The boogeyman is back, slashing and stabbing his way through one of the 'Halloween' franchise's more formulaic efforts.
October 28, 2021
They can't all be treats. That's true each time October 31 hits, sending children scurrying around the streets in search of sweets, and it's true of the film franchise that owns the spookiest time of year. Since debuting 43 years ago, the Halloween series has delivered both gems and garbage — and off-kilter delights such as Halloween III: Season of the Witch — but its latest and 12th entry carves a space firmly in the middle. Halloween Kills ticks plenty of boxes that a memorable Halloween movie should, and is also a horror sequel on autopilot. Somehow, it's also a Halloween movie lacking purpose and shape. It has The Shape, of course, as Michael Myers is also known. But it's more an exercise in spending extra time in Haddonfield, in its boogeyman's presence and in world inhabited by franchise heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, Knives Out) than a compelling slasher flick on its own.
After giving the Halloween realm its second-best chapter in 2018, it's easy to see why returning writer/director David Gordon Green (Stronger) and his frequent collaborator Danny McBride (The Righteous Gemstones) have taken this approach. When you've just made a classic follow-up to a stone-cold classic — again, only John Carpenter's iconic franchise-starter is better — you keep on keeping on. That's not quite how Halloween Kills turns out, though. It picks up immediately where its predecessor left off, lets Michael stab his way through small-town Illinois again, and brings back Laurie's daughter Karen (Judy Greer, Where'd You Go, Bernadette) and teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, Son) from the last spin. It also pads things out with a vengeance storyline that endeavours to get political, yet proves about as piercing as a butter knife.
In the last film — called Halloween, like the flick that started it all — Laurie faced the man who turned her into a victim back when she was a 17-year-old babysitter. She unleashed four decades of rage, fear and anxiety during a moment she'd been preparing for across all of that time, and it proved cathartic for her and for viewers alike. This saga was always going to add another sequel, however. As the second part of a trilogy under Green and McBride's guidance, Halloween Kills will also gain its own follow-up in a year's time. When it arrives in 2022, Halloween Ends won't actually live up to its name. No horror movie lover would want it to. Still, it already haunts Halloween Kills — because, like the townsfolk that the latex mask-sporting, overall-wearing Michael just keeps stalking, it feels uncertain about where it should head.
First, Halloween Kills sends its three generations of Strode women to hospital, riffing on 1981's Halloween II. Sadly, it also replicates one of the latter's missteps, leaving Laurie there as her nemesis keeps slicing — and splitting its attention around Haddonfield. Here, both Karen and Allyson have also had enough of Michael's nonsense. So has Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall, The Goldbergs), one of the kids that Laurie babysat on that fateful night all those years ago. So, he rallies a mob and transforms the grieving and scared locale into a haven for vigilante justice; "evil dies tonight!" is their cheer.
Evil won't die tonight, which isn't a spoiler. Again, Halloween Ends is coming — and evil won't end there, either. As this franchise has kept looping, twisting and constantly resetting its prior timelines every few films or so, the fact that its source of evil keeps slashing in movie after movie has been one of its strongest thematic weapons. Indeed, Halloween circa 2018 keenly understood that trauma such as Laurie's doesn't fade. It festers; its survivors might learn to cope beneath their PTSD, but their lacerations still pulsate with pain. Halloween Kills tries to expand the idea by focusing on communal rather than individual wounds, and on its setting's shared past; however, thanks to heavy-handed insurrection-style imagery, it plays less as a musing on its underlying suburban nightmare and the distress rippling from it, and more as a weak comment on America today.
They can't all slay, obviously — Halloween movies, that is. Michael clearly can and does keep slaying, his body count rising swiftly. When it comes to his murders, Halloween Kills is gory, bloody and gruesome, with Green at his best when he's honing in on the mechanics of its masked maniac's reign of terror. It'd be repetitive if it wasn't so effective, even if it's packaged with smaller doses of tension and suspense. The OG Halloween spawned a spate of imitators for a reason, and still does, but this latest successor lacks its slasher elegance and economy — because Green also enjoys getting flamboyant with Halloween Kills' kills for the sake of it.
Perhaps he's trying to make up for sidelining his star, the white-haired Curtis, for so long. Steely as ever, she remains the film's undisputed highlight in the screen time she has, but Halloween Kills doesn't feel like Laurie's story. Or, perhaps Green is trying to distract from the bold move he didn't make. Even in a franchise that plays so fast and loose with its continuity, not managing to bring back Paul Rudd, aka Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers' version of Tommy, is a huge missed opportunity.
Halloween Kills re-enlists other familiar faces, spanning both 1978's and 2018's Halloween flicks. It adds backstory all over the place, much of it filler. It gets Carpenter, his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies to rework the synth and piano-heavy tunes that've served the series so well, after they did the same last time around. Like its predecessor, it slinks and stalks with unease. It pushes women to the fore again, too — women who refuse to simply be mere final girls. But it's also the jack-o'-lantern of Green's trilogy within the broader Halloween franchise: there's enough light flickering in its carved-out pumpkin eyes, but there's also an inescapable by-the-numbers emptiness as well.