It is difficult to go to the movies these days; they barely seem to exist.
Instead, we get episodes—chapters in sagas that slog on in perpetuity. James Bond pining for a paramour dispatched four movies earlier. Superheroes rumbling about ‘the Blip.’ Eschewed is the challenging process of tension and release, of structuring stories worth telling, of creating memorable moments. Filmmakers—producers mostly, and marketers—just go about the pull-lever mechanics of meeting the increasingly diminishing expectations of the unfortunate folks that trudged out for the last installment.
It’s depressing to think about, and even more to witness. Rarely will you see a more soul-numbingly empty product of this tragic operation than Halloween Kills, a film that so completely sucks the vitality out of John Carpenter’s and Debra Hill’s original vision that one would be tempted to call it a desecration if that didn’t make it sound like more fun than it actually is.
Like a run-on sentence in need of punctuation, the new film, the twelfth in the franchise that started in 1978, kicks off in the very seconds after the last one, 2018’s Halloween, concluded.
Before we can catch our breath, the haunted Officer Hawkins (Will Patton) is bleeding out from a knife wound to the neck, some kid has his head impaled on a wrought iron spire, and Laurie Strode (series OG Jamie Lee Curtis) is being rushed to the hospital with an abdomen wound. Michael Myers, meanwhile, having survived being set on fire in Laurie’s basement is once again on the prowl of his old neighborhood. (He will—over the course of the proceedings— similarly outlast numerous gun shots and knife plunges, as well as a baseball bat beating and a pitchfork to the back.)
At a local bar, survivors of the original attacks—including a new-to-the-series Anthony Michael Hall playing the grown-up version of the kid Laurie was babysitting all those years ago—start an informal support group that transforms into a bloodthirsty mob as they catch wind of Michael’s latest rampage. In more capable hands, the idea of Myers’ evil infecting a horde of vengeance-minded citizens (a glass-shattering assault on a local hospital carries shades of January 6) might have held promise; landing in a film profoundly uninterested in ideas of any sort, it comes off as half-baked.
By needing to attend to all this furious action, director David Gordon Green must ditch the tension-building atmospherics that made the original films so trenchant. As a result, the bland and unthematic presentation of the accumulation of a boogie man’s ever-increasing body count is about of terrifying as watching a middle-aged weekend warrior check off his to-do list at Home Depot. It doesn’t help that the pacing of the film is as lumbering and ponderous as Myer’s slow-moving, aging offensive lineman’s lollop.
Written by Green, his Pineapple Express collaborator Danny McBride, and Scott Teems (2020’s The Quarry), the script is a collection of shallow aphorisms about evil never dying and the nature of terror that seem ripped off from a collection of Gothic-themed Dixie cups. No one in the talented cast can overcome the script’s profound emptiness, not even the great Judy Greer, returning from the last movie as Laurie’s daughter. A brilliant performer capable of elevating almost everything she is in, here Greer is outacted by the holiday sweater she wears in every scene.
Which brings us to the saving grace in Hollywood Kills, currently scheduled to be followed next October by Halloween Ends (we should be so lucky): Jamie Leigh Curtis’ furiously unhinged take on scream queen survivor’s guilt. She is wonderful in one scene, in which she injects herself with a painkiller so she can join the posse hunting her stalker.
Otherwise, Curtis is utterly wasted, spending most of the proceedings on a hospital gurney recovering from wounds acquired in the last movie. Hopefully they will give her time to heal before trotting her out for another round. If the series’ original ‘final girl’ isn’t at full strength and able to dominate every scene, this whole endeavor—drained of its ability to shock, engage, or even disgust us—has nary a reason to keep returning from the grave.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.