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Non-Review Review: Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills is an ambitious sequel, if a little messy – and not just in the way that one expects a slasher movie to be messy.

Halloween Kills is a direct sequel to David Gordon Green’s Halloween. It picks up in a very similar place to where the two other direct sequels to a movie named Halloween start. Like Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II and Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, the film follows Laurie Strode to hospital as Michael Myers continues his rampage through Haddonfield, Illinois. Although Zombie’s Halloween II takes a sharp turn in its second act, all three direct sequels extend the eponymous night into the early morning that follows.

Gripping stuff.

There is a lot going on in Halloween Kills. The film effectively splits across three main plot threads that only intermittently overlap with one another. One of these threads centres on Laurie’s recovery in the hospital, while the second follows the reaction of the local community to the carnage, and and the third focuses on Myers’ continuing rampage through an Illinois suburb. The film is disjointed, with Green inheriting a lot of continuity and character baggage from his previous film while heaping even more connections back to the original film upon it.

Still, perhaps the best and worst thing that can be said about Halloween Kills is that it marks a return to the grim nihilism that defined John Carpenter’s original.

Green’s Halloween was famously a soft reboot of the franchise, effectively resetting the series’ convoluted continuity back to the 1978 original, to which it positioned itself as a direct sequel. The expectation was that audiences could show up to Green’s Halloween having only seen Carpenter’s Halloween. To be fair, the film was also structured to welcome those who had just absorbed Carpenter’s original through pop cultural osmosis, explaining most of its set-ups and dynamics quite clearly (if a little heavy-handedly) through the narrative device of two true crime podcasters.

Pointedly, Green’s Halloween explicitly jettisoned the familial relationship between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode that was introduced in the television cut of Halloween and theatrically in Halloween II. Laurie Strode was no longer Michael Myers’ secret sibling. However, even allowing for that, Jamie Lee Curtis’ star power meant that the mass murder was still drawn to the iconic final girl. Green’s Halloween positioned its confrontation between the two characters as an epic struggle between victim and tormentor. It was totemic, iconic, meaningful.

In contrast, Halloween Kills makes a conscious and concerted effort to completely separate Laurie and Michael. Much like Green’s Halloween went out of its way to explicitly place the sibling reveal from Halloween II out of continuity, Halloween Kills makes a point to contextualise the killer-survivor showdown at the end of Halloween as something with a minimum of meaning. Interviewed by the authorities about the evening’s events, Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson insists that Michael Myers didn’t specifically target Laurie, but was instead directed by his psychiatrist, Doctor Ranbir Sartain.

To be fair, this is a very careful and deliberate decision. Halloween Kills is conscious of how iconic both characters are, and how integral both are to the brand. The film intuitively understands that, in some fashion, Halloween Ends is going to have to boil down – once again – to a battle between Laurie and Michael. From a narrative perspective, one of the primary driving factors in Halloween Kills is finding a way to reframe and reposition that dynamic so without removing Michael Myers’ inscrutability. It’s a bold choice, and Halloween Kills commits to it.

Car-ry on.

This element of Halloween Kills is probably going to be the most controversial and divisive aspect of the film. Green’s sequel embraces the meaninglessness of Michael’s violence, and openly mocks any attempt to impose meaning on “the Shape.” It’s a commendable approach to both the iconic serial killer and the larger franchise around him, even if it seems destined to upset fans with rigid expectations of what a Halloween movie should be. Then again, that is arguably the film’s point. Michael Myers should be unknowable.

There is something to be said for the way that the film, at least conceptually, makes a point to de-centre Laurie within a narrative that has often been tied to her character. Curtis is a very generous performer in this regard. Although credited as lead, Halloween Kills very consciously marginalises Laurie – albeit with more purpose and more intent than Rosenthal’s Halloween II. The film implies that Laurie is just one survivor of Michael Myers, and that his actions have shaped many other lives. Deputy Frank Hawkins is the hero of his own Halloween narrative, telling Laurie, “It’s not your fault, it’s mine. I was lost in my own regret.”

Laurie Strode right out of centre-stage.

Halloween Kills is undoubtedly ambitious, even if many of its gambits don’t quite come off as well as they might. Least successful, for example, is a subplot focusing on local vigilantism. Anthony Michael Hall joins the cast as Tommy Doyle, the child that Laurie babysat in the original Halloween. As news reports filter in of Michael Myers’ reign of terror, Doyle organises the community around him to form a mob. Picking up a baseball bat from behind the counter of a local bar, Doyle vows to keep the community safe.

While the previous movie reset the franchise’s continuity, Halloween Kills is a bit more comfortable drawing in elements from those erased sequels. To pick an obvious example, the Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch feature prominently as loving easter eggs. However, the erasure of the earlier movies from continuity also allows the film to pick over some of the franchise’s under-developed ideas. Notably, this vigilante plotline feels like a conscious attempt to update the vigilante plotline from Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers.

Face-off.

The plot thread focusing on Tommy Doyle is conceptually interesting. Notably, it repeatedly touches on questions of insecurity around American masculinity. Although the film emphasises that both men and women get swept up in the fervour around hunting down the serial killer, it often seems like the male characters are most driven by wounded pride. “We’re going after him,” promises Allyson’s ex-boyfriend Cameron, who seems to be primarily motivated by his desire to win Cameron back after she broke up with him in Halloween.

“I need some good people, some people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty,” Tommy riles up the crowd, stoking hunger for violence and bloodshed. Tommy quickly becomes a focal point for the local community as a survivor of Michael Myers, despite the fact that he was just a kid at the time. Other characters fall under his spell, like the married couple Marcus and Vanessa. Marcus picks up a gun, despite having no experience using firearms. “Can you handle it?” Vanessa goads him, just one sequence of Vanessa prodding at Marcus’ insecurities.

Indeed, there is something to be said for Halloween Kills as one of the most explicitly anti-gun blockbusters in recent memory. One of the film’s darkest recurring gags involves the intervention of various “good guys with guns” into the narrative, and the resulting chaos. At one point, a character fires their gun so blindly that there are no bullets left when Myers is close enough to land a shot. At another point, a character charging Myers with a firearms in knocked back by the opening of a car door and shoots themselves in the head. None of the characters benefit from bringing guns to a knife fight.

This is admittedly an interesting angle on the franchise. However, it also feels clumsy and awkwardly heavy-handed. Doyle repeats the mantra “evil dies tonight!” as if shouting “drain the swamp!” The film’s portrayal of a blonde-haired middle-aged man whipping a mob into a frenzy feels weirdly on the nose, even before the film makes it clear exactly what Doyle’s followers have signed up for. Doyle’s work makes it much harder for local law enforcement to actually deal with the threat posed by Michael Myers, but the film is curiously muddled on this point.

Stepping up to bat.

After all, the police have never been effective at stopping Michael Myers. More to the point, the film also doesn’t seem particularly invested in the importance of law and order in stopping the serial killer. When Allyson decides to join the mob, her mother insists, “There’s a system.” Allyson responds bluntly, “Well, the system failed.” Laurie certainly agrees. In an extended flashback prologue that fills in some of the gaps between the original movie and the previous entry in the franchise, fleshed out be a confession at the climax, Halloween Kills seems to argue that maybe a little extrajudicial violence is just what the doctor ordered.

As a result, Halloween Kills often trips over itself it trying to make a coherent point. The film tiptoes up to a bold statement about the nature of communal violence and the consequences of these sorts of actions, but then aggressively retreats from that point as soon as the climax hits. It’s unfocused, it’s muddled, it’s almost thematically incoherent. It’s an interesting idea, but the execution almost sinks the movie around it. It’s deeply frustrating.

An uplifting tale of survival against all odds.

That said, Green is much more successful it trying to shift focus away from Michael and on to his victims. The one theme that links the three disparate plot threads of Halloween Kills is a focus on “the victims and survivors of Michael Myers.” The film opens by placing an emphasis on the victims of Myers’ carnage. Cameron stumbles home after a night out, trying to ring his friend Oscar who is impaled on a fence post. Cameron then discovers the wounded body of Deputy Frank Hawkins, before the film jumps back in time to Hawkins’ first encounter with Myers. All-in, it is twenty minutes before Laurie appears.

Indeed, Halloween Kills feels refreshingly disinterested in Myers as a human being, in explaining or justifying his pathology. During the trip back to the late seventies, Hawkins talks with a deputy who grew up with Myers. “He one of those muto freaks, used to pull the wings off butterflies when he was a kid?” Hawkins asks. “Not that I ever saw,” McCabe responds. Much like Allyson’s dismissal of Halloween II in the previous film, that simple exchange feels like a rejection of Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

Back into the swing of thing.

In contrast, Halloween Kills spends considerably more time with Michael Myers’ victims. Unfolding in the immediate aftermath of the previous film, it allows space for the characters to process their losses. “Dad’s gone,” Allyson admits to Karen in a hospital stairwell as the two characters simply hold one another. Allyson stands in the hallway and watches as the dead bodies are wheeled into the morgue. Toe tags helpfully identify characters like Sartain, while the film includes a sequence of Oscar’s mother identifying his body.

The result is a film that feels like an attempt to split the difference between Rob Rosenthal and Rob Zombie’s two different versions of Halloween II. It is heavier and more introspective than Rosenthal’s version, but more traditional in form and structure than Zombie’s take on the same basic concept. There is a palpable melancholy to Halloween Kills, even if the film never truly embraces it. There’s a sense of history and trauma repeating. Notably, Hawkins’ fallen body is framed very similar to that of McCabe’s.

One of the most impressive aspects of Green’s previous entry in the franchise was his simple formalism. That is true of Halloween Kills as well. Green is perhaps the only director on the franchise, aside from long-time Carpenter collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace on Season of the Witch, to really capture what made Carpenter’s direction of the original film so effective. This makes a certain amount of sense. Green is from a generation of American independent film directors who came up watching and loving the directors of the seventies.

In his own Halloween, Green skilfully recreated Carpenter’s use of tracking and perspective shots to unsettle the audience, often placing them inside Myers’ perspective. With that in mind, perhaps the most interesting stylistic innovation in Halloween Kills is the emphasis on perspective shots from Michael’s victims. Halloween Kills spends a lot of time look through the eyes of those targeted by Myers, inviting the audience to look at Myers and the carnage around him as a victim and survivor might.

It is sure to spark internet flame wars.

An early sequence places the audience inside the mask warn by a firefighter during Myers’ escape from Laurie’s burning house, and the camera keeps returning to that position. The camera also repeatedly peers through the eyes of another escaped inmate, who is being chased by the mob. One of the most impressive shots in Halloween Kills begins tight on a victim’s face and then circles around over their shoulder, to reveal what they are watching. The action is blurred and out of focus, reflecting the character’s blood loss, but it is still clear enough to be unsettling.

This emphasis helps frame another recurring visual motif. Halloween Kills is an appreciably nastier film than the previous entry, and the violence is much more graphic. In particular, it is focused on violence towards the eyes. Myers stabs one victim through the eye with a knife. He gouches another’s eyes out as the camera focuses on the pooling blood. At one point, Myers drives a pole through the eye of an onlooker, in a shot from that character’s perspective. Myers doesn’t seem to like it when the camera’s gaze is turned upon him.

Not quite a smashing success.

This is a clever and artful way of emphasising Myers’ inscrutability without belittling or diminishing the character. Green finds a way to make Myers as unsettling as ever, and a new way to literally look at the monster, which is impressive for a film franchise that is on its twelfth installment. It’s rough around the edges, and it doesn’t always cohere in satisfying ways, but there’s a lot to like and admire in Halloween Kills.

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