1/10 Halloween Kills is a film after Michael Myers’ own heart, a mindless machine doing something no one really wants over and over again with no distinguishing features, nothing to say, no discernible motive and no discernible reason why audiences keep coming back.
Haddonfield, Illinois, Halloween Night 2018- After the events of Halloween (2018), on the seemingly interminable Halloween Night of 2018, Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, credited as “the shape,” with Nick Castle reprising the role he originated in scenes where Myers’ mask is compromised and Airon Armstrong and Christian Michael Pates joining in flashbacks) has survived Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, who also produces executively) burning her house down around him. As word of his activities spread and seemingly the entire state of Illinois congregates at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, working themselves into a frenzy over his reemergence, Myers works his way to his still-standing childhood home, killing as he goes.
Halloween Kills is pointless, listless, directionless and seems tired of itself even as it rolls across the screen. Every thematic approach to following up on the 1978 classic it introduces has been done, re-done, done to death and done again. Strode reversing the relationship and hunting Myers? Done. Building up Myers as an embodiment of pure evil? Done in pretty much every movie. Focusing on the irony of Halloween, a night that celebrates horror, as a concept by juxtaposing it with the grimness of a realistic serial killer? Done. Focusing on Myers’ mask as a dehumanizing element to both set him aside from regular people while also making him difficult to identify? Done. Myers’ rampage stealing the innocence of sleepy Haddonfield, a phenomenon many similar suburbs experienced when senseless crimes that had always taken place started being discovered with greater regularity in the ‘70s? Done.
These are all inherent concepts of the original Halloween, understated and plainly expressed by simply putting them on the screen, that make it such a graceful and deceptively rich film. These subtextual elements suffer from characters pointing them out, and Halloween Kills can’t even pick one to focus on. It feels like a tour of everything that doesn’t work as a discussion point, all picked up and dropped as if the movie realizes how boring they are to talk about in real time.
Also toured are background characters from the classic film. The idea is to expand Halloween (2018)’s reintroduction of Strode as still traumatized by Myers’ attack 40 years later to everyone with even a moment of screentime and even to some others inserted into the 1978 Halloween rampage in flashbacks. It somewhat undercuts the idea of Strode as being particularly traumatized or unhealthy in her emotional response. Mostly too confused to say anything coherent as a work, Halloween Kills says very clearly yes, you should stay in your hometown and spend all your energy making sure everyone consciously remembers the most heinous acts in its history and insist they respond to it with your own paranoia.
Halloween Kills does nothing to address how Myers ranks in a real-world context, of course. In just the weeks since Halloween Kills’ release, there have been 25 killed and 95 injured in mass shootings – that is, shootings with four or more total victims – across the U.S., none of which registered as national news. Halloween was released into a country that would genuinely be shocked by Myers’ three total kills in the ’78 film, but there’s never been any effort to reconcile his infamy in a country that looks away from comparable and often much worse rampages that happen almost every day.
The only way Halloween Kills does set itself in 2021 is with its simulation of a Twitter mob. A subplot sees Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), one of the children Strode was babysitting in the classic film – I’m serious, they brought that kid back, and it’s not even the first sequel to do that – as the ringleader of Haddonfielders who want to make sure Myers dies this time. He frequently serves as a sort of conductor, quickly starting chants of “evil dies tonight!” at the packed hospital.
Halloween Kills seems horribly confused about what Haddonfield, Illinois is and who lives there. The fictitious rural suburb, initially meant to be a sleepy town where nothing of note happens, is suddenly crawling with people, all of them obsessed with the murders of 40 years ago, and especially crawling with first responders. Looking at the city budget for Pontiac, Illinois – Haddonfield may be fictional, but it’s canonically in Livingston County, Illinois, making Pontiac, the county’s only significant population center, a decent stand-in – there are only 21 police officers and 13 firefighters on the payroll serving a population that’s hovered around 12,000 since the ‘70s. There’s about that many firefighters responding to Strode’s house fire at the start of the movie, and more than half that number of cops investigating their bodies after Myers massacres them. The only hospital in Livingston County is the OSF Saint James – John W. Albrecht Medical Center, a small facility on the outskirts of Pontiac, but in Halloween Kills, Haddonfield Memorial is more than seven stories tall, the kind of medical metropolis you only see in the biggest cities, and it’s filled to the brim with frenzied small-town folk ready to tear every door down until they find Myers.
Halloween captures the emerging horror of its setting as suburban America was learning more and more about the kind of violence it had been ignoring, but Halloween Kills doesn’t seem to understand its setting at all. Just about the only solid rule about the fictional town of Haddonfield is its scale, and Halloween Kills shatters that rule with a story that couldn’t possibly take place in a comparably sized town. There’s probably an exceptional movie to be made about the horrors of urbanization and urban decay and what really has happened to American cities in the past 40 years – this movie exists, it’s called It Follows, and you need to see it immediately – but Halloween Kills cares nothing for what could feasibly happen in the setting that has defined its predecessors for decades.
Myers turns into a bit of an action hero in Halloween Kills, bursting onto the screen by dispatching that baker’s dozen firefighters in a display that would impress John Wick, and the movie finds a similar note to end on. He slays firefighters, an elderly interracial couple and an elderly gay couple, with most other violence offscreen.
Is this what we wanted to see? There’s something to the notion that being brought onscreen to be killed by a famous slasher is a perverse sign of respect, at least in the perverse world of slashers. Watching firefighters get disemboweled with their own equipment doesn’t feel right here in the drawn-out ending of the COVID-19 crisis, and bringing on black and gay characters just to be killed isn’t the sort of representation either of those communities are looking for after decades of being the first to die in these types of movies.
But to some extent, Halloween Kills must have been what we wanted to see. Halloween (2018) opened at $76.2 million, prompting this and another sequel to be greenlit immediately, and Halloween Kills brought in $49.4 million to a box office still recovering from the pandemic. These aren’t fans of the original, 60-year-olds aren’t making the slasher movies they made out to in their youth 21st century box office smashes, these are new viewers flocking to a franchise name that hasn’t had much to offer since before they were born.
In this strange era where franchise is king, it doesn’t even have to be the current generation’s franchise.