Halloween Kills (2021)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2021-10-29 02:49

Written by: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, & Scott Teems (screenplay), John Carpenter & Debra Hill (characters)
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, and Andi Matichak

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

"Evil dies tonight!"

Twice before audiences have been greeted with films titled Halloween II, and while they were hatched decades apart by two filmmakers with contrasting approaches, both sequels share a grim, sobering sensibility. Both dwell on the lingering aftermath of their predecessors’ butchery, capturing paralyzed communities and traumatized survivors in a way that forces us to reckon with the Halloween night carnage. They’re the big comedown, especially Rosenthal’s sequel, which plays like a sinister doppelganger that trades in Carpenter’s Americana All Hallow’s Eve for the primal bloodlust of Samhain. Halloween Kills technically isn’t another Halloween II since it’s the third entry in this new canon, but the previous films bearing that title linger over it like phantom limbs, haunting it like a boogeyman that refuses to be vanquished. It meshes the after-hours, long dark night vibes of Rick Rosenthal’s outing with the utter brutality and psychological scarring of Rob Zombie’s manic howl in conjuring a maelstrom of violence, trauma, and regret swirling around the abyssal boogeyman that has plagued a community for 40 years. The spirit of Samhain is alive and well in Halloween Kills: if its predecessor was a long-awaited treat, then this is the cruel trick, a razor blade lurking in a bag full of candy that reminds us that evil is at its most terrifying when it dwells among us and sews chaos.

Before moving forward, Kills flashes back to Michael's original reign of terror, capturing a young deputy Hawkins’ (Thomas Mann) pursuit of The Shape, now slinking through suburbia following his encounter with Dr. Loomis. We witness events spoken about in the previous film, plus some new bits involving young Lonnie Elam’s (Tristian Eggerling) close call with Myers, all of it culminating in a clever homage to an iconic shot from the original film that’s abruptly interrupted by the opening credits. It’s almost as if David Gordon Green (and co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems) don’t want you to get too cozy and nostalgic, even if they’ve staged a reunion that returns several more familiar names and faces.

We meet most of them on the other side of the credits, as grown-up Lonnie (Robert Longstreet) has formed a group of survivors alongside Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), and Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards). Per tradition, they’ve gathered at a local dive bar on Halloween night to commemorate that fateful night, oblivious that Myers has returned 40 years later to resume his trail of carnage. They drink a toast to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), unaware she’s currently en route to a hospital, pleading in vain to the passing fire trucks to let her house burn and take the boogeyman up in smoke with it. Her pleas fall on deaf ears, and the fire fighters unwittingly allow him to escape—but not before they become the latest additions to an already sizable body count that continues to swell as he prowls through Haddonfield, intent on returning home to Lampkin Lane, where the nightmare started 55 years earlier.

Taking a cue from the original Halloween II’s tagline, Halloween Kills is more of the night he came home (again). Like that film, it also charts a meandering path for Myers, once again unleashed on Haddonfield in search of victims. His fateful encounter with the firefighters who unwittingly save his life signals everything you need to know about this sequel: it’s a bigger, rowdier, bloodier affair that has no shortage of victims for Michael to slaughter en route to his home. Whether he’s butchering them in packs (something I personally could do without—leave that to Jason!) or methodically stalking them inside of their own homes, The Shape is as merciless as ever, and Green digs his heels further into the blood-soaked turf. The gore is outlandish yet gritty, grounded just enough that it’s not the raucous, crowd-pleasing kind of gore of the earlier sequels; instead, it treads close to Zombie’s extreme approach, a move that smacks of typical slasher movie escalation (something the franchise has been engaged in ever since Carpenter ladled gore onto the first sequel in acquiescence to its contemporaries) but also reflects how mean and unrelenting Halloween Kills is.

While Green doesn’t put audiences completely out to sea like Zombie’s sequel, Halloween Kills is alienating all the same, especially when taken in conjunction with its predecessor. The 2018 entry thrived on a return to familiarity, its hints of subversion lurking in the sneaking suspicion that Myers hadn’t returned to finish what he started with Laurie Strode but rather to simply butcher anyone in his path. It ultimately obliges, though, contriving a long-awaited showdown between the two to put a nice bow on what is ultimately a reunion picture, with all the sort of comfort that entails. Halloween Kills doesn’t prioritize comfort: it makes Myers’s subtextual indifference towards Laurie the text, then proceeds to keep them apart by stranding the latter in the hospital for the duration of the film while her nemesis stalks the streets.

Such a premise obviously evokes memories of the franchise’s first sequel, but this isn’t just a retread of that film since neither The Shape nor Laurie resume their pursuit of each other. Instead, Tommy forms a vigilante mob, a development that echoes previous sequels but becomes a more pronounced digression here as Green strains to make observations on how paranoia and fear create a mob mentality (a notion that grew more eerily prescient in light of recent events). If Loomis described the mob scene in Halloween II as a wake, then these are the villagers from the Universal Monster movies grabbing their torches to vanquish a menace, only it goes even more horribly awry when they misidentify another escaped mental patient as Myers.

It’s one of the film’s more interesting detours and arguably its most genuinely harrowing. Watching Michael Myers carve a blood-stained path through Haddonfield is such a familiar sight now that it takes something else to startle, and Green finds it in a protracted, claustrophobic sequence that finds Haddonfield’s “upstanding” citizens whipped into a frenzy, driven by the same bloodlust as the phantom of death that has come again to their little town. In the previous film, Green often had Laurie taking the Shape’s place in recreations of iconic shots and scenes from the original Halloween, hinting that he’d haunted her so thoroughly for 40 years that she never truly escaped. The same seems to be true now of Haddonfield as a whole, now so spooked by the ghosts of its own past that it will have its blood sacrifice, effectively becoming as one with its most infamous citizen.

Even if it isn’t the most novel idea (and Myers is a malleable, allegorical boogeyman here, easily standing in for even the societal ills that have taken shape since Halloween Kills finished shooting), it’s always daring when a Halloween sequel chooses to confront the lingering trauma of previous entries. Both Halloween H20 and Rob Zombie’s sequel did so to mixed results (the former still feels a little too crowd-pleasing, while the latter is admirably messy), and Halloween Kills trends towards the latter, if only because it’s so bleak. It’s one thing to suggest that Michael Myers was utterly indifferent to the woman he traumatized for decades (and this follow-up does nothing to disavow us of this notion); it’s another thing to watch him prowl through town, completely oblivious to the mayhem he’s inspired. Nothing quite captures the preternatural eeriness of The Shape quite like this. It’s not that he doesn’t care: he doesn’t seem to have the capacity to care. He just wants to get home, completely unaware that he’s become mythologized as a boogeyman by a town perpetuating carnage in his name.

Plunging deep into the heart of Haddonfied’s dark night of the soul also yields the type of carnage you do expect, as Myers butchers over two dozen victims this time out. Green channels some of the more effective moments of his previous film by staging some tense stalk-and-slash sequences when Michael intrudes upon a house in his path, where a woman (Diva Tyler) flies a drone around the living room until it comes to a screeching halt courtesy of The Shape. It’s one of the film’s more playful moments, at least until the bleak punchline finds Myers plunging knives into the woman’s husband (Lenny Clarke) as she bleeds out from being stabbed in the neck. Likewise, Michael’s return home culminates in him dispatching the couple that’s taken up residence (Scott MacArthur & Michael McDonald) with another meticulously crafted sequence punctuated with a jump scare that caused a girl’s cell phone to go flying through the air during my screening.

Both the playfulness and the signature humor of Green and co-writer Danny McBride provide some fleeting moments of vintage Halloween thrills. Of course, this franchise has never exactly been a barrel of laughs (Halloween 5 and Resurrection notwithstanding), but it has often struck that crucial slasher movie balance that requires filmmakers to deliver bloodshed without dwelling on anything truly unsettling. Ultimately, many of these films are the stuff of urban legends: they’re the story about the boogeyman who keeps returning on Halloween, and you can easily imagine it being passed around like campfire lore at this point. Green joins Rosenthal and Zombie as the only filmmakers to truly dwell on the horrific aftermath Myers leaves in his wake, meaning Halloween Kills isn’t just the stuff of campfire tales. We see a mother mourning a dead child she didn’t know had perished until she sees his cadaver; we see redemption arcs snuffed out because The Shape doesn’t even know the concept of redemption; we see the officer (Will Patton) regret that he didn’t allow his fellow officers to put a bullet in Myers’s brain 40 years earlier.

And we also find a group of survivors who have spent the past 40 years much like Laurie Strode has: haunted by a horrific ordeal that has come to define their lives. While they haven’t gone the lengths that she has, they’ve never quite escaped the trauma either, and Myers’s return feels like an opportunity to exorcise the demon. Halloween Kills isn’t interested in retreading the same path as its predecessor, though, which ultimately insisted the boogeyman could be conquered. The entire premise of this one, on the other hand, is a cruel trick: not only does it reveal that you can’t vanquish the boogeyman, but it also insists that the boogeyman isn’t going to abide by the expected mythology. Laurie Strode spends the film confined to a hospital, waiting for a showdown that never happens, simply because her tormentor doesn’t really give a fuck about her. Likewise, Tommy and the other survivors look to rewrite their own narrative, only to discover The Shape doesn’t give a fuck about that, either.

An almost metafictional quality is in play here. Even though Halloween Kills wipes out the canon, we’ve seen these stories play out before, and Green allows those memories to haunt his film, emphasizing one of its main points: this Halloween is not out to play nice, nor is it particularly preoccupied with being liked. Just as The Shape mercilessly cleaves through Haddonfield, Halloween Kills ruthlessly defies any sort of wish fulfillment as it dispatches new and old favorites. Their deaths are simply part of the film’s blood sacrifice to the altar of this new canon, where Michael Myers is as enigmatic and mystifying as ever: somehow, he’s a 61-year-old escaped mental patient but is capable of sustaining and reciprocating carnage at a supernatural clip. Halloween Kills almost feels like an about face, one that relents and admits that its iconic madman really isn’t just a man after all. After all these years, Dr. Loomis’s ravings about evil incarnate are confirmed, right down to Laurie echoing the sentiment in a climactic monologue that further mythologizes Myers as an immortal boogeyman.

After razing the franchise’s canon to the ground, Halloween Kills inevitably crafts its own lore, particularly in its first and last scenes. The former flashes back to the moments just after the original film, as Green and company recreate Carpenter’s aesthetic as if it were a nostalgic fetish object, granting legitimacy to its additions to the mythology. One of them—the suggestion that Myers was always an odd kid, even before he killed his sister—evokes the worst of Zombie’s cliché backstory. Another implies that the specific spot where he slayed Judith has become some kind of hallowed ground to him, and is much more intriguing, especially when the film’s final moments pay it off with an odd sequence that leaves more questions than answers. Considering the divisive nature of past attempts to explain the method behind Michael’s madness, I can’t help but be intrigued by the answers Halloween Ends might try to provide.

Meanwhile, Halloween Kills is content to remain as elusive and phantasmal as The Shape himself. Two weeks following its release, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it: I find it to be a more interesting film than its predecessor, even if it is messier and less concerned with being a reunion tour of sorts (though Carpenter is back behind the keys once again delivering another career highlight). In fact, that’s why it’s more interesting: at this point, Halloween has endured so many tangents and digressions that another jagged edge like this is welcome. Not to knock the last movie, which was exactly what it needed to be in 2018; likewise, Halloween Kills is exactly the sequel that film now deserves, a follow-up that looks all of its goodwill in the eye and dares to let it burn. Maybe I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it precisely because it’s not concerned with being approached on those terms. Halloween Kills doesn’t care if you like it or not: it simply marches ahead, relentlessly cleaving your expectations until there’s nothing left but wreckage for you to reckon with and sift through. Resolution might be coming next year, but, for now, there’s just this, something like a sour taste that might linger in your mouth as Halloween night turns into a cold, November morning.

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