Horror Movies

Halloween Kills Review: The Shape Strikes Back

No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, it can not die. I’m talking about the legacyquel, the pseudo-term (coined by writer Matt Singer) to describe the modern franchise sequel, that usually hits these key checkpoints:

1. Bringing back the most beloved characters from the franchise’s history, preferably with the original actors.

2. Righting or redeeming the wrongs of a past work that the hard-core fans heavily dislike (Sorry Star Wars prequels, but you’re probably the poster child for this).

3. Honoring the filmmaking techniques or tone that made the original work special.

4. The ultimate goal (besides money) of the sequel is to lead the franchise to a new, hopefully more satisfying conclusion that will recontextualize everything that’s come before.

These relatively new type of sequels all have two things in common: they are inherently meta, and are primary fueled by nostalgia. You know who would probably understand the enticing feeling of nostalgia really well? Michael Myers. Think about it – on Halloween night in 1963, a 6-year-old Michael donned a clown mask and then murdered his teen sister. 15 years later, on Halloween, Michael broke out of an psychiatric ward, donned a Halloween mask again, dug up his sister’s grave, returned to his family home and the scene of the crime, and murdered multiple teen girls. He even develops an attachment to Laurie Strode and little Tommy Doyle, the living embodiment of his dead sister and a 6 year old Michael. It’s like an anniversary to him, one in which he celebrates the origin of his evil. In Halloween Kills, director David Gordon Green not only acknowledges The Boogeyman’s severe bout with nostalgia and arrested development, but attempts to answer the unanswerable – why does Michael Myers kill?

The new film takes off on the same night as it’s predecessor, as Michael Myers escapes what could have been a fiery end. Meanwhile, his frenemy Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) heads to the hospital to seek medical care for the wounds sustained from the bloody showdown in Halloween (2018). Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer), despite what appeared to be a meaningful character arc in the last film, continues to live up to her namesake by being difficult and not taking the threat of Michael seriously enough. However, Allyson (Andi Matichak), protective of her grandmother Laurie, seeks revenge on Myers for her father’s death. Elsewhere, after getting wind of Michael’s return to Haddonfield, several returning characters help form a mob to hunt him down. The ring leader is Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), who was the little boy that Laurie was babysitting on Halloween in 1978. With Laurie Strode incapacitated, it make take an entire town to kill the indestructible Myers.

Halloween Kills is more brutal than it’s predecessor, stacking up the body count, the blood, and the gore to the point that it’s as much an action movie as it is a horror movie. Consider Michael Myers to be John Wick gone bad. Except he’s not exclusively targeting teenage girls anymore; in fact, his targets are typically much older than the entries from the 80s and 90s. Is this an attempt to clean up the slasher genre’s history of violence on young women, or an acknowledgement of the franchise’s older audience who harbor the most nostalgic emotions for these movies, thus making them more likely to relate to the victims? Perhaps both, but older victims are just as easily frightened, gullible, and at times as dumb as the teenagers in slasher movies are notorious for being. Michael Myers preys on the comfort of his hometown, whose citizens are too domesticated to deal with a force of nature such as this.

This vulnerability, rather intentional or not, is apparent in the Haddonfield mob. Despite their vigor, the mob is really faking it till they make it as far as being a legitimate task force that can hunt down Myers. In an early scene, their supposed leader, Tommy, assures everyone that he can take care of Michael – and then just let’s Michael drive past him. They make efforts to corner Michael, but don’t seem to know how to plan an attack. One buffoon enters a house to confront Michael, while drunk, armed with nothing but a beer can. Actually, I think he left the beer can in his car.

The movie has a lot to say about mob mentality, partially inspired by Cancel Culture and Me Too. The 2018 film centered much of it’s narrative on the trauma caused by violence against women, if they can live with it, and what happens when they decide to become violent in retaliation. In response, Halloween Kills measures how effective a society can really be when addressing the wrongs of the past, but doesn’t hit the target quite as well. A troublesome subplot emerges when the mob believes to have found Myers. But it’s actually an escaped, mentally ill, inmate who resembles Danny Devito with a Harry Potter scar rather than The Shape. The intention here is a commentary about the dangers of misinformation, as well as an acknowledgement of how the Halloween franchise has unintentionally painted those suffering from poor mental health in a negative light (the 1978 film is explicitly about a killer whose psychotic breakdown is untreatable by his psychiatrist, which can feed into a larger stereotype about the mentally ill). But it makes little sense in the context of the film – Michael’s face has already been plastered on TV in Haddonfield. In addition, Tommy should remember the form, body type, and presence of Myers. In the original, it is an adolescent Tommy who consistently notices, or runs into Michael Myers on that day and no kid would forget those moments.

Despite these issues, Halloween Kills overcomes it through the sheer will of the visual and audio onslaught it inflicts upon the audience. It is not only deliriously fun, but perhaps the best shot slasher movie of all time. As we get further into night, that Autumn/Halloween feel takes on a stronger pull than the film’s predecessor. Green’s shot selection is among the best in the genre, including a chilling scene where Michael is reflected in a lake. Some Halloween sequels feel like dirty, straight to video cash grabs. This is at least trying to be a good movie, from production values to the performances, the editing (much improved from 2018), and the movie’s ability to thrill an in-theater audience. The actual dialogue could use some work. The characters say “eViL dIeS tOnIgHt!!1!” like 5 times too many, to the point it feels like a slogan the writers of Veep would make fun of.

Much has been made about how the film doesn’t feel as well structured as the 2018 version. Well yeah, in that film the first half of the movie is about Michael breaking out of captivity, so the pacing is going to be noticeably slower. Here, Green is trying to capture absolute chaos as the events of the night escalate, so the pacing should feel overwhelming. I think what critics are really responding to is the fact that there isn’t a central point of view to center the film. Tommy, Allyson, Karen, and Laurie all take turns having their vendetta against Michael drive the story, when 2018 was more focused on Laurie. But perhaps that is deliberate, democratizing the impact Michael’s murder spree has in order to make this a story about community rather than individualism.

The 2018 film already terminated the brother/sister story motivation, a creative choice that was long overdue. Here, Kills further strips Michael of any lingering motivation, as Laurie is informed that her encounter with Myers earlier in the night was made possible by Dr. Sartain, not because Myers happened to be looking for her. Going back to the previous film, it’s unclear if Michael even remembers who Laurie Strode is, a question that doesn’t seem like it can be answered. That’s the mystique of Michael Myers – his unwillingness to speak means he can elude cinematic interrogation, despite every trope and plot device at the director’s disposal. He’s as much a riddle for David Gordon Green as he is the audience. His invincibility is still not explained, nor are his bizarre actions which deviate from all logic.

So what would be a satisfying conclusion for this decades long saga? Do you answer the questions audiences have, or shall we leave it ambiguous? Halloween Kills acts as the bridge to the series’ finale, scheduled for release in 2022, while re-establishing Myers as the king of the slashers. His rampage seems more unstoppable than ever, and ironically the more the characters attempt to understand him, the more they end up falling prey to him. Dr. Loomis may have had it right – he’s pure evil, thus he cannot be reasoned with and your only recourse is to kill him. The problem is, how the hell do you do that?

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