Thursday, October 21, 2021

Mob Mentality and the Sidelined Final Girl of ‘Halloween Kills’

Let’s get this out of the way early: Jamie Lee Curtis is largely relegated to a hospital room in Halloween Kills. Her iconic final girl, Laurie Strode, gets no kick-ass action sequences battling perennial boogeyman, Michael Myers. She winces (a lot) from her injuries sustained in the 2018 installment, threatens to go hunt Myers down, and waxes philosophical about the nature of evil—but gets to do nothing beyond these trivialities. Knowing that Halloween Kills is the bridge film between Halloween and next year’s Halloween Ends, one suspects that director David Gordon Green is reserving Curtis’ genre capital for a climatic showdown for the ages in the last film—but that does little to alleviate the feelings that something’s missing from this film; namely, the lynchpin of the Halloween franchise.  

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, we can move on and assess Halloween Kills on its Strode-less merits. I’ve watched the film twice; the first time as my ten-year-old self who’s still enthralled by the boogeyman in suburbia, the second time with a more deliberate critical eye. Like any film in the venerable franchise, Halloween Kills is a mixed bag, hitting some of its marks with brutal precision while missing others completely.

The new film begins with a very clever prologue that continues the 1978 film’s storyline—the pursuit and capture of Michael Myers. It involves a young Officer Hawkins (Thomas Mann) and a life-and-death decision that changes the trajectory of far too many lives to count by now and an encounter between Myers and young Lonnie Elam (Tristian Eggerling). It also features an impressive—if improbable—cameo by a character from the original film. Green and company really shine in this sequence, which possesses both the look and feel of Carpenter’s original, and ably set the mood for what’s to come. After this pre-credit sequence, the film picks up where the 2018 film ended: Laurie’s compound engulfed in flames and its intergenerational trio of final girls—an injured Laurie, daughter Karen, and granddaughter Allyson—jostling down the road in the back of a pick-up truck en route to Haddonfield Memorial.

After giving the audience a reasonably plausible explanation for how he survives the fiery deathtrap Laurie rigged for him, a slightly charred and very pissed-off Myers goes on a rampage, slicing and dicing his way back to Haddonfield proper. Myers is angry in this movie—with the kills brutal beyond anything seen in the franchise since Rob Zombie took his one-two crack at it. While Mikey takes out the majority of Haddonfield’s fire department and a drone-flying interracial couple, the audience is re-introduced to the survivors from the original film—Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), nurse Marion (Nancy Stephens), and a grown up Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet)—who gather at a dive-bar for an annual commemoration of the tragic events of Halloween night ’78 and to toast Laurie. Elsewhere, Lonnie’s son and Allyson’s on-the-outs boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) happens upon a critically injured Officer Hawkins (Will Patton). As the parties converge upon Haddonfield Memorial, news that Myers has somehow survived and is killing his way back to town gets out. The survivors—led by a baseball bat-wielding Tommy—decide that “evil dies tonight!” and a vigilante mob is formed to hunt Myers down once and for all. Otay, Panky.

If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in Halloween Kills, it’s because there is. Green is firing on all cylinders in this one, his many story threads mirroring the growing chaos of the mob outside Haddonfield Memorial. Karen (Judy Greer), who’s given far more than the yeoman’s work she had to do in the last film, is convinced that Myers is coming to the hospital to kill her mother. Allyson (Andi Matichak) ignores her mother’s directive to sit vigil at her grandmother’s bedside, instead arming up and joining Cameron and Lonnie in their hunt for Myers. Sheriff Barker (Omar Dorsey, also returning from the last film) tries—albeit unsuccessfully—to control the mob tensions about to tragically spill over at the hospital, even getting into verbal fisticuffs with Haddonfield’s former sheriff, Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), who’s now head of hospital security. And Michael Myers? He’s making a beeline for his former family home on Lampkin Lane, now inhabited by an affectionately quirky gay couple nicknamed Big John and Little John and played by MADtv’s Michael McDonald and The Mick’s Scott MacArthur. Suffice to say that Myers reaches the ‘ole homestead before the ragtag crew of would-be vigilantes does and is not a fan of the new color scheme. Or charcuterie.

The film’s third act coalesces in a weird, dreamlike, violent denouement—complete with voiceover by Laurie from her hospital room—the sole intention of which seems to be setting up the next film. It’s in this final sequence of events where Green is either going to succumb to the same fate as all previous sequel directors or rise above it in spectacular fashion: Explaining how and why Michael Myers “transcends” human mortality. It’s clear after the Haddonfield mob puts Myers through his paces that he’s something…beyond a mere mortal man. How Green will expound on this in Halloween Ends will ultimately cement his standing in franchise history.

Halloween Kills isn’t a perfect film and suffers from middle-child syndrome, the degree to which won’t be evident until it can be held up within the context of the full trilogy of films. As purely a sequel, it’s briskly paced with some exceptionally well-executed sequences, like the parkside SUV assault, and some less so. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Big John and Little John.) The nostalgia factor here with returning characters is high (hell if I didn’t get misty-eyed when Cyphers first appears on the screen), with surprisingly strong performances from Richards and Longstreet. Matichak, too, is exceptionally good. Disappointingly, Hall’s Tommy Doyle is a misfire. With his bellowing and menacing baseball bat stance, it’s as if he were channeling Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan from The Walking Dead here. Chalk this up to the film’s inconsistent writing, which Green shares with Scott Teems and Danny McBride. For every well-written scene (like the one in which Greer’s character attempts to help one of the escaped Smith’s Grove patients who’s been mistaken by the hospital mob for Myers), there are two that suffer from cringe-worthy dialogue and weird pacing. Even the big twist at the end of the film feels off, illogical in the context of time and what’s going on just outside the Myers house where it occurs. Elsewhere, Green makes at least one surprising choice in which a character most would peg as a goner early on actually survives their Myers encounter, which leaves one wondering if said character will have a part to play in the final film. On the plus side, John Carpenter (with son, Cody, and Daniel Davies) delivers another outstanding soundtrack that manages to sound distinctive while remaining true to his original ’78 score.

Like its predecessor’s commentary on generational trauma, Halloween Kills works better in a broader sense with its depiction of the dangers of mob mentality. When the hive mind overrides rational thought and reason, Green and company postulate here, the resulting consequences can be worse than the original trigger. The denizens of Haddonfield rise up—collectively—to defeat their longtime boogeyman. It’s a noble undertaking to want to reclaim their home, but Green is there to remind us that sometimes evil wins—especially if you’re the lady who brings an honest-to-God iron to the street fight. And, sometimes, there’s collateral damage. Halloween Kills gives us the collateral damage in spades. This Curtis-light entry in Green’s Halloween trilogy may be short on the Strode but it’s heavy on the brutality. Its breakneck violence works best when viewed as the (fast) moving part to a whole not yet fully in view.

Narrative choppiness aside, Halloween Kills ultimately delivers the slasher goods. Michael Myers is the soulless killing machine we’ve all come to know and love over the course of 40+ years in eleven films (with a twelfth on the way) and a body count now over 150. Best advice: Turn off your brain, grab some popcorn, and just ride the waves of slasher nostalgia. Let the armchair critics of the world argue pointlessly over the film’s merits—or lack thereof—and just lose yourself in the seasonal slaughter. There will be plenty of time for more serious discourse and analysis once we see what kind of bow Green slaps on his trilogy with Halloween Ends.

Rest up, Laurie Strode—we expect big things from you in the next one.

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