The Boogeyman. The Shape. Michael Myers. Whatever name you call him, wherever he goes, death follows. Just as simple as that. But what’s left in his wake besides dead bodies? In Halloween (2018), director/writer David Gordon Green and cowriters Jeff Fradley (The Righteous Gemstones) and Danny McBride (Vice Principals) opted to focus on how survivor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) coped with her trauma from the night in 1978 when Michael killed her friends and tried to do the same to her. That film ended with triumph, seeing Laurie standing with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matchak) over a trapped, and soon to be on fire, Michael. But it’s Halloween, so that means that the story won’t end so simply and there’s more blood to let flow and trauma to explore. This is where Halloween Kills (with Green and McBride returning and new co-writer Scott Teems (The Quarry)) takes the narrative, moving past the Strode legacy into the town of Haddonfield itself, and looking to the others who survived and the town that never healed. As the middle film in a trilogy, it bears all the marks of a middle movie replete with an increased body count and carnage, which may be enough for some and too little for others.
Halloween Kills picks up moments after the events of Halloween (2018), with Laurie, Karen, and Allyson hitchhiking to the hospital as Laurie’s home burns down with Michael trapped in the basement. The first-responders don’t realize who and what is stuck within and come to the rescue, unwittingly freeing the seemingly unstoppable evil so that he can continue terrorizing Haddonfield once more. At the same time, a group of survivors from the 1978 attack — Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), Lindsey (Kyle Richards), and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), along with Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) — gather together to celebrate their survival only to have their reunion cut short by the news that Michael has returned. With Laurie injured, Tommy takes up the mantle of protector, gathering as many Haddonfield residents as he can in order to kill the evil that is Michael Meyers.
Let’s address one thing straight off the bat: the violence is at a level heretofore unseen in either of the two Halloween films this iteration of the series follows. It’s gruesome, it’s elaborate, and the camera doesn’t shy away from it. On the one hand, you name a film Halloween Kills, there needs to be a level of mayhem to allow that title to make sense. It’s a name which *requires* the streets to run red. So if you’re going to have a problem with that, this film may not be for you. That said, there seems to be an inconsistency with the level of violence — not amount, mind you — as it relates to how it’s executed (no pun intended). There’s a hint of greater sadism when Michael drops the teeth of a victim to scare Rhian Rees’s Dana Haines in the bathroom in Halloween (2018), but Kills dials it up to the point where one begins to wonder if Michael relishes the violence somehow as he switches from quick brute force kills to stabbing a victim with a series of knives well after their life is gone. In the press notes for Halloween Kills, Green states, “There are threads thematically beyond just Easter eggs and fan entertainment. Hopefully, there’s substance, relevance and characters that you may have missed, if you blinked in one film, that show up with a bit more substance in the next.” Now this could be that bit of substance: that we got a glimpse of Michael’s true malevolence and didn’t realize it (this entire new trilogy does take place on the same night, after all), but we may not know for sure until Halloween Ends releases in 2022. The thing is, we can’t judge this film based on what hasn’t happened yet, only on what we see, and it’s hard to equate the increased violence to little more than sequelitis versus meaningful change.
This brings us to another challenge that Kills struggles to navigate: the Michael of it all. The more time we spend in this world, the more things require explanation. For instance, a lot can change in 40 years. How does Michael know the way home, in the dark, in Halloween (2018)? This isn’t a major question and one which can be explained or written off easily, but there are a series of questions that arise within Kills whose answers aren’t so easily ignored, navigation being the least of them. The big one goes back to the type of violence presented in the film. Michael can either be pure evil, dispassionate and cold, or he’s a serial killer who enjoys the killing. Until he speaks for himself, all we can get is conjecture and lore building from those who survive him. That his violence increases — not the murders, the level of violence — implies a certain amount of passion or pleasure derived from what he does. This is, sadly, mere conjecture as well, but it’s difficult to ignore as Michael becomes less mysterious and more terrifying, not because he kills but how. Even the more elaborate staging of victims between Halloween (1978) and Kills raises questions that Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and everyone else never seem to address. Questions without answers build mystique only up to a point.
What is truly fantastic in Kills is how the world of Halloween expands from Laurie/Michael to the whole town. The script really takes it time establishing the fear that’s gripped the town and how easily a frightened mob can do more harm than good. Mob rule has rarely led to anything positive and the scenes of Tommy and his roaming gang are truly horrifying. Their intent to protect themselves and their loved ones is pure and good, but by acting out of fear, by empowering themselves to do violence instead of justice, they walk a line of becoming just like the evil they claim to despise. Perhaps it feels more terrifying given recent events in global history which have shown what people are capable of when given a target (real or imagined) to place their blame and rage. Whatever issues one might find with Halloween (2018), Laurie’s plan was always containment, to keep the fight 1-1 as much as possible. She, of course, didn’t have many in town who believed her and she felt it was her fight and hers alone, but it was still a plain that minimized the chances of others getting hurt. Kills is a wild ride that will give audiences the blood they crave from a slasher flick, even feels far more modern in its approach compared to the throwback nature of Halloween (2018). At what cost, though? What do we give up as an audience when we root for the mob? What do we feel as being part of the mob by the end? Satisfaction? Pleasure? Disgust? To whom and for what?
However, an issue that Kills struggles with is maintaining its tension. I’m not speaking of the kill sequences, but the rest of the tension within the narrative. In trying to bring in new “old” characters, in fleshing out new characters first introduced in Halloween (2018), the energy and tension of one scene to another is frequently undercut through the flashbacks and other set-ups. It all comes together in a heck of a final few minutes that set the stage for an electric final outing in Ends, but everything before the third act feels like a lot of wind-up only for us to get shunted elsewhere. The trick here, though, is even when you watch a scene and think “this would’ve worked better in this spot of the film” it actually wouldn’t because the scene itself might be great, but there’s no way to naturally get from one scene to another without a sense of clunkiness. Middle films are a pain like that, especially ones trying to use characters from 43 years prior. The writers *had* to spend time on the people we’re following in this film as Laurie was incapacitated due to her fight with Michael only hours before. Don’t mistake that last bit as Curtis’s Laurie being side-lined, she’s very much in the middle of things, just not in the way we expect and most certainly in a manner that’ll make Ends feel truly emotionally compete.
There are two main ways to consider Kills: you’re either in it for the story or for the slasher components. If you want blood, you’ll get blood. If you want story, you’ll get it and the themes within will resonate, but it’s just not as strong or as clear as its predecessors. In bringing in more people, in expanding the narrative circle beyond Laurie and Michael, Kills offers an opportunity to look at a community in pain. I applaud this greatly and found the moments in which the story focused on this to be the most emotionally painful, more so than any of the gruesome kills. The shame, though, is rather than running with the momentum of the end of Halloween (2020), it stops, starts, and jumps in time without ever finding that nice rhythm until its almost over. That said, if one gives Kills about as much thought as it does Halloween (1978), then you’re bound to have a good time.
In theaters and available for streaming on Peacock October 15th, 2021.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.