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Halloween Kills (2021)::rating::2::rating::2

At the top of this review, I’m gonna need a little clarification: That 2018 Halloween–was it a soft reboot, a hard reset, a decent retread, or a spicy goulash that somehow combined all of the above? I do remember that David Gordon Green’s version chucked all those umpteen sequels down the disposal and hitched on to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic. That’s a little something we call retroactive continuity–or retconning–if you need to say something pretentious to make your friends roll their eyes and head for the door. Whatever the case, the latter Halloween provided a blast of fresh air. It was giddily gory and undeniably goofy; it was self-aware, but never obnoxiously so.

Here then, is Halloween Kills, a campy, clichéd mess that doesn’t so much touch on all the horror tropes as it stumbles through them like a drunken man in a minefield. This feels like a totally different film, despite returning most of the same cast and crew from the most recent Halloween bloodbath. It marks a sharp detour in tone, adopting the belligerent vigilantism of 70s schlock like Billy Jack and Walking Tall. This Michael Meyers flick wastes a lot of time on the torches-and-pitchforks angle, and the result is nowhere near as fun.

The story begins immediately after the end of the previous movie. (Naturally, a few spoilers from 2018’s Halloween lie ahead. If you haven’t seen it, this is your stopping point.) Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Alyson (Andi Matichak) have survived another frenzied melee with Michael Meyers (Nick Castle). Laurie is gravely wounded, but spiritually content that she has finally obliterated her tormenter. Meanwhile, Frank Hawkins (Will Patton), the good-hearted deputy who became Laurie’s ally in the last film, gets carted into the hospital alongside her. He carries enormous guilt over his very first encounter with Michael Meyers, and vows to make amends by killing the monster himself.

At this point, Kills starts to wander into the weeds. Green cuts over to a local bar, where a few survivors of Michael’s 1978 rampage celebrate another year of not getting diced up into little onion volcanoes. (I allow myself one Benihana reference per year, so enjoy it.) This group consists of: Marion (Nancy Chambers), the original assistant to Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance); Lindsey (Kyle Richards), the little girl Laurie babysat during Michael’s OG spree; and Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), who now functions as the group’s ringleader. None of these characters are as compelling as Laurie, nor do they share the intense connection she has with Michael Meyers. The film weakens considerably when it lingers on this subplot.

As you might guess, Laurie and company soon get wind that Michael has somehow survived being slashed and burned alive, and he’s not in a real pleasant mood. The townspeople, let by Tommy, organize into a bloodthirsty mob and go on the hunt for Michael. Laurie limps and groans her way out of bed, determined to gear up for one more showdown.

By this point, Kills is on my damn nerves: First off, why would the filmmakers not only hobble their most compelling character, but also bench the runner-up (Hawkins) right next to her? Previously, it was so much fun to see Jamie Lee Curtis go Sarah Connor and morph into an overpowered ass-kicker. This sequel pretty much relegates her to a glorified cameo. Furthermore, it sets up Hawkins as a decent man with a dark secret, only to leave us hanging as well. Patton is a fine actor, and he deserves more than he gets in this installment. Yeah, I know a third film is already on the way, but these dangling story threads are still pretty frustrating.

Another thing: I get that Michael Meyers is supposed to be a tough sum’bitch, but this entry seems a little over the top with it. Ol’ Mike gets shot, stabbed, and beaten, only to get up, keep butchering, and grow stronger. By the end, he makes the Incredible Hulk look like cheesecloth. I’m all for making Michael a bit supernatural, but Kills ends up murdering my disbelief.

The 2018 Halloween seamlessly blended old and new, intense and fun. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was still the best franchise entry in years. Halloween Kills falls into the familiar trap of horror sequels: It works much harder for diminishing returns. The dialogue is clunky, and very little of the humor lands. Series devotees will probably want to watch it, but everyone else should steer clear. This Kills is decidedly short on thrills.

105 min. R. Peacock.

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