Review: Halloween Kills (2021)

Preamble

If there’s one type of movie that people are always game for around October, then it’s a scary movie. And after many delays, Halloween Kills finally swoops in to enliven the spooky period. Does it provide one good scare? What did you think of the sequel to the 2018 film? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

At best, Halloween (2018) was a mixed blessing that I’ve grown to appreciate. Despite indulging in trends that made some of the sequels a far cry from the original 1978 film, it interestingly used homage to illustrate how Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had in some senses morphed into Michael Myers in the years since her traumatic incident. By comparison, Halloween Kills proves to be an unrelenting exercise in nostalgia.

Taking place mere moments after the 2018 film, Halloween Kills sees the injured Strode women, Laurie, Karen (Judy Greer) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) recover in hospital after their encounter with Michael Myers (a combination of Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney). Unbeknownst to the family, the white-masked slasher escaped from fiery captivity after a group of firefighters attend to the scene of the incident. Meanwhile across town, survivors Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards) attempt to drum up support for a mob to take down the rampaging Myers.

Nostalgia is no stranger to the Halloween franchise. H20 (1998) was practically a post Scream movie, which featured self-referential moments that alluded to John Carpenter’s film and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). However, Kills uses nostalgia as the be-all and end-all to its characters. Many of the new players are plucked because of their relationship to the original but are not developed beyond their nostalgic evoking. And in a particularly bad example, a female character from the 1978 film feels as though she’s just there to repeat the same sentiment and die in a manner that evokes her scare scene from the original. There’s never a sense that the screenwriters are interested in what time or the intervening years have done to the characters who were kids in Carpenter’s Halloween.

Instead, most of them exist to be an awkward greek chorus for the hammered and crowbarred theme of how fear spreads across Haddonfield. Conceptually, this theme plays on the fear of mobs. But the execution feels contrived and oddly mixed in illustrating the terrifying chaos of the mob mentality, and how they can be empowering in getting over trauma. This problem leaves Kills exposed as a placeholder film that uses its new characters as sacrificial pawns in a game of chess between Laurie and Michael.

Despite the problematic nature of the writing, Halloween Kills does somewhat coast on being a violent and at times shocking slasher film. This is due in part to the huge body count and some of the sequences. There’s one that feels the closest the franchise has come to generating the terror from the home invasion sub-genre; via minimalist sound design and great back and forth between its characters in building up tension.

And one kill scene plays likes a missing link between a brutal Rob Zombie Halloween sequence and the original’s demented sense of play with its staging of bodies. This scene depicts a dying woman looking at her husband getting stabbed multiple times (via a hazy and out of focus protracted point of view shot) and is something that will be lingering in my memory for a long time to come. On this score, Kills earns its title and will be a talking point for many hungry horror hounds.

John Carpenter in collaboration with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies returns to score Halloween Kills. The result is music that illustrates the intensity of Myers’s slaughter of the denizens of the small midwestern town. However, the trio’s best work comes with what they do with established themes. In particular, the rendition of the main theme is haunting and melancholic with its use of choral music that feels like a lament for the town of Haddonfield.

Finally, some small moments do strike a chord. One scene has Laurie confesses how she saw a character when she was younger. Curtis’s performance is touching at this moment and displays some great humanity despite the Halloween II esque situation she finds herself in. I honestly wish there were more moments like this. But Halloween Kills attempts to paper over the cracks of its thinly conceived screenplay with bloody carnage. In some moments, this may be enough for a certain stripe of horror fan. But for me, it was a distraction from the true horror of what the best Halloween movies have been all about.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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