2021 | rated R | starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, Will Patton, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Jim Cummings | directed by David Gordon Green | 1 hr 45 mins |
I like a wide variety of horror movies, sampling all of the American horror icons with each new remake, reboot and sequel during the spooky season. Personally, however, Halloween is my franchise through thick and thin. John Carpenter’s original 1978 film is such a masterpiece of raw nerve slasher movie tension that jumpstarted a mythos that movies for 3 decades since have been spinning in circles trying to recapture. Each new entry I greet as an event and are compared against the rest of the increasingly convoluted tales of Michael Myers’ reign of terror.
The 2nd part of David Gordon Green’s trilogy, which portends to be the 2nd sequel to the original 78 film, Halloween Kills, like the first Halloween II, picks up right where 2018’s Halloween reboot/sequel left off. Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) house trap is burning to the ground with Michael Myers escaping, slaughtering 11 firefighters and setting off through Haddonfield for yet another massacre, with Strode, her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) being driven to the hospital. Where the first film was a straight reboot padded to the brim with fan service and call-backs, Kills takes a different approach, one that I longed for after seeing how tightly wound around the Myers/Strode battle the 2018 film was. As Halloween films go, Green’s series so far is falling in a middling middle ground somewhere between the atmospheric artistry of 1978 – I still eat up it’s long, wide tracking shots – and the rage and gore-fueled Rob Zombie remakes. It can’t generate the scares Carpenter could, so it amps up the gore, turning Halloween into just another slasher flick, while fans of the franchise long for it to break out and be so much more.
Where this movie works, at least in the first 3rd, is expanding beyond Laurie Strode and her family and turning Kills into an ensemble piece about Haddonfield itself and all of the town residence who either survived Michael Myers or have lived in fear of his legend. The film fills this town with a mix of returning actors reprising their roles, new actors playing returning characters and a few new characters of it’s own. It brings back veterans in the form of Kyle Richards, one of the babysat children all grown up ,and Nancy Stephens, the mental institute nurse Marylin Chambers appear. Leading the town hysteria is grown-up Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), the boy Laurie Strode protected 40 years ago, who decides to form a mob to hunt down Michael (everyone in these movies calls him by first name). Kills does a solid job of setting up it’s large cast and cycling through them as they wind toward their fates throughout the night without the film ever feeling too expository. A movie like this could have easily felt like it stopped and started as it introduced new characters but Green and co-writer Danny McBride fold the set-ups and payoffs into the action very well. I suspect many in the audience will be disappointed that Jamie Lee Curtis gets sidelined for most of Kills, I found it a refreshing way to open up the series.
The first act of this movie is very promising. Featuring Jim Cummings (back in his cop uniform from The Wolf of Snow Hollow) and a younger version of Will Patton’s sheriff, the opening dips back to 1978 with Myers, having just escaped Laurie, roaming around town. It fills in several gaps left in 2018 such as why Michael Myers opens that film in prison and how the 2018 crop of teenagers are related to the night in 78. Green does a decent job of matching 78s visual style. It also features the return of Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis integrated flawlessly into the scenes in a bit of old fashioned movie magic that isn’t CGI and I wasn’t immediately sure how they did it.
As with the 2018 film, Green approaches Kills like he is assembling legos while intently looking at the instructions. As good as it looks, as well constructed as some of the plot threads are, this is through and through a horror movie that is not the work of a horror director. It is not tense, suspenseful, scary or exciting for a single minute. It is entirely bland and safe, neither as self-referential as H20 or as crazy as the Zombie remakes. Both of these movies feel very mechanical, draining The Shape from his mystery and allure the more he mindlessly bashes people’s heads in. Even John Carpenter’s original score, which popped in the 2018 film, doesn’t register.
The universe this trilogy is trying to create here is full of fundamental contradictions that won’t stop tugging at it. It tries to get a lot of mileage out of how Laurie Strode’s life has been traumatized in the 40 years since the first night, but it constantly acts as if those events just happened and are fresh in everyone’s minds. As if everyone in the movie has seen 4 decades of Halloween movies. It is absolutely absurd the degree that the entire town of Haddonfield is still obsessed with Michael Myers. It wipes away the familial connection between Myers and Strode but proceeds as if they are still somehow connected -Laurie spending this film insisting he is coming for her.
Finally, it leans toward real world characters and settings showing Michael to be just a man with a beard and a receding hair line for most of the film and also casts him as as something almost magic. All of these movies call Michael Myers the Boogeyman and show him to be unkillable, but none of them put a spotlight on it quite like Kills. Much of Michaels’ “magic”, his disappearing acts, involve him working in the dark. Here he is dragged out into the light in front of everyone and still given inhuman abilities. Some of these deaths are so wacky it’s as if the universe itself is conspiring to dispatch anyone who gets in his way. Based on this movie’s obsession with Michael’s mask I’m half expecting the final film to reveal it to be the source of actual demonic powers.
Then in the third act, Kills goes completely off the rails. The hospital is overwhelmed with an angry mob, all the characters start doing profoundly dumb things and nobody in the movie seems to have an adequate firearm preferring to take down the Boogyman with bats, bare hands and no plan. In a transparent comment about mob mentality, Tommy winds people up to chase down a mental patient half the size and shape of Michael Myers. Characters that are set up as important are dispatched quickly or off screen. It is big, loud and over-the-top – in essence the exact opposite of a Halloween movie.
The best part of this movie is Judy Greer, who is given a chance to step up and take on both Michael and the mob. Greer gives her role a level of humanity in a movie where everyone is a cartoon. It definitely seems like the trilogy is centering around the three generations with Curtis commanding the first film, Greer taking the 2nd and Matichak set up to take center stage in Halloween Ends. Again, a well constructed idea on paper that is getting muddled in the execution.
Kills suffers from Mid-Trilogy incompleteness, relying on the first film for the table setting and any satisfying payoff back for the final film. David Gordon Green’s Halloween movies have spent 4 hours now masturbating their way through a superficial investigation of “lasting trauma” as a way to pretend that it’s something more than a slasher film. If you want a genre movie about trauma, that’s what 2020’s great The Invisible Man does so much more honestly and effectively. I appreciate that Halloween Kills tries to do something different by at least starting to expand the Halloween world beyond Laurie Strode and I was entertained enough with the film as a simple slasher film at times, but in the end it remains another competently made but passionless Halloween sequel, totally flat in the shocks and scares department.