We learn many things in HALLOWEEN KILLS, few of them surprises. One is that Jamie Lee Curtis is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to chewing up scenery with satisfying aplomb. Another is that the franchise is every bit as unkillable as its bogyman, Michael Myers, because it recognizes a formula that works with fans and sticks to it.
David Gordon Green, who directed and co-wrote this script as well as HALLOWEEN (2018), takes all that into consideration as he gifts us with another installment of the masked psychopaths reign of terror. Starting in 1978 before jumping to 2018, it lands with the same gushy sort of splash that a desanguinating body makes after being dispatched by Michael. The carnage splays across the screen with effusive gratuitousness as the body count rises with victims familiar and not, and teenagers make the same sort of stupid choices that have, over the decades, transcended the cliché into a recognized cinematic trope. Really, a teenager that doesn’t go into the dark and creepy house instead of realizing the folly and going home to play video games would feel like a cinematic cheat at this point. Ditto the grown-ups who open doors when they shouldn’t, and never think to call 911 before heading up the stairs after hearing a suspicious thud.
The action in the present, i.e. 2018, picks up where the last installment left off. That would be with Laurie (Curtis) being raced to the emergency room clutching her lacerated belly and screaming for the firefighters zooming by in the opposite direction to let her house burn. She survives her wounds, and when she awakens from the anesthesia, is told by daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matachak), that their plan to trap Michael in the burning house has worked.
Of course it didn’t.
And on this Halloween, as Laurie rests comfortably, Michael, after wiping out the firefighters answering the alarm, is out and about on his killing spree. The townsfolk of the sleepy little town of Haddington IL, though, are not taking it anymore. Whipped into a frenzy by Tommy (Anthony Michael Hall), the kid Laurie saved in the original Halloween, they all but gather pitchforks and torches as they mass to find Michael and end him once and for all. While there is safety in numbers, making that a perfectly reasonable idea, naturally it takes them most of the running time to get there. Beforehand, there are random groups of four or so who go scouting for Michael with all too predictable results.
Green, whose other life as a filmmaker includes small films, such as AVALANCHE, that focus on the foibles of humankind, gives us some lovely vignettes along the way. The older couple playing with a drone before settling into an evening of cheese crackers and Beaujolais nouveau; the gay couple spending a quiet evening of vintage music and crudités; the gathering at the local bar where memories of past Halloweens are honored with campy ventriloquism and Tommy retelling the story of the original film. Kudos to Hall for the monologue performance, to Will Pattton as Officer Hawkins reminiscing about his decades-old crush with Laurie as they both recover in the ICU, and to everyone else for playing the story with conviction rather than a wink and a nod to the audience.
Then there’s Ms. Curtis. Ferocious enough to make us believe Laurie could rise from a post-op bed, shoot herself with a painkiller, and then tear through the burgeoning mob to finish off Michael herself. She can even make you believe that Laurie, given the chance, would do it in a feast of bloodletting that would make even a Maenad at the height of her frenzy cringe before slinking away with eyes averted and a distinct sense of inferiority. If there is a reason to see HALLOWEEN KIILLS, it is most certainly her, unleashing the most primal forces of vengeance within herself while also evincing an unquestionable mother (and grandmother) love. I don’t know which would be scarier for a victim, the sight of Michael with a knife, or her.
Green, in keeping with the pop-horror imperative of making a statement of some kind, delves into fear making monsters of us all, yet finds a way to make the actual horror of that repercussion palpable. He’s that good.
HALLOWEEN KILLS fails on originality as it rehashes the idioms of a franchise beloved by so many, rife with call-outs to previous installments, and contradictory timelines. It’s not an ambitious film, but one designed to tickle the fancy of its fans. Echoing the low-budget magic of the genre, it will tide those fans over until the next chapter, which, like Michael Meyer himself, will rise from the ashes to wreak a predictable havoc in HALLOWEEN ENDS.