When the David Gordon Green-directed refurbishment of the tattered Halloween franchise hit the screens in 2018, it looked as though the baton had been passed into the hands of people who knew how to update it for the modern viewer while staying loyal to its roots and paying due homage to its father, John Carpenter. I suppose the film’s strongest asset was its decision to effectively distance itself from the haphazardly engineered lore imposed upon this series by multiple sequels, most of which were at best – politely put – uninspired and in some cases downright atrocious. This way, the movie was allowed the luxury of simplicity because it didn’t have to spin multiple plates and pay off the ludicrous decision to make Laurie Strode Michael Myers’ sister (which was introduced in the 1981 sequel) while tipping the hat to various other elements of franchise mythos. The 2018 Halloween was lean and mean. It was brutal, scary, effective and straightforward. Sadly, the newly released sequel Halloween Kills is everything but.
The film picks up almost immediately after the original wraps up. As Laurie and her family make their daring escape from a burning house where they successfully trapped Michael hoping he would perish in flames, the horror is seemingly over. But we all know nothing’s really over because the movie is only beginning and this movie is called Halloween Kills so by simple rudimentary logic, we can assume Michael is going to make it out alive and once again – in the tradition of all slasher sequels – effectively morph into a supernatural villain, a bona fide Boogeyman. Granted, Michael Myers’ perceived immortality was already hinted at in John Carpenter’s timeless classic to which this movie (like its predecessor) is securely fastened, though it was nothing more than a campfire story pun. Here however, the story is different.
As Michael is hacking and slashing his way out of the blazing inferno and in doing so disposes of an entire team of firefighters, we are introduced to what ends up the core of characters who will propel the story along. We cut to a bar where on the anniversary of the Babysitter Murders night, the survivors and friends of everyone who ever starred in the 1978 Halloween are raising their glasses in memory of Michael’s victims. That is, this is after we are subjected to a superficially intriguing but narratively incongruent interlude that catapults us back in time to the events immediately following the conclusion of the original film. We see the Haddonfield cops do their best to capture The Shape. We see all those little kids, with whom we will spend more time in their grown-up form later in the film. We see little character dramas. We see a tragedy of Officer Hawkins who accidentally kills his partner instead of Michael. We see Doctor Loomis. And then we see Michael’s arrest. Because he somehow ended up in that asylum again, didn’t he?
Granted, a tip of the hat is called for at this juncture, to mark the levels of craftsmanship to which the filmmakers ascended in order to bring about this feat of effectively harking back to the seventies, evoking the era through the filmmaking aesthetic and even bringing actors back from beyond the grave through nothing more than brilliant deployment of practical make-up, which could convince even the most astute sceptic in the room that either Donald Pleasence is still somehow alive, or that the filmmakers managed to get their hands on some unused footage from 1978.
Thus, the stage is set, and Halloween Kills becomes irreversibly tethered to the original Halloween: not only spiritually, tonally or aesthetically, but most importantly through its narrative. Suddenly, we are no longer in homage territory. We are in franchise-land and it seems to me the filmmakers either forgot what made their previous movie tick, or they didn’t care enough because sequels have their own rules which – as it turns out – supersede ones they had adhered to previously. Alternatively (and this is a striking possibility, in my humble view), David Gordon Green and the gang didn’t honestly plan on making this movie in the first place and were held at gunpoint while signing a contract. Or maybe they didn’t sign up to make a trilogy and only had enough good ideas to service two movies, not three. They knew how to revive the series and they maybe knew how they wanted to end it, which is a big ‘if’ since we will have to wait another year for Halloween Ends to critically reassess this hypothesis. What it looks like, however, is that absolutely nobody cared about making Halloween Kills succeed on its own terms and relegated it to being nothing more than a forgettable middle chapter without a distinct arc of its own, whose only mission is to set up the stakes for the next film, pay off the fans and dish out some cheap thrills.
That’s right. You read it correctly. Cheap. Thrills. For some reason, Halloween Kills is completely void of effective suspense or scare tactics that made the 2018 Halloween both succeed on its own merits and pay its dues (with bravado, I might add) to the 1978 original. Remember that sequence with motion sensing lights? Remember Laurie inspecting the house and slowly making her way to a closet that looked eerily like the one she hid inside of in the original movie? You won’t find anything of the sort in Halloween Kills because it seems as though the filmmakers have been replaced by mindless clones who are completely unaware of what made Halloween what it was. Alternatively, they were politely asked to leave the room while a committee of creative writing graduates took over and collectively came up with the script based on what a sequel to Halloween should look like.
And so, Michael Myers is reduced to a bouquet of clichés and fan service who cocks his head (you know how) every chance he gets, evades bullets like Agent Smith in The Matrix, jumps out of bushes and leaves absolutely no opportunity for the scenes he is in to accumulate suspenseful dread. He is not frightening. He is a walking jump scare and even within those parameters, the way he is used as a jump scare reeks of lack of confidence these scares would be effective, which likely led to the filmmakers always bolstering these moments with non-diegetic musical cues. Just to make sure everyone is nice and scared. Combined with downright ridiculous narrative choices, the glut of victims and an abject lack of playfulness on Michael’s behalf, I can only assume Halloween Kills wasn’t at all trying to take notes from the 2018 movie, but rather attempted to reverse engineer whatever nostalgia fans of the series might have for the multitude of sequels the series now has and distil their essence into the movie. And that’s their biggest mistake, partly because none of the many sequels can hold the candle to the original and also because the 2018 legacy sequel/reboot was already operating on the correct frequency to stand head and shoulders above the schlock that followed 1978 Halloween.
But alas, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and their entire entourage squandered what I can only describe as a golden opportunity to cash in on the clout of John Carpenter’s classic once more and fell victim to the unforgiving law of diminishing returns. They seemingly forgot, or maybe they never knew in the first place, that quality trumps quantity and that after twenty minutes of carnage, the viewers will be completely desensitized to the violence the movie leans on as its main selling feature. And when that happens, the audience will start wondering and questioning what they see. They will no longer be under Michael’s spell, because he is after all coming out of nowhere every forty-five seconds to stab someone through the eye, and they’ll begin to pay attention to other things… like dialogue and characters. Like set-up and plot. Like motivations. And they’ll soon discover that this entire movie is held together by scotch tape and good intentions and that not only does nothing make logical sense in here, but more importantly everyone seems in on some kind of a joke.
You’ll notice a woman who shows up with an iron to join a pitchfork mob assembled to hunt down Michael. You’ll see a crowd of extras lifelessly chanting ‘Evil dies tonight’ as they run through a hospital after someone who clearly doesn’t look anything like Michael Myers. You’ll maybe wonder why Judy Greer is wearing a Christmas sweater in October. And little by little you will realize that you’re watching a parody that somehow forgot to be funny and playful. To its credit, the movie is markedly self-aware insofar as its relationship to the series at large is concerned but it is nowhere near enough to offer anything remotely satisfying. I could even extend an olive branch and agree that it was supposed to hark back to those schlocky sequels and somehow bring their legacy into the fold, but it simply doesn’t work as intended because this legacy isn’t worth preserving.
While it was a stroke of genius for the 2018 film to effectively forget Halloween had spawned a franchise in the first place, Halloween Kills effectively nullifies this notion and becomes a joke on a meta level. By virtue of trying to evoke the spirit of the franchise and encapsulate it within its confines, the film itself became a composite failure of a sequel that quite clearly forgot or disregarded the biggest strengths of its own predecessor. This movie is not scary. It’s not effective enough to succeed as a horror, nor is it playful enough to stand fast as a meta-slasher. It’s nothing more than a string of gruesome kills, which go stale faster than you might think, tied around a plot whose entire raison d’etre is to set up the next movie while failing to stage its own la petit mort.
And if Halloween Kills is after all a highly sophisticated meta-joke engineered to look this ineffective and uninspired, it might just become its own victim. If you don’t wink and stay in character for long enough, people will invariably see your deep commitment to sarcasm as bottomless stupidity.