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REVIEW – “Halloween Kills”: Modern Franchise Midquel Sputters in its Slay

“Michael Myers has haunted this town for 40 years, and tonight we hunt him down.”

A statement easier said than enacted upon, and David Gordon Green reminds us too well, too severely, a dark, haunted, deranged soul like Michael Myers cannot be killed easily. And in Halloween Kills, the overall twelfth entry in the franchise, and Green’s direct continuation to an exciting 2018 shakeup, not even an innocent housefire could knock down the career slasher. That point is made overly clear, often beat upside the head with the truth, which I’m sure the more hardcore fans will appreciate. It’s only a shame it couldn’t quite go the extra mile the same way its immediate predecessor was able to. It’s visceral, energetic, and a trifle enlightening, and yet it manages to be slightly underwhelming. There could’ve been more to play with beyond a short-sighted play for revenge.

The sleepy suburb of Haddonfield, Illinois had been plagued by the looming legacy of Mr. Myers for nearly fifty years, his story pushing toward immortality. Those who’ve lived to tell it may never have predicted it would go this deep. As Myers dramatically escapes death, multiple survivors from the ‘78 massacre peek out of the woodwork, joining Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in fighting for their town’s likelihood. Among them, one of the youngsters she once babysat. Now grown-up Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) leads a bitter, angry mob upon hearing Myers had daringly departed from a bus heading for a max-security mental institution. Doyle and his comrades will hope to finish the job Laurie and her family had started a short time ago. And they do not intend to be nice about it.

That approach could best describe the motivation shared between Green and co-writers Danny McBride (The Righteous Gemstones) & Scott Teems (The Quarry), they’re neither nice toward Michael, nor are they clean with their setups. Right up until the last 15 minutes, it would’ve been fine if aspects were more self-contained, and there wasn’t the third film to try and set a stage for. But keeping that in mind, the action eventually hits a mild plateau, landing a half-notch lower versus the events from “earlier that day.” Not every card lands squarely on the table, the remainder of the deck being withheld until next year’s Halloween Ends. What we see borders on a decent set of aces, coated in blood red while the kill count justifies this sequel’s title, albeit with an overexpanded ensemble.

The Strode family does plenty to keep Green’s eye for rampage as grounded as possible. While Curtis isn’t given much to work with, her Laurie confined to a hospital bed, daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) pick up the slack in vibrant fashion. As much of a letdown as it is, seeing Laurie effectively sitting idle as her town devolves to the point of utter barbarity is the last thing we would ever anticipate for this series. It was refreshing in that framing to see Allyson answer back, leaving the door open for a tag-team effort on next year’s conclusion, whilst she and Karen strive to heal from the wounds of prior abrasions, as four decades of pent-up frustration and fear manifest around them, often to the point where the police are suddenly helpless. Kind of a thematic cheap shot, as well as an insult to Jim Cummings’ (The Wolf of Snowy Hollow) otherwise golden abilities as an actor with a smooth-talking demeanor.

Elsewhere, Green is attempting to balance multiple threads that will either prove pointless for the finish or grow into something of actual value. Distinguishing those two points of merit was difficult just by the vastness of his supporting cast. Haddonfield’s near-total population has earned their dues, but it’s perhaps too much at one time. What stands out is solidly fanciful, as we’re introduced to gay hipster couple Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald), fully aware they’re residing in Michael’s childhood home. That alone leaves them ideal targets for pranksters and enemies alike, but their purpose amounts to, at best, limited stunt casting with some friendly chuckles.

More reasonable would be Green’s penchant to build the lore, welcoming back key figures from the franchise’s heyday for a chance at that last confrontation. Hall does a fair job corralling his fellow Haddonfieldians, including schoolyard chum Lindsay (Kyle Richards), retired MD Marion (Nancy Stephens), and ex-sheriff Brackett (an electric Charles Cyphers), and pushing them, admittedly by mistake, into a dark territory of their own with weapons of war. There were some moments with this thread, where Hall easily stole the show, in both fury and restraint, though not quite overshadowing the vibe Michael could give off. Even if we were dealing with the least pleasing film in the franchise, his presence can light up a room before knocking the lights out one by one. Here, it’s no different, assuredly teasing the audience for what will hopefully be his most diabolical moves on screen.

We just needed more of that suspense, that forebodingly sinister attitude these films are known best for. In John Carpenter’s capable hands – the man returning as EP and co-composer – that was typically what we could’ve expected and nothing less. Here, Green gives his best effort, living up to the old master’s standards. But aware this is only the beginning of what is sure to be the final outro, he offers too much of an aperitif and not the full-course meal 2018’s Halloween leveled out to. Too much in the way of a savory appetizer, stopped short as the main entree was ready to enter, left to wonder.

What we’re treated to on Halloween Kills remains a feast worth sampling, even if appetites will be more whet than where it began. I was still jolted, shivered, and occasionally delighted by the fright factor, and that often-niggling sense of community involvement. Obviously, the big finale will give us more of that, and if the Strode clan can further move that along, then we’ll have just enough to be excited for. (C+; 3 /5 Horns Up!)

Halloween Kills is currently playing in theaters and streaming at home for Peacock subscribers; rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, grisly images, language, and some drug use; 105 minutes.