‘Evil dies tonight’, or tomorrow – that’s the motto uttered at some point by every single character in Halloween Kills, David Gordon Green’s follow-up to his 2018 Halloween. The newest film, premiering Out of Competition in Venice is the second installment in a triptych most faithful to John Carpenter’s 1978 original. Three years ago, Green’s remake set the bar high by bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis with a bang to embody the lead Laurie Strode, 40 years after her narrow escape from the grasp of masked murderer Michael Myers. Halloween Kills picks up exactly where Halloween left off: on the fated All Hallows’ Eve when, after a gruesome one-on-one, Laurie locked Michael in her booby-trapped basement to burn for dead.
Once again, Green sticks intimately close to the aesthetics set by Carpenter, who himself is also involved in the production. Fans and connoisseurs will recognise the singular credit typography, the tracks and glides of the camera, the frequent use of point-of-view shots of either killer or victim, and the frantic trademark synths of the score – all of these featured heavily in the 2018 film. It’s no surprise that the sequel aims for unity of form, especially since the filmmaker turned to the same group of artists for the film’s sound and visuals. The differences arise when it comes to examining Michael Myers’s character and role in the grisly murders in Haddonfield, Illinois.
Halloween Kills makes use of flashbacks, as well as footage from the 1978 film to establish retroactive continuity as an attempt of psychologisation of a character deemed distinctively unknowable (also speechless), and therefore, the epitome of evil. While the lack of individualisation for the killer has been positioned as a rule, rather than an exception in the franchise, it was Laurie’s unsolvable trauma that provided a possible point of entry for the audience. For this same reason, Halloween (2018) surprised with its daring exploration of multi-generational trauma, exposing the ripples a mother’s PTSD has left in the psyche of a daughter and grand-daughter. Both Judy Greer and Andi Matichak return as Karen and her teenage girl Allyson for their call to arms not only as sidekicks but as the main act in taking down the man who almost killed their (grand)mother twice.
Even if the film manages to exculpate Laurie’s paranoia by revealing an episode of police negligence which had been hidden up to now, its plot desperately needs to pit someone (or something) against Michael Myers, in order to be true to the spirit of slasher franchise. Therefore, enlarging the more private, generational pain into a sociological phenomenon for the whole town, seems a viable device to keep the story growing. Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems resorted to a vigilante mob subplot which would bring the Strode women together with Michael’s other survivors. As inclusive as this idea may sound, the end result is somewhat disfigured by the act of abstraction – by bringing in the collective (and very much anonymised) resistance to counter the entirely mysterious evil that is the Bogeyman, the film dispenses with the political acumen it may well have been striving for.
Halloween Kills swaps the personified cyclical trauma of Laurie for an angry, multitudinous crowd but what it achieves has little to do with communal kinship. In fact, only if read as a social critique on mob mentality, the film can amend its ambiguous political stance. But whenever Haddonfield citizens regurgitate stock-like ultimatums about the end of their suffering as a society, these words are nothing more than a testament to how much of a projection Michael Myers’s evil nature can be.
No doubt, it’s not up to slasher films to dissect the killer’s psychology but the ones who attempt to do it without holding off its resourcefully choreographed killings make the most thrilling watch. And here Green’s outdone himself: Michael’s nimble use of pipes, torches, lamps, and all other household items when stabbing or suffocating his victims elevates the horrific experience to an uncanny degree, almost as if people are being butchered by their own homes. Yes, the massacres will live up to the expectations of a blood-thirsty audience, but their intellectual cravings couldn’t possibly be quenched by a simplistic delineation between ‘only good’ and ‘only evil’. Or should we say, ‘only Laurie’, or ‘only Michael’?
This review is from the Venice Film Festival. Universal Pictures will release Halloween Kills only in theaters on October 15, 2021.