Halloween Kills | Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis,James Jude Courtney, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Anthony Michael Hall, Thomas Mann
Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes | Language: English | Rating: 1.5
A Captain Kirk mask, bought from a magic store, was painted white with eyeholes enlarged and eyebrows excised. Thus was born the mask of Michael Myers, the undying bogeyman of the Halloween movies. On finding out one of cinema’s most ghastly visages was a modified mask of his face, William Shatner recently recalled how he thought it was “a joke” at the time.
A joke is what the franchise has become, as Michael hacks his way through the 12th film, Halloween Kills. As John Carpenter had imagined him, the iconic slasher villain was a blank slate upon which the audience projected all their fears. The mask doesn’t hide his identity. For everyone knows who he is. Pale, remorseless and impenetrable, the mask reflects his inhumanity. The muteness reaffirms there is no room for reasoning or bargaining with him. He isn’t a runner. Hunting from the shadows, he walks slowly, but always catches up with his victims. His stalk-and-slash approach embodies death’s creeping inevitability. And Michael is relentless. Deathless too. He’s been shoved off balconies, down mine shafts, shot in the eye, and even beheaded. In his last outing in the rebooted Halloween (2018), the franchise’s final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) Home Alone-s him, before trapping him in the basement and lighting the house on fire. But he always gets up, ready to do it all over again in the next instalment.
The Halloween movies are essentially about Michael’s homecoming. Institutionalised for stabbing his sister to death at the age of six, he escapes 15 years later on Halloween night and returns to the scene of his first crime, killing a whole bunch of teenagers on the way. David Gordon Green’s Halloween reboot was a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original, ignoring every single instalment after the first and retconning Laurie being Michael’s sister. Forty years after his 1978 killing spree, Michael escaped yet again. Only, Laurie had gone through a whole Ellen Ripley-eseque transformation, and eagerly waited for his return.
Waiting for Michael as he returns this time around is the whole town of Haddonfield desperate for closure. The pain and suffering he caused decades ago have been passed down from one generation to the next. The old still talk about it like it was yesterday. For the young aware of his infamy, he has become the stuff of nightmares. Stuck in this cycle of intergenerational trauma, the community comes together to take down their traumatiser together. Only, in their moral panic, they descend into bloodlust and turn into a lynch mob, chanting “evil dies tonight.” Spoiler alert: It won’t.
The new film retains the timeless original theme. Carpenter makes some minimalist tweaks, and it still strikes terror. Besides the score, there is none of the ingenuity of the 1978 classic, which made an impression in its very opening images. Peeping on his sister Judith making out with her boyfriend while babysitting him, young Michael kills her with a kitchen knife. What made the prologue unsettling at the time was Carpenter shot it in a continuous take from the killer’s POV. This inciting incident of incestuous inclination triggers a violent disregard for teen babysitters. Which is why when he escapes from the asylum, he terrorises a whole bunch of them.
Upping the body count doesn’t up the scare quotient in Halloween Kills. It isn’t a slasher if people don’t make WTF decisions. The townsfolk talk about fighting back together, only to split up, allowing Michael to pick them off one by one. In one of the more comical kills, a woman points the gun at Michael, but he kicks the car door so hard she ends up shooting herself in the face. Along with slashing and lurking in the shadows waiting for his victims to come to him, he adds eye-gouging to his repertoire of killer moves. Michael’s supernatural powers have reached supervillain levels over the years. A whole crew of firefighters, who rescue him from a burning building, are disposed of with relative ease.
Let’s rewind a bit: Halloween Kills picks up from where Halloween left off. Laurie’s home is in flames, believing Michael’s burning with it too. Having been stabbed in the gut, she’s on her way to the hospital with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Side-lining Laurie as she recovers from her wounds, Green’s sequel zooms in on the people of Haddonfield. If Halloween focused on how Laurie dealt with her trauma, Halloween Kills focuses on how the town of Haddonfield deals with theirs. Focusing on community trauma instead of personal hurts the film however. Halloween saw Laurie summon every hidden reserve of strength and smarts in her fight against Michael. It was a story about how Laurie’s PTSD had put her forever in survival mode. Hypervigilant of a danger that may or may not come, she had spent nearly her entire life preparing for revenge against her bogeyman. This had led to paranoia, alcoholism and self-destructive behaviours, which took a toll on the relationship with her family. We also got a glimpse of how this affected her daughter and granddaughter, all three generations grappling with passed-down trauma. Halloween Kills takes a sledgehammer approach to understanding community trauma, and turns Michael into a broad metaphor for most every evil in the US.
A brutal disciplinarian hellbent on re-establishing moral boundaries in suburban America, Michael was a manifestation of misogyny, of puritanism turned into psychopathy. Carpenter has often noted his film wasn’t a morality play, and the punitive response to sex wasn’t written to reinforce conservative ideas about female sexuality. Instead, the violent disregard for promiscuous teens had to do with Michael’s own psychosexual hang-ups, on account of his incestuous fixation for his sister. But he isn’t just slaughtering babysitters in Halloween Kills. It’s an equal-opportunity kill-fest, where a black couple, an older interracial couple and a gay couple are all fungible fodder. Green expands the metaphor to make Michael a manifestation of homophobia, racism and all of America’s retrograde fears. When the mob picks up pitchforks, a hollow comment on mob mentality and ritualised violence too becomes painfully obvious. But it’s a film posturing a stance, instead of actually taking one. It lacks the killer instinct to make its political messaging truly incisive. So, for all intents and purposes, it’s practically apolitical — like a certain Todd Phillips film from 2019.
Back in 1978, when the production designer on the original Halloween returned from the magic shop, he came back with a clown mask and a Captain Kirk mask. They obviously chose the latter, but the new Halloween takes a direction more in sync with a DC clown. It’s Michael Myers as the Jester of Haddonfield Genocide, as the agent of chaos, as Joker. In doing so, the franchise has become a joke in itself, and not a good one at that.