Film Review – Halloween Kills
You would think at this point, the movie citizens of Haddonfield, Illinois would just stay away from Halloween altogether. They’ve gone through so much tragedy with the killings on or around October 31st that the day shouldn’t be one of celebration but of caution. Just about everybody knows of “The Boogeyman,” Michael Myers, and his reign of terror behind a white mask. To call him an urban legend would be an understatement. In this world, to wear a costume and go trick or treating is like poking a bear with a hot iron.
I start my review of Halloween Kills (2021) this way because just about every character we meet either was or knows a victim of Myers’ evil. We’re introduced to several people who have bonded like a support group, each one having their run in with him and living to tell the tale. People describe Myers as The Boogeyman so much that the term has lost its creepiness. Because the entire town knows about him and what he is capable of, that drains all his influence. “Fear of the unknown” is a powerful factor in the horror genre, but where is the fear when an entire community knows that this guy is out and about?
This is just one of the many inconsistencies that run throughout this latest installment. It’s a shame, given how Halloween (2018) was a strong follow up to the 1978 original, ignoring the other sequels and creating its own separate timeline. Nearly the entire production team returns for Halloween Kills, including writer/director David Gordon Green and cowriter Danny McBride. So, it comes as a shock that this entry is a mess of contradictions and inconsistencies, losing the coherency of its predecessor in favor of bigger, bloodier set pieces. Sure, the body count is higher this time, but the story is sillier and the characters a lot dumber.
We pick up immediately after the previous film, with Myers (James Jude Courtney/Nick Castle) continuing his killing spree. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) recover at the local hospital. Fans of the first sequel, Halloween II (1981) may see parallels since that was set primarily in a hospital as well. As mentioned earlier, a group of survivors – many of whom were characters in other films – get wind of Myers’ return. Led by a now grown-up Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), the townsfolk form a mob, all on the hunt to take down their tormenter once and for all.
The structure plays loosely, trying to insert a larger social theme but unable to articulate it. The mob acts as a major role, growing in size and desperation. But how it operates makes no sense. Tommy delivers a frantic, energetic speech about how they should all band together to get rid of Myers, but in the very same breath tells everyone to split off into separate groups. Dozens of citizens flock to the hospital, begging to find out what happened to their missing loved ones. Their distressed actions feel more akin to a disaster movie than a horror film. What exactly is Gordon Green and his team trying to get across here? Yes, an angry mob is capable (and likely) of making brash and dangerous decisions, but in this context it’s in an effort to stop a powerful evil. Whose side are we supposed to root for?
Sitting on the sidelines is Laurie Strode, the franchise’s main character. It’s strange that Laurie – and to a larger degree Jamie Lee Curtis herself – is relegated to the background. She’s barely in the movie and doesn’t play a significant part of the proceedings. Laurie has been just as much of a selling card for the series as Michael Myers. What made her character arc so fascinating in the last film was how the murders of 1978 shaped the rest of her life. She became both a fearsome and tragic person. We get none of that this time. Instead, Karen and Allyson take on the brunt of the action as they help in the search for Myers, with Laurie hanging around waiting to see what happens.
Gordon Green does include some neat cinematic tricks. Often, we flash back to 1978 to get a different perspective of the killings. Michael Simmonds’ cinematography does a hell of job evoking the wide angles and empty spaces that made John Carpenter’s original so moody and atmospheric. But moments like this are fleeting. The action and violence are especially brutal, which might be a good thing for some, but its effectiveness dissipates when we discover how airheaded these characters are. They make the absolute wrong choice at the absolute wrong time. We start to wonder how these people don’t get stabbed any sooner. Two characters, well aware of who Myers is, hear noises above them in their own home. Instead of walking out of the front door, they head upstairs to investigate. Characters that act this foolishly have only one fate waiting for them, and it ain’t a pretty one.
A lot of Halloween Kills operates in this fashion, with Myers killing random people, the mob running around in circles, and Laurie sitting still watching things unfold around her. The narrative hovers in a holding pattern until the climax, where things fly off the rails. The direction, editing, and camera work create a strange, disjointed confrontation. What ends up on screen is a collage of mayhem and bloodshed. As its own separate entity, it was kind of fascinating seeing this offbeat, oddly constructed sequence. Within the context of the entire piece, the style comes out of left field, setting a tone that doesn’t fit with everything else.
My misgivings with the film might be due to it setting up the third and final chapter of the trilogy, Halloween Ends. We get hints that Laurie will be more involved and that a lot of the loose ends will be tied up in the finale. With that in mind, I’m a bit more forgiving of Halloween Kills than I probably should be. I’m not going to say that it’s a total failure, but I will say that the picture is not yet complete.