Review: HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021)

Review By Adam Johnson

Halloween Kills shows the evolution of Michael Myers’ brutality as he escapes the flames of Laurie Strode’s trap and experiences his “phoenix rising from the ashes” moment. Where H18 places its scope on Laurie’s PTSD and her dynamic relationship with Michael, Kills simultaneously pans the camera out to show the legacy the boogeyman has imprinted into the town of Haddonfield and providing a glimpse into the limited perspective of the enigma that is the Shape. Therefore, a lot of the kills will be shown onscreen instead of simply leaving room for the imagination or “theater of the mind”. It is dubbed Halloween KILLS for a reason. 

Whereas in 2018 there was constraints placed on the creators to form a storyline more calculated to the masses, you can tell David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Ryan Turek, and company decided to flex their arsenal of knowledge regarding the Halloween iconography and mythos. As someone who has seen every single film in this franchise on multiple occasions, witnessed the spectrum swing like a pendulum in the span of two films (H20 to Halloween Resurrection), this film hits the core of elements I desire in a Halloween film: mood, atmosphere, and aesthetic. Given some of the critic’s salad of letters chosen for their hot takes, they give the awful impression of someone unfamiliar of the fact we are dealing with a franchise history that contains Busta Rhymes electrocuting Michael Myers in the balls resulting in an audible groan. I am thankful this current trilogy is led by a team of die-hard fans that pay meticulous attention to detail.

One of the most cardinal factors to the prowess of this film is that they got Michael right. There is no druid cult utilizing him as a vessel, his mask does not resemble Nicholas Cage in Con Air (*cough* Halloween 5) or a CGI mask as featured in Halloween H20 and the most vital resource being James Jude Courtney’s acting. From the mannerisms, head tilt, walk, curiosity, knife grip and stealth waltz – Courtney is utterly brilliant. The manner in which he toys with his victims, which has been a notable characteristic of his craft since he placed Judith Myers’ tombstone near Annie’s corpse, has been enhanced. Myers in this film seems to soak in the deaths of his victims and force loved ones to view his presentations like an outside feline leaving a macabre gift on the doorstep. This is shown via placing Silver Shamrock masks on the bodies of slain residents and propping them up or particularly in one moment where Michael is doing his best imitation of Gordon Ramsey searching for the correct cutlery to use. Some of these crucial deaths sell Laurie’s line that “every time he kills, he transcends.” Although this film can run like Michael’s montage/compilation footage sent for recruiters, the character development allows the audience to mourn for certain victims. Another key highlight being the casting of Andi Matichak as Allyson Strode, who is a carbon copy of young Laurie’s essence.

A flashback scene to one of the greatest horror films ever created, delving a tad deeper into the night he came home in 1978 runs a high-risk gamble. This can either tarnish the story and remove all credibility to those involved or be done in a similar light to Doctor Sleep’s portrayal of the Overlook Hotel. This film managed to exceed all expectations by transporting the audience into the dark, cool, blue tones of autumn in the Midwest in the late ‘70s. During the analepsis the shadows are so heavy you are looking everywhere for Airon Armstrong’s portrayal of a 21-year-old Michael to be stealthy lurking. Just the moon and occasional streetlight illuminate the features of the best on-screen reproduction of the Shatner mask. While the production quality looks advanced, it still makes the audience believe these moments are a natural continuation of that evening. The attention to detail is another gem of this sequence: the police department’s jackets, the station wagon, the Myers’ home, the coveralls, etc. For example, the Myers house contains the damaged upstairs window, the mauled dog, we see the neck hole from the coat hanger, and even a police officer is likely strangled with the same rope he stole from the department store mentioned by Sheriff Brackett in 1978. This was a true feat that also managed to avoid overstaying its welcome by hitting the sweet spot then receding smoothly. It did not just deliver fan service on a silver platter but rather aid the plot as a whole to fill in interesting backstory.

John Carpenter and his son Cody Carpenter can make a simple chord progression sound like a doom metal funeral service delivering your eulogy. Some high points of the appropriate use of this score include “Rampage” during a chase scene with Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards) and the sounds of a possessed piano in a dramatic scene at the end of this film that creates a beautiful parallel to Judith Myers’ death.

The most justified gripe with Halloween Kills deals with the pacing and soap opera-esque dialogue at times, that can feel oversold and unnatural. Some will write this quality of writing off as camp and a fitting component of a film that pays homage to 1980s slashers. Others will point out that a film that does indeed address some serious issues such as collective trauma and the dangers of groupthink should steer clear from diving too deep into any sphere that could create cringeworthy moments. I reside at the borderline between these two arguments. I interpret the pacing, however, as intentional and a reflection of the sheer mayhem that is compounding within the town and also an inevitable result of the fact that it is a middle chapter of a trilogy that is picking up right where the last one ended.

 While some of the exclamations of “40 years ago” and “evil does tonight!” can feel inexpensive or too on the nose at times, there is also portions of the writing that excels where its contemporaries fail.  Big John (Mad TV’s Michael McDonald) and Little John are great additions because they are not just a one-dimensional gay couple written to fill an identity politics quota that comes off as insincere caricatures, they are a funny, loveable, dynamic couple who happen to be gay. This film also branches from the quality of humor in H18 – Big John and Little John are a stark contrast to the “I got peanut butter on my penis!” moments found in the previous installment. The social commentary in this film is not paramount or overbearing or out-of-place for this franchise, instead representing rudimentary principles and timeless lessons such as violence begets violence and vengeance is never a straight line. Beyond peering into any layers hidden or upfront, this film was a 1 hour and 45-minute ride that places entertainment value first and foremost.

The audience should calculate their expectations and remember that H18 was more about Laurie’s PTSD and Michael, Kills is a middle chapter that focalizes on Michael’s POV merged with exploring Haddonfield, and the final chapter Halloween Ends will be a more complete package containing the beloved slow-burn tension many purists crave. This film set in place the domino for Laurie to heal from her injuries and bottled-up grief serving as a Molotav cocktail of revenge. The brilliance of the original intent on blurring the line between the natural and supernatural surrounding the Shape’s nature in 1978’s Halloween is still honored. Ambiguity aids fear and just as the mask is expressionless, we also project our own fears into the boogeyman. Having a rhyme and reason, and a precise motive whether it be the Curse of Thorne, or the sibling backstory first mentioned in 1982’s Halloween 2 (which although I adore one can also tell Carpenter meant it when he said he trudged through writing the script) drains the mystique surrounding Michael Myers. As far as a wrapped-up ending? Just like the original, Kills suggests that evil is still on the loose, roaming the shadows of small-town, middle Americana. Evil never dies.

Rating: 8.5/10.

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