David Gordon Green’s 2018 film Halloween managed to successfully capture the essence of John Carpenter’s horror classic while weaving together subtle subtext about female trauma. While a slasher film first and foremost, what made the film so engaging is that it took time to establish its central characters. One did not need to be well-versed in the franchise’s lore to understand the torment that had haunted the reclusive Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) for decades, and the ripple effect it had on her relationships with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
Green spent time exploring the fracture familial bonds the three women navigated. Their dynamics offered a window into how the legacy of trauma can firmly grip those who believe they are too far removed to be impacted by it. By time Michael Myers’, aka The Shape, bloody trail of victims once again reached their town of Haddonfield, Illinois, one was fully invested in their plight. It is this small, but crucial element that Green’s sequel Halloween Kills lacks.
Picking up mere minutes after where the 2018 film left off, Halloween Kills expands its focus and looses sight of itself in the process. While Laurie, Karen and Allyson are rushed to the hospital after believing they have defeated The Shape (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle), Green introduces the audience to a handful of residents of Haddonfield who have also been impacted by Myers’ bloody massacre 40 years earlier. The most notable of which are Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), and Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet), the father of Allyson’s boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold). Lifelong friends who all survived encounters with the masked killer, each Halloween night they come together to reflect on the lives lost. However, when a news alert sounds the alarm that Myers and another patient from his mental institutions are still at large, after their transport bus crashed, a mixture of fear and anger ignites in the town.
Determined to put down “the Bogeyman” once and for all, Tommy and his friends organize a makeshift vigilante squad to hunt a man who they cannot even identify without his mask. As their squad quickly grows into a mob, an injured Laurie learns that her long-time foe not only escaped the deadly trap she set for him, but he is most likely headed her way.
While the vicious dance that The Shape and Laurie continually find themselves in has always been the big draw of the franchise, Green and fellow screenwriters Danny McBride and Scott Teems struggle to find their footing when Laurie is not the central focus. Instead, they fill Halloween Kills with random individuals who serve no purpose outside of increasing the body count. Characters are introduced and killed so fast that one feels nothing when other marginalized characters express sadness upon hearing about their deaths. Worst of all, with so few individuals to really connect with, the film’s attempts at social commentary repeatedly fall flat.
The film wants to warn of the dangers of letting unchecked fear and anger grow into mob rule, but it lacks the depth to say anything meaningful. Filmed in 2019, long before its prophecies would manifest in the Capital Riots of January 6, 2021, Halloween Kills makes several references to a divided America and how those who fan the flames of fear are responsible for the blaze that will eventually erupt. A point that is supposed to hit home when Karen tries, and fails, to quell a rabid mob from going after an innocent man they believe to be Myers. The tragedy that ensues is meant to cause a moment of reflection, especially when Green’s lens shifts to Sheriff Barker (Omar Dorsey).
The sight of the lone Black Sheriff sitting sullen on the stairs stirs imagery in one’s mind of America’s history of racially charged mob violence such as the infamous Red Summer. Unfortunately, this symbolism is quickly ignored as Green struggles to balance his desires to humanize the mob, make Myers both a misunderstood Frankenstein monster and the embodiment of pure evil, explore Officer Hawkin’s (Will Patton) decades of guilt, and wrestle with an ailing Laurie’s need to get back into the fight. This leads to one of the biggest flaws of Halloween Kills, in juggling so many threads the film clogs itself with characters who know very little about The Shape but are convinced they have what it takes to beat him. As a result, they routinely make horrible decisions at every turn.
Despite barely surviving her first encounter with The Shape hours earlier in the previous film, Allyson quickly joins Tommy’s mob with the confidence of a stone-cold killing machine. Furthermore, her mother goes from anti-mob rule to eventually being seduced by their thirst for vengeance in a matter of minutes. While one can understand her motives, based on the traumatic childhood she endured, Karen’s latter actions and smugness do not jive with everything we know about her up to this point. Considering all the mistakes that everyone makes, this is the rare film in the franchise where one is rooting for The Shape to put these nonsensical characters out of their misery.
The second film in a planned trilogy, it is hard to imagine where this franchise goes from here. Halloween Kills wants to be many things, a slasher film, a tale of regret, a social commentary on a divided America, and none of it is compelling. The film has a lot to say and no idea how to say it.