Nothing unites film lovers more than a sequel that defies expectations, which the most recent Halloween franchise reboot has done twice: first with the 2018 Halloween and now, once again, with the follow-up Halloween Kills. Those expectations cut both ways, though. While 2018’s Halloween came out of nowhere and marked itself as arguably the most competent film in the franchise next to the original, Halloween Kills was summarily raked over the coals as a massive disappointment upon its release.
I was part of that united love for the 2018 Halloween film, but I find myself in a lonely minority of those who enjoyed Halloween Kills.
Halloween Kills picks up only moments after its predecessor’s end, with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) headed to the hospital after surviving a near-death encounter with Michael Myers (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney). You’ll be shocked to know that Michael wasn’t killed in the events of the prior film, though. As the townspeople of Haddonfield learn the deadly killer of urban legends is still at large and prowling their streets, ill-equipped citizens deputize themselves with bringing the killer to vigilante justice. Which goes about as well as you’d expect.
While I enjoyed Halloween Kills, I still broadly agree with some of its criticisms, so we’ll start there first. Halloween Kills suffers most when it leans into ruthlessness a little too hard. Not because it’s difficult to stomach these deaths relative to any of Michael’s other brutal slashings, but because the deaths come and go far too quickly. This new style of carnage is set up early in the film, when Michael walks out of a burning building and brawls with a large group of firefighters, taking them down Terminator-style. He then walks into a neighbors’ house and executes them within seconds of being spotted. It’s not that these deaths are mean while others are nice. It’s that they feel like something akin to an action movie instead of a horror film. There’s no build-up, eerie noises, suspense, stupid decisions, attempt to flee, attempt to fight – just a swift kill that adds to the film’s ever-growing body count.
Halloween Kills also lets itself down when it aims for overly philosophical social commentary in the form of voice overs and bad dialogue. Is Michael the problem, or is society the problem? Yes, the last few years have proved that we make objectively terrible decisions when faced with mass crisis. But that message fits a little better in the context of a population-wide systemic issue that reshapes our world and less well in the context of a hyper-local, unkillable mass murderer who stabs to death everything in his path.
Still and all, when you do the math, Halloween Kills’ instances of both literal and figurative overkill don’t inflict enough damage to ruin the clever new mythos this installment delivers, not to mention the minute-for-minute fun.
The best parts of Halloween Kills feel like an alternate universe chapter of Halloween II, the 1981 sequel also directed and written by John Carpenter. Much like in Halloween Kills, the film picks up with Laurie en route to the hospital to recover from her encounter with Michael. While Laurie is still recovering at the sleepy hospital, Michael makes his way towards her, drawn to kill her for some inexplicable reason. That reason, it turns out? Laurie is Michael’s sister, a late-act twist.
Halloween Kills director and co-writer David Gordon Green decided to make his 2018 Halloween a direct sequel to the original, invalidating the events of the second film entirely. In Halloween Kills, he takes it a step further: setting Laurie and the various Haddonfield pawns up in the same position as the second film, and then taking them in the opposite direction. Is Michael inevitably drawn to kill Laurie, or is she just a random object in his path, like so many of his other victims?
The film is also chock-full of Easter Eggs and call-backs, resurrecting characters like Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), Lindsey Wallace (Real Housewife Kyle Richards), Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet), and more to give them a final opportunity to engage with the figure that terrorized their childhood. Even Ben Tramer, Laurie’s crush from the first film and the subject of an explosive and hilarious scene in the second, gets a shout out. Halloween Kills also takes the time to flesh out new and retconned characters like Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton), while giving us the more traditional cat-and-mouse scares with new characters like Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald), and even a small Bob Odenkirk cameo. It’s a lot to do in a compact runtime, and not all of it works, but on balance Halloween Kills has enough going for it to keep viewers engaged.
Halloween Kills doesn’t reach the heights of the original or the 2018 legacy sequel, but its interest in taking the franchise and the mythos of Michael Myers to new places keeps the film fresh and fun. Halloween Kills is available in theaters and on-demand on Peacock.