Dir.: David Gordon Green
Flickcharted: #4361 (17.39%)
As a long-time fan of director David Gordon Green, it pleases me to say that his second addition to the Halloween franchise, Halloween Kills, bears none of the arch, self-conscious visual staging that felt so out-of-place in his 2018 revisionist sequel Halloween. Green, in fact, shows throughout Halloween Kills, as he did in moments of Halloween (2018), that he has a keen eye for vividly spooky evocations of the Halloween season. With his typically naturalistic style, Green should be capable of making a stylistically faithful continuation of John Carpenter's 1978 slasher classic. But there is a serious problem with the screenwriting of these new Halloween films, and maybe in the overall concept of what he and co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems want to accomplish within the franchise and slasher genre. I’m not sure that they know the answer to that question.
Halloween Kills carries on directly from the end of the 2018 film, with its events continuing on through the same Halloween night that brought masked killer Michael Myers and former babysitter Laurie Strode (Jami Lee Curtis) back into direct conflict. There is also, briefly, a flashback to 1978, establishing new events and backstory which act as a bridge between Carpenter’s original and Green’s reboot trilogy (all of the other films in-between are now considered non-canonical). Even though this new material feels, at first, like a studied extension of John Carpenter's original film, and features one of my new favorite actors, Jim Cummings, if there’s one thing the Halloween franchise doesn’t need it’s more backstory. Green & co. pile on several extra loads of melodrama and new quirky characters who get a few minutes each to indulge in contrived shtick prior to receiving a knife through the mouth (or an eyeball, or a fluorescent light bulb through the neck, or an excessive gouging of the eyes… this is by far the goriest of all Halloween films).
I can understand Green’s impulse to focus on the humanity of horror and how serial murders affect people and society, but this is problematic here in a couple of ways. First, it’s a sharp deviation from four decades of Halloween franchise tradition, so the onus is on the director to find a way to make it work or risk failing to honor the brand in tone and content. Second, Green is flat-out terrible at doing this gracefully or with any subtlety, and Halloween Kills is a shit-show of awful “character moments” and, now, ham-fisted social commentary. Anthony Michael Hall joins the cast this time around, as a grown-up Tommy Jarvis who assembles an angry mob to hunt down and kill Michael Myers, leading to a series of preposterous chaotic events which climax with Charles Cyphers (reprising his role from the 1978 film) saying out loud the most cliched theme in horror, one which best not be used let alone spoken: “Now he’s turning us into monsters.” Ugh.
Here’s the real problem with what Green & co. are trying to do with Halloween either through intent or carelessness: The slasher is a simple genre that presents a mundane reality — boring people going about their unexceptional lives — suddenly shattered by inexplicable terror. Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween arguably perfected the form, with its quiet rumination on prosaic fears — fears of parents, peers, dating, homework — smashed up against the faceless stalking inevitability of death. By attempting to complicate this formula, by attempting to make it work as drama and, worse, as moral lesson time, Green gets lost in the cumbersome minutiae of his complications and becomes distracted from why these movies exist as cultural phenomena.
This isn’t to say that no one should try to make original movies that explore deviations from genre formulas — Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's 2014 remake of The Town that Dreaded Sundown deconstructed the slasher genre quite elegantly — just that it’s increasingly perilous and ill-advised within a well-established franchise with set expectations, even one that has gotten as silly at times as Halloween. (That's another problem: going from silly to hyper self-serious in one move is whiplash-inducing, which may please the cultural revolutionaries remaking pop culture from the inside, but we spectators tend to find it deeply unpleasant if not outright hostile). And, it helps to be both aware of the pitfalls of this approach and to take extra care to ameliorate the possible problems, and it doesn’t look to me like Green has done either. It’s also fine if a filmmaker considers slasher movies to be beneath them or unworthy of their attention and talents, in which case they can please go fuck off and make something else, and leave our stupid gross formulaic exercises in juvenile visceral carnality alone.