November 12, 2021

Film

Boogie fever: ‘Halloween Kills’

By Luke McCarthy
David Gordon Green’s second entry in the famous horror franchise reboot is as confused as its violence is senseless

Who is Michael Myers? For John Carpenter – director of the original Halloween, released in 1978 – he was an inexplicable boogieman. The masked serial killer acted as a looming reminder of all things unseen, stalking the residents of Haddonfield like a shadow. Michael Myers was, like Carpenter’s greatest creations, a metaphysical terror. The sequels that followed (bar Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a bizarre but terrifically mounted one-off) tended to stick with this conception of the masked killer. But in many of these films, which lacked Carpenter’s directorial grace, Myers came to feel disappointingly mundane, and aside from a few fun tangents – The Curse of Michael Myers and Resurrection are admirably kooky – it was a franchise of mostly diminishing returns.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009), though at the time critically derided, were a welcome course correction for the series. The opening 40 minutes of Zombie’s remake delved into Michael Myers’ childhood, and although many saw this as a bungled attempt to explain the murderous impulses of the killer, these scenes remain fascinating for their explicit lack of explanation. Myers’ childhood was horrific, but it was not uniquely so. What makes Zombie’s vision of Myers terrifying is that, for all we come to know about this man, we are never truly able to comprehend him. He is a monster, yes, but as Zombie emphasises he is a decidedly human one. And what does it mean when we cannot fathom – let alone explain – the actions of a fellow human being?

With the release of David Gordon Green’s Halloween in 2018, both a reboot of the series and a direct continuation of Carpenter’s 1978 original, the question once again became: who is Michael Myers? Green played the story of a traumatised Laurie Strode dealing with the re-emergence of Michael Myers some 40 years later completely straight, seemingly intent on returning to Carpenter’s original vision of the malevolent boogieman. The violence in the 2018 film was ugly but restrained, and although it lacked Carpenter’s intuitive craftmanship Green’s film was, on a shot-by-shot basis, handsomely wrought. If 2018’s Halloween heralded an effective – if derivative – take on Michael Myers, then its sequel, Halloween Kills, is an entirely different beast.

Beginning in the immediate aftermath of its predecessor, Halloween Kills takes place over the course of a single night, as the townsfolk of Haddonfield are made aware that the masked serial killer is once again on the loose. In its opening moments, we are introduced to many of the now middle-aged survivors of Myers’ original killing spree. Together with the rest of the small town, they decide to band together to hunt the killer down, with “evil dies tonight” their constant refrain. The film intercuts this story with scenes of a recovering Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), confined to a hospital bed alongside daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Amid this drama, Michael Myers continues to kill.

The violence of Halloween Kills is cruel and indulgent, with the film sporting what may be the highest body count of the entire franchise. Many of the set pieces are particularly unpleasant, and although there is a space for this kind of unforgiving nihilism in the horror genre (one only has to look to Rob Zombie’s Halloween) Green’s sensibility remains entirely too tasteful to evoke the kind of perverse sleaze necessary to make this work. The barrage of on-screen deaths in Halloween Kills feels frustratingly obligatory, and every long, drawn-out moment of terror plays more like a hypothetical exercise in horror filmmaking than anything organically derived from Green and co-writer Danny McBride’s screenplay. This might not be such an issue if these set pieces contained any of the minimalist ingenuity found in Green’s 2018 reboot, but despite bringing back cinematographer Michael Simmonds, many of these scenes seem noticeably less considered, bordering on sloppy. Given the film’s central conceit ­­– an attempt at exploring the complicated nature of mob violence – one also wonders why this dynamic plays so small a part in the gratuitous violence on display.

The idea that the residents of Haddonfield – old and young – band together to take down Michael Myers is in theory a good one, and for at least the first act of Halloween Kills, Green and McBride do a relatively fine job of navigating its complexities. Early moments with the survivors of Myers’ 1978 murder spree are appropriately sombre, and there is a downbeat, elegiac texture to their reminisces that lends unexpected weight to the history of this small town. Having begun his career with a series of working-class dramas such as George Washington and All the Real Girls, Green navigates the dynamics of Haddonfield’s many residents with a deft, assured hand.

It soon becomes clear that the town’s quest for justice, while seemingly justified, has devolved into a simmering pot of inchoate, directionless anger. In the quest to kill Michael Myers, an innocent man is murdered. Within the pantheon of slasher sequels, this angle is relatively novel, and one has to commend Green and McBride for using the franchise’s history as a means to explore something altogether different from its many predecessors. For the town of Haddonfield, Michael Myers has come to represent evil – pure and uncomplicated. As the group chant of “evil dies tonight” echoes, one gets the sense that many of the town’s residents believe that to kill Myers is to kill all that is wrong with their beloved hometown (multiple characters talk of “making the pain go away”). But fixing what is broken is not so simple. To designate a single person as evil personified – even if he is the boogieman – points us away from systemic problems, and against each other. Unfortunately, this is a point poorly made.

Although there may be a somewhat overwrought lesson to be learnt from the mob violence of Halloween Kills, one finds it hard to square with all that has come before. In the wake of the many brutal, senseless murders committed by Michael Myers, Laurie Strode’s declaration that “he’s turning us into monsters” falls on deaf ears. Building on 2018’s Halloween, which spent the majority of its runtime working to establish that Michael Myers is in fact evil incarnate, the questions posed in this film start to feel confused, belaboured. Yes, senseless vigilante justice can be an inherently problematic proposition, but underlying this dilemma in Halloween Kills is what appears to be a bizarrely conservative fear of the masses. Is one to truly believe, as this film seems to, that community action inevitably devolves into senseless violence? This is a deeply ugly argument to make, and not one that Green or McBride seem to have intended, but the film’s perplexing relationship to Michael Myers (and Haddonfield more generally) means that it is one that is hard to ignore. Who is Michael Myers, really? In Halloween Kills, the answer to this question is disappointingly incoherent.

Luke McCarthy

Luke McCarthy is a filmmaker, writer and critic living in Naarm / Melbourne. He has written for The Guardian, ABC and The Big Issue, among other publications.

From the front page

Image of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian in September. Image © Dan Himbrechts / AAP Images

Gladys for Warringah?

In attempting to take down an independent MP, Morrison is helping pro-integrity candidates across the country

Image of Oscar Isaac as William Tell in The Card Counter. Photograph © Focus Features

Debt burden: Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’

The acclaimed writer-director indulges his experimental streak in a thriller that inverts the popular conception of the gambling man

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during Question Time earlier this week. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Go figure

How did Labor end up with an emissions-reduction target of just 43 per cent?

Online exclusives

Image of Oscar Isaac as William Tell in The Card Counter. Photograph © Focus Features

Debt burden: Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’

The acclaimed writer-director indulges his experimental streak in a thriller that inverts the popular conception of the gambling man

Image of The Beatles and Yoko Ono during the ‘Let It Be’ sessions. Image © Apple Records / Disney+

‘Get Back’ is ‘slow TV’ for Beatles nuts

Despite plenty of magical moments, Peter Jackson’s eight-hour epic is the work of a fanatic, and will likely only be watched in full by other fanatics

Image of John Wilson in How To with John Wilson. Image courtesy of HBO / Binge

Candid camera: ‘How To with John Wilson’

Both delightfully droll and genuinely moving, John Wilson’s idiosyncratic documentary series is this month’s streaming standout

Image of Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho. Image © Claire Folger / Warner Bros.

Slow motions: Clint Eastwood’s ‘Cry Macho’

Despite patient filmmaking, the 91-year-old director’s elegiac feature is unable to escape the legend of the man