Friday, October 29, 2021

In It For the Kills

Halloween Kills (2021)

I guess you could call it an epiphany. While I was watching Halloween Kills (2021, directed by David Gordon Green), I realized that the artfulness of a slasher movie doesn't matter to its audience. You could say I've been blind to what slasher movies actually are, and maybe I have been. I admit that I've never understood the appeal, except on the rare occasions when the filmmaking is sharp and the sensibility behind the camera has actual ambitions beyond the red meat of the sub-genre. It's purely an accident that the foundational film in the category is a genuine work of art, one that's informed as much by autumnal melancholy and cinematic legerdemain as it is by teenage sadism. It barely spills even a drop of blood. Maybe that's why its inheritors refuse to learn anything from it. Not enough Christians for the lions.

So now we have this film. It was inevitable that a sequel to the 2018 Halloween would be made once that movie raked in summer blockbuster money, and it was perhaps inevitable that the same talent would be attached. It's more of the same; it's more of more of the night HE came home, if you will. In truth, I like this film a little better than its predecessor. I thought that film completely immolated itself with one colossally dumb plot twist. This film has no comparable moment. I enjoyed some of the metacinematic touches in this one, too, which reach just beyond aping moments in John Carpenter's original, while connecting it to the broader roots of the horror genre. Mind you, there are a lot of things connecting this film to Carpenter's original and to the original film's first couple of sequels. This is as much an homage as it is a (not so new) new narrative. If cinema going forward is going to be a recursive echo chamber selling you the same experiences again and again, then this film is a state of the art example. If you want something new, like a story about a latter day druid killing a generation of kids with sinister masks, then you will be left wanting.

I admit that I am swayed a bit by the circumstances under which I saw the film--as the first half of a double feature at a drive-in theater as god intended. That counts for a bit. But the overall film? Well, maybe not so much.

Anyway, this film picks up from the end of its predecessor, as Laurie Strode and her family are fleeing from her burning house where they have trapped Michael Myers. To their chagrin, the fire department arrives to put out the inferno. Cut to the still breathing Officer Hawkins, who is discovered by Allyson's boyfriend. Hawkins vows to kill Myers out of a sense of guilt. His backstory, in which he encounters Michael during the 1978 rampage, plays out in flashback. Michael kills Hawkins's partner, before the entire Haddonfield police department and Doctor Loomis arrive to capture Michael. Michael also encounters a kid named Lommy during his rampage, who he leaves alive. In the present, Laurie is hospitalized for her injuries, and other victims of Michael's rampage are flooding the ER. Several survivors of the 1978 rampage are having drinks in celebration of their survival at a local bar, including Tommy and Lindsay, the kids Laurie was babysitting in 1978; Marion, the nurse from whom Michael stole a car in 1978, and Lommy. When they hear that people are dying around town, they begin to rouse a posse to take on Michael. Meanwhile, it's still Halloween, and some kids are still out trick or treating. A trio of kids play a prank on the current owners of Michael's childhood home, a gay couple, only to have that couple turn the tables on them with the history of their house. Those kids meet Tommy, Lindsay, Marion, and the doctor and nurse couple with them on a playground where they've been eyeing a sinister man in a white mask. This is Michael, of course, and it goes badly for them, sending them to the hospital where they inform Laurie and her family that Michael is still alive. Also out in the night is the other mental patient who escaped with Michael, who Tommy's angry mob hounds through the hospital when they get wind of him. And Allyson joins the hunt for Michael against the wishes of her parents. When it becomes clear where Michael is heading, all of Haddonfield converges on him...

Halloween Kills (2021)

My first impression of this film came from its trailer, when it became clear that Michael Myers would survive the conflagration from the end of the previous film by falling into the basement of Laurie Strode's house to be rescued by firemen (who he then kills). This is more or less an updated version of the beginning of The Bride of Frankenstein, in which the Monster is shown to have survived the burning windmill by falling into its basement and killing his rescuers. It played out as I expected and it's not lost on me that it's the Universal logo at the beginning of the film. Halloween Kills also emphasizes the angry villagers of the Frankenstein movies. The Shape, as Michael Myers is occasionally called throughout the Halloween series, bears more than a passing resemblance to The Monster. I can't say this doesn't appeal to me, because it does. The original film is more or less influenced by The Thing From Another World, so it's of a piece. The influence resonates through the genre even today. The villagers in this film include the kids Laurie was protecting in the original film, and by visiting danger and death upon them, this acts as a closed loop. World without end. The Evil, as this film styles it, is inescapable.

The murders in this movie are gory, which tracks with its position as a second movie. It's much like the original Halloween II from 1981 in this respect. That film learned the lessons of the Friday the 13th films, and understood its audience. It let blood on-screen and in copious quantities. That parts of this film are set in a hospital shows that the filmmakers are aware of their film's true heritage, even if they don't set any mayhem there. The mayhem elsewhere in Haddonfield is comparably nasty, though. More: it puts three of its kids into the masks from Halloween III for good measure. They've studied the early series. I'm not sure they've learned from them, though.

Halloween Kills (2021)

This is a film without a center. Its marquee star is Jamie Lee Curtis who never confronts The Shape in this film. You can see the set-up for Halloween Ends, which will follow this one a year later in which she will surely have a "final" showdown (helloooooo Halloween H20), but she has precious little to do in this film. This leaves the plot to be carried by other characters. The natural fit for this would be Laurie's daughter and granddaughter, but the film doesn't really spend much time on them, either except for one exceptionally cruel turn of plot late in the film. It's mainly concerned with minor characters, some of whom act as touchstones for the series. Sheriff Brackett from the first film has retired to a security job at the hospital, for example, while Loomis's nurse is celebrating Laurie Strode at a pub with Tommy and Lindsay. Loomis himself makes an appearance in the flashbacks that tell Hawkins's story, expertly faked by a lookalike rather than by CGI. None of this acts as plot or narrative. They're just signposts and references to stroke the nostalgia of the audience. No one steps forward to fill the role of protagonist or final girl, and Laurie Strode spends the entire film in a hospital bed. The screenplay here is a mess: unstructured, full of half-baked ideas, and actively risible at points. The film's best element is the gay couple who have taken up residence in the Myers house. Virtually alone of the characters in this film, these two are fleshed out with something approaching real affection, without relying on the g(l)ories of the series past. I was rooting for them when Michael inevitably comes for them, but the film blunders through what it has with them into another recitation of the bury your gays trope. Still, they're the only real and believable characters in the whole film and the only ones who aren't burdened with dialogue that sounds stilted and ridiculous. Their little war with the trick or treaters seems like it comes from a different and better movie.

Halloween Kills (2021)

I could chalk up this film's many glaring flaws as awkwardness of a middle film in a trilogy, but they're too deep into the structure of the film for that. This isn't the worst Halloween sequel--Halloween: Resurrection still holds that honor--but it can be mentioned in the conversation. Still, I like it more than the previous film, as I've said. It's just as inept, but it doesn't concentrate its essential ineptitude into one colossal dissonant moment. It's more an incremental incompetence. It's not a total trainwreck--the cinematography throughout is fine, and it is particularly attractive in the flashback sequences. David Gordon Green knows his way around a camera so it has a slick veneer of professionalism. But it's increasingly clear that Green's first film, George Washington, was a fluke. Still and all, this is making money, and in the world of franchise filmmaking, that's all that matters. I'm invested enough in Laurie Strode to stick it out through one more film, but if that's not the end, well, it's the end for me. Some things are better left to die.

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