In a lot of ways, Halloween Kills is like Halloween II (1981). So, before going in, ask yourself if you liked that sequel and it’ll probably determine how you feel about this one. Halloween Kills is a definite step down from Halloween (2018), but there are bits and pieces that work.
Picking up right where the 2018 film left off, Halloween Kills sees Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) hospitalised after her battle with Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney). However, while Laurie thinks Michael’s dead in the burning wreckage of her house, he’s actually very much alive. As news of Michael’s latest killing spree spreads through the town of Haddonfield, the hysteria and bloodlust of a panicked population may be even deadlier than Myers.
Immediately, you’re aware that this isn’t as skilful at delivering themes as its predecessor. 2018’s Halloween excelled in its first third by carefully building a sense of Laurie’s long-lasting trauma after 40 years of expecting Michael Myers to return. The idea of inter-generational terror was considerately explored through Laurie’s relation to her daughter and granddaughter. Those three women carried the film, helping to realise those meanings wonderfully. Sadly, they don’t lead the film this time. Instead, a carousel of returning characters from the 1978 Halloween stir the narrative. While they also touch on similar trauma, it’s done so broadly and in such clumsy fashion that it isn’t nearly as effective. Simply having returning characters tell us how traumatised they’ve been doesn’t carry the same power as seeing it through the interactions between Laurie and her family.
Indeed, in Halloween Kills, themes are stated so overtly that it’s not as much subtext as it is text. Whether it’s the idea that there’s a monster in all of us, or that we’re all capable of terrors if put in the right conditions, Halloween Kills feels less confident in discussing what Michael’s rampage means to a community. It prefers to simply state its ideas through clumsy dialogue than abstract delivery. The fact that Laurie spends most of the film bedridden doesn’t help, as Curtis’ talents would’ve probably supported such explorations.
It’s a shame, too, because some of the ideas are intriguing. It’s interesting to think about how this community would react when finally given the chance to face the man whose murders have haunted them for decades. In that heightened environment, how cruel might we be? But every such idea is undercut by the script’s insistence on spelling it out.
As I said, Halloween Kills is a lot like Halloween II. The links with that film are plentiful, both in terms of narrative and aesthetics. As in Halloween II, we pick up immediately after the events of the last film; we spend a lot of time at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital; the body count is considerably higher and the kills are much more gruesome. The blood and gore aren’t surprising per se (after all, the 2018 film had its share of graphic violence) but it does feel more gratuitous and mean-spirited. Whether that’s a bad thing is entirely up to you, but the problem lies (again) in having Laurie indisposed for most of the film. Michael’s intermittent rampages are entertaining (at least, they were for this critic) but without Laurie’s active involvement they feel less significant.
More importantly for this parallel, Halloween Kills, well, kills the power of its predecessor. In the same way that Halloween II reduces the mystery of Michael by explaining that Laurie Strode is his sister (a thread that the 2018 film dutifully removed), Halloween Kills also attempts to attach a dubious motivation to Myers.
However, don’t let me put you off. For the record, I love Halloween II. It’s one of my favourite films in the series, and Halloween Kills offers a sequel that, while imperfect, still tries to do something new – it just isn’t all that successful. At the very least, the film’s many flashbacks to 1978 (which are beautifully recreated, might I add) are fun for both the inner fan and the outer critic.