HALLOWEEN KILLS

★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _FILM.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
dir. _DAVID GORDON GREEN.   rating _18.   release _15th OCT.

October 28, 2021

images © NBC Universal 2021.

Perhaps the biggest sin that the second instalment in a film trilogy can commit is to essentially become little more than an exercise in floundering; trawling from point A to point C by way of cinematic water-treading. And yet, so too problematic is the ‘part 2’ that overplays its hand and leaves the powder keg a little too dry for the finale (we’re looking at you, The Last Jedi).

It’s an at-times fiendishly difficult balancing act; crafting a satisfying and complete singular that also works as part of a greater whole, turning the screws and applying the heat to both character and event without burning the filmic broth – a juggle only complicated by the sheer number of franchises and stories that are needlessly stretched out into a trifecta (for reasons usually solely within the realms of commercial gain).

In returning to the bloated, convoluted Myers-verse for his 2018 Halloween, David Gordon Green and pals wisely decided to excise everything from the franchise save for Carpenter’s iconic original. Laurie and the Shape were no longer siblings. Dr. Loomis no longer inexplicably survived being blown to smithereens. Laurie didn’t spend most of a movie stuck in a hospital… oh, wait.

The simplicity and unburdening of Green’s first foray into Haddonfield allowed it to channel much of Carpenter’s sense of singular purpose and dread. Myers was once again a relentless killing machine with next to nothing by way of motive or humanity, making him all the more terrifying a screen presence as a result. Perhaps that film’s single greatest narrative steer – though somewhat goofily executed – was its insistence that Jamie Lee Curtis’ heroine was not some trophy goal that Myers aimed for. She was an incidental survivor, a casual fly in his murderous ointment, and one whom he crossed paths with in ’18 once again almost equally incidentally, despite decades of trauma and paranoia instilling in her a kind of inverted saviour complex (which Curtis pulled off with bristling relish).

The subsequent decision – unsurprising though it may have been given Halloween 2018’s commercial and critical success – for McBride, Fradley and Green to return for another wave of the butcher knife with not one but indeed two follow-ups, left an obvious potential pitfall. You don’t jetty a load of convolution and narrative baggage, only to pile it straight back on.

How could they navigate two more films, crafting their follow-up into a full-blown trilogy, without succumbing to the same over-complication, convoluted protraction and other myriad problems that had formerly plagued the franchise?

How could they take 2018 and the original film’s biggest strengths and successes – their relative simplicity and focus – and draw it out across two more films without heavily sacrificing on credibility, tension and impact?

Despite his iconic status, Halloween‘s Michael Myers has remained surprisingly contained within cinema. Perhaps his most famous famous intertextual appearance is as a killer (playable!) in BHVR’s hugely popular Dead By Daylight videogame (pictured above, © BHVR 2021.)

Halloween Kills rises to this challenge with surprising and admirable confidence, crafting a middle chapter that, whilst yes, somewhat spins its wheels, nevertheless makes a brutal, bloody and oft-thrilling spectacle whilst doing so.

Picking up literally moments from where events were left in 2018 (following a brief sojourn back to ’78 in an impeccably executed extended prologue), Kills is nonetheless a film that decidedly broadens and shifts focus – oscillating this time from the singular trauma of the Strode’s (Curtis, Judy Greer and Andi Matichak, once again a winning triad) to the wider rage and fallout that the local Haddonfield community feel as the spectre from their traumatic past returns to haunt them. Indeed, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie spends practically the entirety of her screen time this go round bedbound and recuperating in hospital after receiving the wrong end of a knife to the gut in her duel with Myers, but that’s fine.

Laurie remains the weary, cautionary yet passionate heart and soul of the film, inadvertently fuelling the fires of revolt, and physically sidelined though she may be, there’s an admirable assuredness to how Green and co. keep her out of the action whilst still spiritually holding her at the front and centre of the story being told.

Others may bemoan her passivity, and Curtis’ somewhat more slight screen time, but the choices made here – particularly come the finale – lay the foundations for next year’s Ends with even greater clout for the beloved character to come to an inevitable showdown with her self-appointed arch-nemesis.

Speaking of whom, Kills mostly manages to maintain the previous film’s terrifying simplicity and efficiency of approach with Myers, festooning him with some of the most brutal and barbaric fatalities and set pieces the franchise has seen. An early twofer sees the Shape despatch an unsuspecting couple in shockingly visercal, drawn-out fashion, whilst later on an extended set piece involving pistols, a parked car and even a sack of bricks throws up some unexpectedly macabre delights. James Jude Courtney once again proves a terrifyingly still, ominous presence as Myers, even if some of the excesses this time around do threaten to tiptoe his character toward Jason Vorhees territory.

But as mentioned, this is no longer just Laurie and Michael’s story. Although written prior to such events, in a world of the Capitol Building and Black Lives Matter riots, the narrative thread of Myers’ return stoking an unbridled collective rage in the community (and one that threatens to become almost equally as dangerous), is a prevalent and somewhat sobering angle to explore, even if its execution is at times wildly inconsistent.

It’s a narrative swerve at its best, again, when keeping things simple. Much of the subplot rests on the shoulders of returning characters from the original 1978 classic, from Anthony Michael Hall’s ringleader Tommy, to Nancy Stephens’ Marion and Kyle Richards‘ Lindsey (the latter two being, of course, OG cast members). Although some of the contextual set up for the characters is a little heavy-handed, with them habitually honouring the events of Myers’ initial rampage some 40 years later, they’re a mostly likeable cadre. It’s when we’re spending time with them out hunting Myers in the cold dark of night that the film feels at its most confident and tense, and there’s enough history and heritage here to make their involvement – and for some, their fate – a little more impacting and meaningful than, say, a humorous if slightly offensive new gay couple (Michael McDonald & Scott MacArthur) who have taken up residency in the old Myers family home.

As the bodies begin to mount, the effective and tense set pieces rack up, and the Shape makes his inexorable, blood-soaked rampage across town, the vestiges of simplicity and focus do gradually start to wobble loose, until Kills throws a wheel.

If it is confidently treading water for the most part, successfully recycling the ‘Halloween’ formula with visceral aplomb, then an ill-conceived and even more poorly executed foray into mob madness at Laurie’s hospital come the second reel threatens to temporarily submerge the film completely.

It’s an obtusely blunt and staggeringly obvious misfire on all fronts, the writing temporarily becoming borderline idiotic, the performances from the angry residents venturing into pure panto territory, and Green’s usual deftness for blocking and pacing thrown into a blender of lunacy and awkwardness. Worse, we’ve already felt these beats of collective rage and trauma more effectively elsewhere. We know this is a town still reeling from freshly opened wounds, and yes, we know that, for the people of Haddonfield, ‘evil dies tonight’ (take a shot each time a character says this and you’d best have a liver donor on speed dial).

Fortunately, Kills pivots sharply back into focus for a tense (if formulaic) finale that wisely puts the Strode ladies once again front and centre. Green and co. make good on the fleeting hints of rage that Matichak’s Allyson exhibited toward the end of ’18, as she becomes determined to seek out revenge for her recently-murdered father, teaming up with boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) and the Haddonfield Justice League to hunt down Myers. Arnold does good work here in fleshing out the formerly dickish Cameron, even if the decision to have his family sewn in to the events of ’78 feels like it probably would have been at least mentioned in the events of the previous film.

In many ways it becomes Judy Greer’s film, though. Even during the madcap shenanigans of the hospital riot, she’s a steady, empathetic presence that the audience can at least attempt to ground to. She was afforded some of the best moments of character growth in the first film, and that continues here.

By the time the credits roll, Kills has already begun exploring ideas of legacy and collective fear, segueing into the third instalment whilst taking enough steps to cement itself as a worthy follow-up and chapter in and of its own right. It widens the scope of its world, bringing in some new ideas, whilst fleshing out characters old and new. Will Patton, for instance, somewhat unexpectedly returns as a wounded Officer Hawkins (who, let’s face it, was pretty damn dead at the end of ’18), and an exploration of his own history with Myers provides a welcome realisation of events that were only referenced (somewhat frustratingly so) to in the previous film.

Some may find the incapacity of its central heroine frustrating, and for others the less singular focus may dilute its appeal, but in truth Halloween Kills works remarkably well as a middle chapter in this revitalised story of Strode vs Myers. It says enough, does enough, and executes itself (quite literally) with enough of the franchise staples, a decidedly upped ante with Myers’ brutality, treats us to another stellar Carpenter & Sons score, and ultimately keeps itself anchored itself to a trio of strong, likeable female leads.

If Halloween indeed Ends next year, let’s hope it can stick the landing and round out a trilogy that, on paper at least, and given the franchise’s dizzily erratic track record, had no rights being quite this good (or gory).

A bloodier, messier affair than ’18, Kills broadens Green’s trilogy with enough brutality, character work and set pieces to satisfy fans, whilst setting up the mother of all showdowns for Ends.

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