Despite some gnarly violence, the third second Halloween movie is a dull, fan servicing mess.
Full disclosure, I haven’t seen the first Halloween. I mean, I’ve seen the first first Halloween, but not the third first Halloween. Or the second first Halloween, for that matter, but definitely the first second Halloween. Regardless of which iteration of John Carpenter’s franchise we’re talking about, the basic concept is this: Michael Myers is a psychopath who breaks out of a mental hospital and kills a bunch of people in Haddonfield, Illinois on or around October 31st. A simpler premise there could not be, and yet Halloween Kills, the latest entry in the oft-rebooted Halloween franchise and middle entry in a three-part saga required for all moderately profitable movies nowadays, feels the need to explain it to you over and over and over again.
In executing their three-part vision, director David Gordon Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems over-complicate what should be a straightforward kill fest by ricocheting between endless fan service references and sloppy, facile metaphors about the nature of fear and mob mentality. When it stops trying to beat the audience over the head with its themes and isn’t constantly pausing to nudge you in the ribs to ask, “hey, remember this character?,” it’s a relatively fun time at the movies thanks to some properly gruesome practical effects, rich sound design, and attractive cinematography.
The sequel picks up where 2018’s Halloween left off, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the hospital after suffering severe injuries while battling Myers. She is tended to by her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) who also survived the encounter. Myers himself escaped the inferno Laurie left him in, because nobody ever actually dies in movies anymore, and continues his rampage through Haddonfield on Halloween night.
Hey, remember the original Halloween movie? Remember the kids Laurie babysat? Remember the cops? The staff at the mental hospital? The trick-or-treaters? Laurie’s friends? Whether you remember them or not, Kills is going to trot each one out anyway in order to douse you in that rich, sticky fan service. And if that weren’t enough the film piles on a smattering of new characters who you won’t have time to remember since they are dispatched almost as quickly as they are introduced.
The film spends so much time unspooling its endless dramatis personae that you wonder if it’s ever going to get to the actual kills alluded to in the title. When it finally does you can almost convince yourself you’re watching a half-decent horror movie. For fans of the genre Kills isn’t particularly scary or suspenseful, but it makes up for that with some truly excellent gore. Blood flows, bones crunch, and eyes pop with gloriously tactile practical effects (the film keeps finding new and disgusting ways to stab people in the neck). This is complimented by Michael Simmonds’ cinematography which eschews the razor-clean digital color grading of typical Blumhouse fare for a warmer, celluloid-like palette in a nod to the original film’s 1978 time period.
While the sound design is immersive and crisp, I was generally underwhelmed by John Carpenter’s thin score. I know, I know, it’s sacrilege to say so, but while it may be the kind of soundtrack that really slaps while streaming through your headphones at work, the watery synths and droning electric guitars just aren’t strong enough to compete with the frenetic pacing and gratuitous intensity of a 21st century slasher.
If the movie soars during its gruesome murder scenes it’s the in-between moments that drag; when every subgroup of characters needs to pause to have the situation explained to them again and again. Yes, Myers is on the loose. Yes, he’s the guy who terrorized the town 40 years ago. Yes, he killed his little sister in their house. No, nobody knows where he is.
The narrative bounces between the town proper where Myers is going about his grisly business and the hospital where Laurie is recovering. Hobbled as her character is by injuries, Curtis has little to do in this iteration yet makes the most of her limited screen time by playing Laurie with the kind of wild-eyed recklessness that would make Nicolas Cage proud. Greer’s Karen is given what is perhaps the film’s strongest emotional arc that, like every other plot thread in the film, is quickly dropped. As Myers’ victims come trickling into the hospital throughout the night, the townspeople become increasingly whipped into a frenzy by fear. Desperate to find a scapegoat, the hospital eventually erupts into chaos as the mob tries to hunt down Myers, their indiscriminate bloodlust inevitably targeting innocent people.
This is the film’s attempt at depth, and I don’t have a problem with it in theory. All the self-important plot hole junkies love to point out the ways characters in slasher movies behave irrationally, as if intelligent, reasonable people aren’t victims of violence every day. Of course, the reality is that slashers don’t represent actual people, but the far more nebulous concept of fear itself. That’s why Myers never dies despite being stabbed, shot, and burned — because fear can’t be killed. So inserting a subplot about a small town descending into chaos and vigilante violence due to their fear is actually pretty interesting. Unfortunately the filmmakers don’t trust their audience enough to get the metaphor on its own, which is why they insert multiple long monologues explaining to you exactly what it all means before ultimately discarding it altogether. The film tries to have it both ways by making a pass at social commentary without actually walking that thesis to any sort of cogent resolution.
Given that it’s the middle section of a three-part arc, Halloween Kills is light on conclusions beyond an inflated body count. Considering the significant expansion of personnel in part two I expect the final installment will see the narrative expand to the entire county, with Michael Myers going head-to-head against the National Guard. Maybe now that they’ve re-introduced every possible past character Green and co. can finally take a stab at an original story instead of endlessly re-telling the old one.
Kristen Grote is a freelance film and culture critic. Follow her on Twitter and Letterboxd.
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