Of all the evenings for the Haddonfield Department of Plausible Human Behavior to close early, it’s deeply unfortunate that October 31, 2018 had to be one of them. For ’twas on that very night that the events soberly documented in “Halloween” (2018), David Gordon Green‘s fun first stab (intentional, as are all puns that follow) at revitalizing John Carpenter‘s beloved franchise, took place. And it is on the same night, a little bit during but mostly just immediately after all those creative impalings, knifings, shootings, beatings, and trappings-in-the-cellar-and-burnings, that “Halloween Kills” unfolds — though don’t worry overmuch if you can’t remember precisely the ins and outs of who got offed when and where in the previous film, as Green provides plenty of flashbacks and callbacks to remind you.
One element he does not bring back from the dead, however, is the loosely intelligible, vaguely logical decisionmaking – or even basic survival instinct – displayed by any character outside the imperiled Strode family, let alone any of the actual menace conveyed by Carpenter’s peerless original. After a genuinely promising beginning, “Halloween Kills,” already somewhat robbed of potential suspense by the fact we all know that another go-round, “Halloween Ends,” is on its way, seemingly doubles the body count of the previous installment while roughly halving its IQ. Honestly, in the name of evolutionary natural selection, maybe a town this dumb deserves Michael Myers.
This time, you see, it’s the whole town of Haddonfield that decides to fight back against their municipal murderous mischief-maker, their collective colossus of chaos, who has now become a creature of myth to younger generations – if they’ve heard of him at all. Initially, this notion gives rise to some rather inventive back-storying: Officer Frank Hawkins, played by Will Patton in the present day and by Thomas Mann as a young rookie cop, is given a nice little section in which we discover the roots of his personal vendetta against Michael. And little slivers of flashback remind us who else was affected by the original murders as a kid, which is handy because in 2018 there is a survivors’ reunion going on in a local bar, where we’re introduced to Marion (Nancy Stephens), Lindsey (Kyle Richards), Lonnie (Robert Longstreet), and Tommy (Anthony Michael Hall—and yes that really is Anthony Michael Hall). (Interesting, for a franchise that practically defined the original notion of the Final Girl, that the two women are played by their original actors from Carpenter’s film; the two men are not.) Anyway, the four of them, especially Tommy who was one of the kids Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, duh) was babysitting when Michael first attacked, are celebrating their continuing not-being-horribly-murdered-ness and are joined by some of the bar’s costume-clad patrons in raising a toast to “Laurie Strode, wherever she is.”
Where Laurie Strode actually is at that moment, is in the back of a pickup truck with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), trying to hold in her bleeding, spilling guts as they speed toward the hospital. En route, they pass a convoy of fire trucks, heading toward the conflagration chez Strode, sirens wailing as Laurie bellows at them “Nooo! Let it burn! Let it burn!” Reader, I trust you will not come after me for spoilers when I say they do not follow Ms. Strode’s sage advice. Michael escapes to rack up a few dozen more Halloween kills.
Ah, the kills. Some of them are fun — there’s a hilarious one where, due to a fast-opening car door, a character shoots herself; another does have good eye-gouging while, of all things, “Minnie and Moskowitz” plays on a TV. Most are a little bit ho-hum but if you’re a quantity over quality person, there are sure enough of them. Less forgivable is how rote they become and how so many of them are fully reliant on characters to whom we’ve been introduced mere moments before making every class of idiotic choice: running out of bullets; leaving the back door unlocked; telling the others to stay in the car while they go alone to check out this darkened park/notorious murder house; taking a moment to sob over the slain corpse of a loved one while the killer is still in the room; not just fucking shooting him in the head when you have the chance.
It’s not like there’s any other real peril here or any other texture at all. There’s a half-hearted attempt at topical social critique. At one point Karen — who is called “Karen” — insisting that her mother lets the authorities deal with the roving psychopathic golem who has haunted her for 40 years, hisses “There’s a system!” And the dangers of mob mentality (an actual pitchfork is used) are writ large when a crowd of townspeople chanting “Evil dies tonight!” goes after the wrong guy. But neither of these points is followed with any kind of consistency — pity poor Judy Greer, even her talents cannot do anything with a character who is required to be a totally different person every three minutes. And as for ravening mob vs. the solidarity of a community all coming together? What good is it even to set up that dichotomy when everybody immediately then splits up?
In any case, it’s moot. What tension can there be when there’s a killer who is virtually unkillable and absolutely ubiquitous? It’s genuinely striking how few fake-outs or red herrings or surprises there are. Whenever someone hears a floorboard creak, Michael’s in the house. No matter which car they get into, Michael’s in the back seat. The shadow at the window? That’ll be Michael. Every door that’s mysteriously ajar? Why, hey there, Michael. Green’s tactic in 2018 was to make a sequel to the 1978 film that simply ignored the fact that nine other “Halloween” films happened in the meantime. This was the best choice he, along with co-writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride, could have made because all of those films are, to use the correct critical term, shite. But out with the bathwater, this time has gone the baby; in an effort to remake and refresh the mythology of the franchise, the writers (this time minus Fradley and plus Scott Teems) have strayed dangerously close to getting rid of it altogether, virtually destroying the one relationship of any substance at all, and the only one we really give a damn about: that semi-mystical, weirdly symbiotic link between Laurie Strode and her eternal faceless nemesis. Of all the things “Halloween Kills” had to kill, why that? [C]