High on its own supply, David Gordon Green’s Halloween Kills wants to reimagine the humble slasher flick as both gonzo send-up and social-message movie. Others have certainly done it before him, but rarely with such brazen ambition. You have to admire the effort — even as you survey, mouth agape, the calamitous results. Intended as the middle entry in a proposed trilogy, the film is a sequel to Green’s lean, mean 2018 reboot of John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic, but in truth, Halloween Kills is worlds removed from the meat-and-potatoes thrills of both its immediate predecessor and Carpenter’s original.
Which is a little funny, because this new movie begins, like many a Halloween sequel, immediately after the events of the previous entry. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) lies bleeding in the back of a speeding truck alongside her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), on their way to the hospital after having set psycho killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) aflame in the cellar of Laurie’s booby-trapped home. Unfortunately, a fire truck is headed in the opposite direction, toward the blazing house, where the brave firefighters will soon free a surprisingly unscathed Michael from the flames and pay for it with their lives.
Eleven dead and decapitated firemen later, the Shape (as he’s traditionally known) is back on the loose. Laurie, meanwhile, lies in a hospital bed alongside Officer Frank Hawkins (Will Patton), a local cop who was supposedly killed in the previous film. Turns out Hawkins is not only still alive, he has a long-standing vendetta against Michael because as a rookie cop back in 1978, he botched numerous opportunities to shoot the wacko dead.
In fact, the entire town of Haddonfield, Illinois — the sleepy suburban hamlet which just one movie ago seemed completely dismissive and ignorant of Michael’s grisly legacy — is now suddenly animated by the thought of confronting this past. Hanging out at a local watering hole, a group of middle-aged survivors of the original attacks decides, along with a few newcomers, to take up collective arms against Michael. They quickly begin pulling the rest of the populace to their cause. This mob rejects authority — the cops, after all, have failed to contain Michael — and they even have a catchphrase they chant in unison: “Evil dies tonight!” Halloween Kills isn’t content to be a Halloween sequel; it wants to be a Purge movie, too.
Sadly, it doesn’t really deliver on either score. As a director, Green isn’t particularly proficient at orchestrating chaos, and his efforts to capture the pandemonium of an unhinged crowd never really feel convincing. He is one of American independent cinema’s treasures thanks to his facility with improvisation, his ability to capture moments of startling intimacy, and his humanism — all of which distinguished his early career and which he managed to deploy a little in his previous Halloween entry. But those qualities aren’t much in evidence this time around.
When they do appear, the film strikes a discordant note. At one point, we see a distraught mother catch a glimpse of her son’s mangled corpse on a hospital gurney — which might have been moving had it not come right after a gleeful scene in which we see Michael shove a knife inside some guy’s eye. There’s no real pathos animating this moment of grief; it’s just another thing the picture throws at us. And for all the unsubtle talk of trauma that runs throughout the movie, it is handled with zero conviction; we can’t miss it, but we also can’t feel it. When humanism starts to seem manufactured, it ceases to be humanism and becomes the opposite: sadism of the most cynical and opportunistic kind. Green should know that. He does know that, which is why his movie appears to be at war with itself.
Halloween Kills doesn’t really work as a slasher flick either. Michael certainly racks up an impressive body count, but Green has mostly abandoned suspense or scares this time around in favor of extravagant, goofy, and predictable bits of gore. The previous film flirted with this too, even as it lovingly executed the graceful camera moves and elegant tension of Carpenter’s original; you could sense it itching to let loose and indulge in flamboyant slaughter. That restraint has now gone out the window. At times, one wonders if the movie is going for pastiche, an over-the-top comment on its own ridiculousness. But it’s too half-assed for that. It’s not funny enough to be an in-joke, and it’s not sincere enough to support any of its bigger conceits.
Still, I do hope Green gets to finish his trilogy. I assume he will, since Blumhouse Productions tends not to spend too much money on these films and doesn’t need a gargantuan hit to make its money back. (Besides, a bad horror sequel never stopped anyone from making another.) There’s a dithering, in-between quality to this entry that makes it feel like it’s primarily passing the time until a big, as-yet-unfilmed climax arrives; surely Curtis won’t spend most of the next movie in a hospital bed. For all its great, genre-transcending aspirations, Halloween Kills is a great big nothing that’s just waiting for something.
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