk Bilginer is currently in theaters.