Perhaps the worst thing to happen to horror in recent years is the unspoken need to prove itself as a genre. Horror marketing has been spinning its wheels on the "it's actually about trauma" explanation for a few years now - a flat-out absurd statement considering horror movies are always about trauma of some kind. The insistence that each new horror film needs to be something greater, saying something more profound, makes one wonder if filmmakers and studios are embarrassed to be making horror films in the first place. When did the enjoyment of the jump scares and a high body count stop being enough?
2018's 'Halloween', a critical and commercial success in every sense of the word, is one of many horror films to be marketed under such pretences, but it's also one of few that makes its exploration of trauma work. It earns the air of superiority it adopts. Its new sequel, 'Halloween Kills,' on the other hand, gets nowhere close to earning it.
Picking up moments after the events of its predecessor, 'Halloween Kills' follows the fallout of serial killer Michael Myers' escape from his prison transfer bus and his subsequent terrorising of Haddonfield, Illinois. It makes for an great headfirst plunge into the incoming gorefest - in the opening scene which recaps just a fraction of Michael's violent rampage thus far, a teenage boy has already been impaled on a gate and police officer Frank Hawkins (Will Patton, 'The Forever Purge') has been stabbed and left for dead. Everyone's favourite Final Girl, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, 'Knives Out') is being escorted to hospital by her daughter Karen (Judy Greer, 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette') and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, 'Son'), praying that setting her house on fire with Michael inside is the straw that will break his indestructible back. But hell hath no fury like a Michael Myers left for dead, and it's not long before he's terrorising Haddonfieldians - who are determined to fight back.
Make no mistake; 'Halloween Kills' is one of the most violent films to hit the mainstream in recent years. Blood sprays, spurts and dribbles by the litre, and organs are so badly brutalised that in some instances, one would be forgiven for thinking a crew member just spilled their spaghetti bolognese on set. If that wasn't enough, Michael's kills are longer, often utilising multiple weapons for the hell of it when just one has already done the trick. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds ('Halloween') cuts back to mutilated bodies well after Michael is finished with them, not letting a single kill skimp out on making audiences feel like complete shit. Its feel-bad vibe is admirable.
And that's where the problem with 'Halloween Kills' lies. No one, not even Michael, seems to be taking pleasure in the bloodshed. I'm not saying a film with more kills than I have fingers and toes needs to be a joke-fest to be digestible, but Michael turning a dead victim's stomach into a knife block after bashing his head in should be played with as much outrageousness as possible. Otherwise, what's the point? There's no need for the cruelty if the film doesn't do anything with it.
This diversion of focus is a microcosm for a grossly misguided plot that doesn't know how to subtly get to the point. It's not enough for Hawkins to want to kill Michael because, you know, Michael is a mass murderer, but apparently Hawkins needs his own backstory to flesh out some longstanding Michael-related guilt. He's not the only one; Tommy (Anthony Michael Hall, 'Bodied') and Lindsey (Kyle Richards, TV's 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills') - kids that Laurie babysat in the original 1978 film - still have Michael-sized chips on their shoulder, and use Michael's escape as an opportunity to exact their revenge on him. In fact, the attitude of the mob who Tommy rounds up to kill Michael (and inexplicably brings to the hospital where Laurie is) bears an unintentional but striking resemblance to the widespread panic and fear seen in the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Honestly, this exploration of fear being an incurable disease which drives people to the darkest limits of their character is an interesting idea, but 'Halloween Kills' and its script hits audiences so hard on the head with it, you'll be feeling as if Michael himself just took a swing as you (in one scene, there is quite literally a townsperson holding a pitchfork). What's more is that apart from Karen and Allyson, the characters that act as vehicles for these messages make such poor, stupid decisions that you don't care about their fate, and you want to see Michael tear them up in the most brutal ways possible, but the kills are just so bleak and empty that there's nothing to revel in. When your killer is so silent and so incessant in his brutality, it's essential that the kills be spectacular to make up for that lack of suspense.
'Halloween Kills' hits audiences so hard on the head with its ideas, you'll be feeling as if Michael himself just took a swing as you.
Perhaps if the beating heart of this series - Jamie Lee Curtis herself - wasn't so hastily sidelined in her own franchise, the film might stand a chance of survival. Those thirsty for more Laurie will be sorely disappointed as she spends most of the film recovering from the previous film's events and waxing philosophical bullshit about the mob outside her hospital room window. It's a complete misunderstanding of what makes both 1978's and 2018's 'Halloween' work, and just because 2018's 'Halloween' did such a great job with dissecting her character, not pushing on with that and planting her in the centre of the action feels like a missed opportunity traded in for a forgettable side adventure that leaves nearly everyone dead. This series of sequels will end with the upcoming 'Halloween Ends', but it's clear that this trilogy should have been a duology.
The beauty of the 'Halloween' franchise is that it's never afraid to recon itself, allowing for new ideas and iterations of the story to be told; however, 'Halloween Kills' undoes almost all of its predecessor's good efforts with an unnecessary need to over-mythologise and over-explain itself. In wanting to be taken too seriously, 'Halloween Kills' puts the burden on its own back of needing to be greater than your average horror film, and in doing so fails terribly at basically everything it tries its hand at, playing less like an instalment that inspires introspection and more like a clumsy, idea-laden filler episode while audiences await the killer finale.