Director David Gordon Green continues his revamped Halloween series with this brutal follow up to the 2018 sequel. Halloween Kills opens moments after the previous film ends, with the heroes recuperating in the local hospital before learning The Shape is still at large. As far as the Halloween sequels go, this is still one of the better, more ambitious films in the series, but while there’s a lot to love about it, there are still plenty of issues that can’t be ignored.
The most important thing to understand is this is not Laurie Strode’s film. While Jamie Lee Curtis continues to do well as this new iteration of the character, here she spends the entire movie in the hospital recuperating from her stab wound. Instead, this film is more of an ensemble, lead by Karen (Judy Greer) and Allyson (Andi Matichak), Laurie’s daughter and granddaughter respectively. Joining them on this nightmarish adventure are some familiar faces from both the 1978 film and the 2018 sequel, such as Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards), former sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), Dr. Loomis’ associate Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), Allyson’s boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold), and his father Lonnie (Robert Longstreet).
One of the many virtues of the 2018 film was that it focused less on the bodycount and more on atmosphere. Most of the killings took place offscreen, the film focusing more on the aftermath than the killing itself. One can’t help but get the feeling that Green received a lot of pushback for this more underplayed violence of the last film, because Halloween Kills is the most over the top, gore saturated entry in the series. Perhaps this is due to Green’s approach to the material. The original film was a very deliberately paced film that used violence sparingly in favor of building dread. While Green tried that approach for the 2018 film, here he goes for a more grungy, grindhouse style thriller.
The film puts a strong emphasis on raw brutality, showing Michael’s sadistic rituals with victims both living and dead. On the one hand, this leads to some of the most disturbing scenes in the film. In one scene, Michael mortally wounds a woman before forcing her to watch as he plunges knife after knife into her husband’s corpse. In another he murders a married couple, then poses their bodies to mimic one of their honeymoon photos. Still, the film dishes out so much brutality that it loses sight of the subtle, eerie feeling that has made the original such a renowned classic. John Carpenter compared Michael to the wind itself, with the original portraying him as ethereal and almost ghostly. The new film lacks this subtlety. Here, Michael has the subtlety of the rolling boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark, mindlessly flattening everyone in his path.
Curtis repeatedly said this film was more about the town than Laurie, and it shows. These characters are where the movie works the best. One especially nice touch is the survivors of the 1978 original, sans Laurie, getting together every Halloween to pay respects to their fallen friends. It’s also very interesting to see Lonnie, who used to bully Tommy, now be counted as one of Tommy’s closest friends. Still, these characters are deeply flawed. They’re all united by the events of the first film, and once they learn Michael has returned to town, a lot of unresolved emotions come bubbling to the surface.
One of the bigger points the film is trying to make is about mob mentality. The majority of the film’s problems are caused by characters who let their emotions get away from them. Tommy Doyle, still grappling with his own trauma, spreads his own fear and anger to a mob that quickly spirals out of control. Allyson, having not taken the time to process her grief, immediately jumps at the chance of retribution and puts herself in danger. Characters make bad decisions, and while this is in service of a larger point, it’s something the film doesn’t always succeed at.
While this ‘think before you leap’ idea could have worked with some of the characters, it does become an issue when most of the cast make baffling decisions. One of the great joys of a good horror film is seeing a character make the right decision to get out of danger, which makes it that much scarier when the monster manages to catch up with them anyway. Here, the only reason Michael is given free reign over the town is less due to his own craftiness and more due to poor, emotionally driven choices of the heroes. It’s a point I find intriguing, but the delivery does hurt it.
And yet, in spite of these flaws, I enjoyed this film. Overall my first impressions were better than the 2018 movie, probably due to better managing my expectations. In between the more schlocky moments are real specks of brilliance that make the film at least worth one viewing. The film opens with a stellar flashback to the 1978 original, which features the return of Dr. Loomis to the series. Also, even though Jamie Lee Curtis is more passive, she still does a good job with the material. The majority of her scenes put her alongside Hawkins (Will Patton), who we learn early on survived his 2018 brush with death. These scenes are among the best in the film, with the two reminiscing about an old fling, and discussing their own feelings of guilt about 1978. The relationship felt earnest and real, and will hopefully be given a more in depth look in the next movie.
Then there are the characters of Karen and Allyson. There’s an interesting contrast in how the two are still trying to process the events of the last movie. Karen feels her family has suffered enough, and would like nothing more than to take time to process her losses and let the authorities handle Michael. In a weaker movie, Karen would be vilified for this stance, but here, we’re meant to side with her. The movie allows us moments to share in Karen’s grief, and root for her when she tries to save an innocent man from Tommy’s mob. When emotions are running high, Karen is one of the few voices of reason.
Allyson by contrast is a firebrand. Angered by the loss of her father and friends, she jumps at the chance to get revenge on Michael, spending most of the movie hunting him alongside Cameron and Lonnie. Allyson makes bad choices, but they come from a place that is at least relatable. She wants retribution, doesn’t take time to think things through, and finds herself swept up in the fervor overtaking the town. This is not Allyson’s triumphant tale of revenge. Rather, it is a tale of her emotions leading her down a path of self destruction.
You can’t call Halloween Kills a slow movie, which is both a strength and a weakness. Green takes a lot of inspiration from Halloween II with each film easing into the next. On the plus side, you begin the story with a lot of momentum. On the downside, the story never finishes. While the 2018 Halloween could have been the end of the series, Halloween Kills makes it clear that the story is far from over, ending on a downbeat cliffhanger that doesn’t leave anything feeling resolved.
I don’t expect Halloween Kills to be a major hit with audiences, and certainly not with critics. While it’s hardly one of the worst in the series, it is still a big step down from the 2018 hit. Halloween Kills is a rare Rorschach Test of a movie that is equal parts crafty and clumsy. While it does show a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the first film so effective, you can still tell it was made with genuine love for Carpenter’s classic. For some, that love is contagious.
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