Minutes after Laurie Strode (Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) left masked monster Michael Myers caged and burning in Laurie’s basement, Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, believing she finally killed her lifelong tormentor. But when Michael manages to free himself from Laurie’s trap, his ritual bloodbath resumes. As Laurie fights her pain and prepares to defend herself against him, she inspires all of Haddonfield to rise up against their unstoppable monster. The Strode women join a group of other survivors of Michael’s first rampage who decide to take matters into their own hands, forming a vigilante mob that sets out to hunt Michael down, once and for all. Evil dies tonight.
*Warning – this review contains light spoilers*
Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees are foundational to the horror genre – when it comes to recipes for other killer movies, they are basically salt, pepper, and butter. It’s interesting that in this age of reboots and resets, there hasn’t been a new Freddy movie since 2010, or a Jason one since 2009. But while Freddy and Jason have stayed home sharpening their weapons, Michael’s kept slashing right through the decade.
In 2018, David Gordon Green’s quasi-reboot Halloween executed a welcome return to form for the series. 2018’s Halloween represented a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original classic – it cut out bloated plot details and re-framed the film around the core battle between Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). It brilliantly merged classic slasher tropes with new twists and underscored it all with a thoughtful feminist attitude anchored by Curtis’ full-throttle performance. The final images of the film were nearly perfect: Myers is cleverly caged within a burning house and the 3 generations of Strode women who disarmed and defeated him ride into the sunrise united and triumphant. They’ve literally taken away his knife, and figuratively taken back their lives.
Woof. That finale would have been tough for any sequel to top, but I was comforted by the fact that many of the same players that made 2018’s entry so successful had returned for 2021’s Halloween Kills (the 2nd entry in a planned trilogy, with Halloween Ends already penciled in for next year.) And, for the first 15 minutes, Halloween Kills is up to the challenge. It doesn’t take us back to Michael in that burning building but instead flashes back to the original night of carnage back in 1978. Here, Green mirrors much of the visual norms of Carpenter’s original film to great effect. It’s a shot of nostalgic adrenaline.
But the film eventually has to come back to that burning building, and Michael, of course, has to somehow escape and get back to killing. So, what’s the problem? Like my high-school physics teacher always told me, the problem’s not what you did, but more the way you did it.
To begin with, this film is grotesquely violent. I’m no shrinking violet (and the 2018 film is far from clean), but Halloween Kills goes to such an extreme that it appears out of character for Myers. Across 10 films, Michael Myers sure has sliced and diced, but he’s never truly been sadistic. In Halloween Kills, Green seems newly obsessed with the trauma the human body can take before it expires. Heads are smashed relentlessly into walls, eyes are constantly gouged out, and blood flows like water. If I had a quarter for every shot of glass or wood impaling a character’s throat in Halloween Kills, I could buy myself a nice sandwich.
What I don’t understand about this tone shift is why Green would abandon the core tenants of what made his previous film so successful. Maybe he was bored by the previous film’s pacing? Maybe he fell victim to studio pressures to continue to amp things up for a sequel. Whatever the rationale, it was a mistake.
The second, more critical issue, is the framing. Laurie is hospitalized for nearly this entire film, and she and Michael don’t even interact throughout this entry. I can’t help but feel that this film is just treading water until we get to Laurie and Michael’s final confrontation in next year’s Halloween Ends. With Laurie on the sidelines, her daughter Karen (the always magnificent Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) have to do more of the plot’s heavy lifting. I’m always happy for Greer to get more screen-time, but this narrative choice splinters the power of that feminist trinity from the 2018 entry. You miss it, and I hope there’s a chance to get that back in 2022.
Halloween Kills has some good moments but ultimately fails to meaningfully advance the plot (or the stakes) of the franchise. Worse, it wastes the goodwill it so carefully built in 2018. I’ll still be first in line for Halloween Ends, but I’ll be scared sitting in that seat – and not for the right reasons.
Halloween Kills is now in theaters and on Paramount+
Universal Pictures, Miramax, Blumhouse Productions and Trancas International Films present Halloween Kills, co-starring Will Patton as Officer Frank Hawkins, Thomas Mann (Kong: Skull Island) and Anthony Michael Hall (The Dark Knight). From the returning filmmaking team responsible for the 2018 global phenomenon, Halloween Kills is written by Scott Teems (SundanceTV’s Rectify) and Danny McBride and David Gordon Green based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. The film is directed by David Gordon Green and produced by Malek Akkad, Jason Blum and Bill Block. The executive producers are John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, and Ryan Freimann.