REVIEW: Halloween Kills (2021)

I am not entirely certain what happened with Halloween Kills. I am not even too sure if I particularly liked what I saw. What I do know is that I was fascinated by whatever it was director David Gordon Green was trying to film, and what he and co-writers Scott Teems and Danny McBride were trying to say. This 2021 sequel is definitely nowhere near as accomplished as the Halloween relaunch that preceded it (2018), but at the same time it makes an attempt to do something different within the confines of the slasher genre. That, to me, is always worth celebrating.

Kicking off immediately after the end of the 2018 film, Halloween Kills sees masked killer Michael Myers miraculously escape the burning house in which he was trapped and continue his bloody attack through the town of Haddonfield. With Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) badly injured in hospital, it is up to the townsfolk to band together and protect their families.

As the original modern slasher film Halloween (1978) had a purity to it. Michael Myers is genuinely a faceless killer: there’s no fury in his action, nor humour, just blunt, simple violence. While it is wonderfully iconic in John Carpenter’s original film, it has never been an approach that lent itself to repetition. Green’s 2018 sequel, while entertaining to a large extent, made it clear that a simple follow-up was not going to work again. Kudos to the creative team, then, for making something new out of the formula. Even if it feels flawed, it is probably better than the alternative.

At the centre of Halloween Kills is a story about the risks of mob violence, as a raft of survivors from the original Halloween band together to kill Michael Myers for themselves. That the plan goes awry is hardly a spoiler – if it didn’t, there would not be a movie. As in all slasher pictures, people do stupid things and pay for it with the loss of life. The difference here is that the stupid things are more believable than usual, and the people making them come across as comprehensible rather than idiotic. There are, however, some major problems that need to be addressed.

The tone is wildly off. The film largely aims for realism, which works in some places and fails in others. Where it becomes problematic is in the violence: compared to its predecessor, Halloween Kills is spectacularly bloody, with Michael not just stabbing people but impaling them, breaking their necks, crushing their faces, and seemingly taking a fair bit of emotional energy to do so. Were it a Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees undertaking such violence it could be seen as almost-comedic levels of gory slapstick. Framed by a more adult presentation of social issues – beware the angry mob – it instead comes across sadistic and upsetting. If keen horror fans are anything like me, there is an immediate temptation to laugh out loud, and then an odd moment where one feels pressured by the film to feel bad about laughing. Green and company cannot have it both ways, since as it stands it rather feels like being offered a cake and then scolded for gluttony if you happen to take it.

Another key problem lies in Jamie Lee Curtis. By starting the new film at the moment the old film ended, it places Laurie in a hospital with serious stab wounds and therefore sidelines her out of the entire movie. For many – myself included – the antagonism of Laurie versus Michael was a key selling point of the 2018 film. With that removed, there are less reasons to be engaged by the story. It is clear that this is the second part of a trilogy, and that three act structure regularly causes issues for the middle film, but I suspect in the long term Kills will be seen an an unnecessary delay between first and third parts. The film also does not end so much as stop, with an slightly arrogant assumption that the audience will be willing to wait a year to watch Michael stab people for an 11th time (there are 12 Halloween films, but the third did not include Michael in it).

I was interested by Halloween Kills, but by its conclusion I cannot claim to have particularly enjoyed it. There are decent moments and performances, but they do not add up to anything worthwhile. It is a disappointment.

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