After the severely declining quality of the Halloween sequels that preceded it, Halloween: H20 is a marked improvement merely by not being completely dreadful. But the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode is not as triumphant as it should have been; she comes back to anchor a pretty basic slasher movie, although it tries at times to deal with themes of trauma and letting go, in relation to Laurie's 20 years of fear that Michael Myers will return. That's right: As far as this movie is concerned, Michael's been missing since the events of Halloween II, and pretty much everything from the fourth, fifth and sixth movies has been erased from continuity. I'm sure the idea here was to connect H20 to the earlier, more well-regarded Halloween movies, and certainly ignoring the absurd mess of cultists and ancient symbols that the sixth movie tried to sell was a good idea. But it's a shame that Danielle Harris' Jamie Lloyd was written out, because she had flashes of being an interesting character, and Harris did a really good job with some really dodgy writing. She was consistently better than the movies she was in.
Curtis, despite having initiated this project herself, doesn't bring much of a new dimension to Laurie, who's now living under an assumed name after having faked her death in a car crash (that car crash being just about the only plot point that remains intact from the previous sequels). Grown-up Laurie is now the headmistress of a California boarding school, making H20 the first Myers-focused Halloween sequel not to take place in Haddonfield (it's also the first without Donald Pleasence, who died after completing work on the sixth movie). Michael hasn't been seen in 20 years, since the night he supposedly burned to death in the hospital in Haddonfield (Pleasence's Dr. Loomis is mentioned as having died as well, although it's not clear if he perished in the fire or lived a while longer). But suddenly Michael shows back up, with no explanation of where he's been for two decades or how he survived (say what you will about installments four, five and six, but they explained the shit out of everything).
Michael tracks Laurie down and sets about killing the people around her, of which there are a limited number since most of the school's students have left on an extended field trip. Like John Carpenter's original, H20 spends a good amount of time on character development before it gets to the hacking and slashing, and a number of young actors who went on to prominent careers have parts here, including Josh Hartnett as Laurie's teenage son John, Michelle Williams as his girlfriend and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the dude who gets killed before the opening credits roll. The teen characters are only mildly interesting, although writers Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg (working from an uncredited story by Kevin Williamson) create an intriguing dynamic between Laurie and John, who sees his mother's constant fear of Michael Myers as irrational and limiting.
Unlike Wes Craven's smart and suspenseful return to his signature franchise with 1994's New Nightmare, H20 doesn't actually have its original director on board (Carpenter was set to direct at one point but dropped out and was replaced by Steve Miner), and it's only superficially engaged with the themes of the original film and subsequent franchise. It's still scary at times and, like Carpenter's original, extremely economical. It scales back the excesses of the later sequels to focus on sympathetic characters running from a monster, and it does a decent job of it. It ends with a moment that was clearly meant to put a definitive end to the franchise, and if that had happened it would have been a respectable way to go out. Of course, very little about the Halloween series was ever respectable, and H20 ended up being just another movie for Michael to slash his way through on the way to the next.