Green: Halloween Kills (2021)
David Gordon Green’s reboot of Halloween was the most classicist since Halloween H20, resuming the story of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers as if the instatiable franchise had never happened – as if we were simply watching the third film in a tight trilogy. By contrast, Halloween Kills is one of the weirdest films in the franchise, which is really saying something, and completely eviscerates the carefully constructed atmospherics of Green’s previous effort. In large part, that’s a result of the same question that plagued Green and screenwriter Danny McBride the first time around – how do you create a slasher film where the prime victim and final girl is now in her 60s? Since slasher films depend on the synergy between the killer and his teenager victims, following Laurie into her sixties felt like a bold and provocative gesture.
The reboot of Halloween addressed this by situating Laurie in an ostensibly post-feminist society – a environment where the project of feminism had been completed, or completed enough to foreclose any possibility of future slashers. The return of Michael Myers became a return of the repressed core of post-feminism – that we still live in a thoroughly patriarchal society, no matter how many advances might have been made since the era of the classical slasher. Laurie took on a real vitality within that narrative, reanimating Michael in turn, since she was the only person who could really discern him lurking within a more sanitised present.
However, Halloween Kills struggles to keep Laurie in the centre of the narrative – literally. For the most part, she’s relegated to the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, where she provides brief expository beats for a narrative that almost entirely discards her. In that sense, Halloween Kills strongly recalls Halloween: Resurrection, which relegated Laurie to a brief prologue in order to maintain continuity with the franchise. While she occurs intermittently here, she doesn’t have much more screen time than in Resurrection, and feels just as absent. Admittedly, it seems like Halloween Kills is preparing us for an epic showdown between Laurie and Michael in Halloween Ends, since everyone ends up dead but them. Along the way, though, Green faces a real crisis in representing middle-age and old people as slasher victims.
We first glimpse this crisis in the strange temporality of the opening scenes. Like Halloween II, Green opens right where the previous film left off, producing a kind of heightened continuity. No sooner has he done this, however, than he cuts back to the events of 1978 – specifically, events that take place in the brief period of time between Halloween and Halloween II. In these two gestures, Green creates a kind of thwarted continuity. By shifting straight from Halloween (2018) to Halloween Kills, he recalls the real-time continuity of the first two films. However, by interpolating this shift with events that occur between Halloween (1978) and Halloween II, he suggests that no continuity is ever totally seamless or complete.
This reminded me of the discussion of the words “continuous” and “continual” in Resurrection. “Continuous,” we were told, “means continuing uninterrupted” while “continual means reoccurring periodically. The opening of Halloween Kills splinters continuity into this tension between continuous and continual action, paving the way for a film that is full of flashbacks, memories and nostalgia, but without ever being able to arrange its own timeframe. It makes sense that Laurie is taken to Haddonfield Memorial, since that’s what the film is too – a memorial for the franchise that has been repressed by Green’s new trilogy.
More specifically, this strange temporality decisively severs any synergy between Michael and younger victims – a pretty big gesture, since this synergy between slasher and teenage bodies was the driving libidinal principle of the entire slasher genre. Whereas Michael still had a residual fixation on young people in Halloween (2018), he’s pointedly disinterested in youth culture here. In a flashback, he lets a child go for no reason; in the present, he’s content to let children hang out at the local playground to lure a more middle-aged or older victim clientele. Whereas Laurie provided a vital link to Michael’s slasher heyday in Green’s earlier film, she’s too abstracted here to prop up his pleasure, and never actually comes face to face with him.
For all those reasons, then, Halloween Kills plays like an effort to rethink the slasher film with middle-aged victims – and it’s a curious proposition indeed. Green and McBride’s first gesture is to transform Michael from a slasher to a vigilante – a lone figure going up against the system, who also embodies the monstrous excesses of the system. More than any previous instalment, Halloween Kills is haunted by the fact that no social institution guarantees safety against Myers, as he cuts a path of destruction through police officers, firefighters and hospital workers. When Karen Nelson (Judy Greer), Laurie’s daughter, tries to invoke the system against Michael, she quickly falters, since he effectively is the system for a majority of the film: “There are authorities who are trained to deal with this…there’s a…there’s a system.”
This standoff between Michael and the system involves several discrete phases, the first of which involves the police force. The first victim we see, in the present, is a police officer, whose death gives way to the flashback between the first and second films. During this flashback, Green entirely displaces Laurie from the original narrative and instead focuses on two primal and formative moments between Michael and law enforcement. In the first, Michael induces a police officer to accidentally shoot another officer. In the second, Michael emerges from the Myers house to greet a posse of police officers waiting for him, presumably before he’s taken to hospital. This stand-off between Michael and a row of people is very different from the iconography of the franchise so far, and it feels like a statement of intent here, ushering in the first fully-fledged appearance of Carpenter’s theme as the credits roll.
This iconography extends to firefighters in the following scenes, as the Haddonfield engines arrive at the blaze that ended the last film. We first see Laurie calling out to the fire trucks as they pass her, en route to hospital, begging them to stop. Moments later, Michael emerges from the flames, and faces off the firefighters in the same way as the police officers, except that we now see the Battle Royale bloodbath that follows. Most of his violence is aimed at the head, eyes and protective visors – the apparatus that’s meant to keep first responders safe – and Green emphasises this with a series of grisly point-of-views shots from the fighters.
It’s immediately clear that this is a very different Michael Myers from any we’ve seen in the franchise so far. The closest cognate is probably the grindhouse Myers of Rob Zombie’s remakes, especially when Green backs Michael with flames, or focuses on his singed and grizzled clothing. Yet Zombie’s Michael doesn’t technically exist in Green’s revised timeline, making this just one more repressed element of the broader franchise that rises to the surface, and meaning that Green can’t use Zombie’s two films as a point of continuity either.
Instead, Green opts for a far more embodied Myers than we’ve ever seen before. That’s not to say that he’s more vulnerable, but that he moves more deliberately and physically through space, while his appeal seems to lie more in Battle Royale kill counts than traditional suspense. While he’s still credited as “The Shape,” this is the furthest Myers has ever travelled from that mercurial description, and the most visible and tangible he has ever made himself. That’s a particularly intense contrast to the first two Halloween films, where he seems to emerge as an extension of atmosphere, and works mostly in elliptical one-on-one encounters, before fading away into the night, or into an evocative tableau, as sinuously as he emerged.
By contrast, the Michael Myers of Halloween Kills is curiously blunt and joyless. Whereas the old Myers seemed driven by a perverse pleasure-principle, the absence of young victims imbues this Myers with a depressive anhedonia, an inability to feel pleasure, which sees him resort to ever more viscerally penetrative murders without any release. In one scene, he returns to a corpse and stabs it maniacally, over and over again, as if trying to regain some of the perverse flow that propelled him in the 70s. But the result is just bathetic, as if Michael has survived, but the structures of slasher enjoyment have ebbed and waned all around him.
That sense of bathos extends to Michael’s victims too, who are never able to muster the visceral intensity of his teenage targets. The profound bathos of these victims is the flipside of Michael’s joylessness. The best slasher victims fused bathos and pathos in sublime and ingenious ways – that’s what made their deaths memorable but expendable. By contrast, the middle-aged and older people in Halloween Kills never achieve that balance between bathos and pathos – they’re tragic and ridiculous in alternating, grating and awkward ways, meaning their deaths further unsettle the tone of the film, rather than cementing or consolidating it.
Before we even see any of these death scenes, however, Green and McBride establish a local bar as the middle-aged hangout. This bar has to be one of the strangest spaces in the entire Halloween franchise, and in some ways feels outside the franchise – like a makeshift bar on set where bit players and crew members have gathered to reminisce about the franchise’s glory days. The tone of the bar doesn’t fit the rest of the film, especially since Laurie never makes an appearance, but it’s also bizarre in itself. We first encounter it by way of a spoken word tribute to Myers’ survivors given by one of the series’ more iconic survivors, Tommy Doyle, now played by Anthony Michael Hall. This would be strange enough in itself, but it quickly gives way to a cascade of improv-styled performances by the entire middle-aged cast, who seem to be collectively staging a Halloween variety show more than a conventional film.
These scenes make it clear that Halloween Kills can only envisage middle-aged and older victims as a kind of cosplay, an artificial intrusion into the slasher universe that can’t ever be fully naturalised. As a result, the kill scenes are too weird to be scary, but never weird enough to be funny either. In the first, an old couple experiment with using a drone, and accidentally fly it into their bathroom. When it’s promptly ejected, they wonder whether Michael is lurking beyond the door, or whether they just flew the drone wrong. Later on, Michael disposes of a host of middle-aged victims in a car, in one of the most lumbering scenes in the franchise, as if he’s just going through the motions, committed inexorably to a task that now holds no joy.
To some extent, this reflects a shift in masculinity and patriarchy since the original Halloween films – and since the classical slasher era more generally. In essence, the original slasher was an intensified father-figure, taking advantage of absent fathers, to be sure, but also doubling down on paternal authority in monstrous and hyperbolised ways. In effect, the slasher held up a mirror to an intensified version of fatherhood and patriarchy that Halloween Kills doesn’t believe in as much as Halloween, meaning that Michael doesn’t have any real libidinal structure to intensify in the first place here. Instead, he’s over-identifying with a patriarchal system that doesn’t seem to exist, giving all his actions a deliberate and depressive quality.
In a weird way, then, Halloween Kills affirms a post-patriarchal society more emphatically than Halloween (1978) – or perhaps just isn’t all that adept at capturing the ways that the perverse patriarchy that Myers once embodied might have percolated into the present. That said, there are two hints of where the film might have gone, late in the third act, and these are, unsurprisingly, the more interesting parts of the film. In the first of these two strands, we return to the Myers house, to find a gay married couple living comfortably under its roof. This is the most radical reinvention of the Myers house since Resurrection and might have cleared way for Michael to re-emerge as a force of paternal authority in a more liberal era of suburbia. Certainly, this couple are the strangest presence in the film, and the least consistent in tonality, evoking a world that is disarmingly dissonant from the suburbs Myers once stalked.
The second strand involves a gang of daggy dads, led by Tommy Doyle, who band up against Michael. Again, this is dramatically dissonant with the original Halloween films, which were almost entirely devoid of fathers, leaving space for Michael to become an intensified father-function himself. Seeing Michael opposed by the fathers he once embodied is quite a surreal vision, and leads to a brief beat in the film where he turns his attention to Dadbods, rather than the teenagers of yore. Yet Green also registers that this alliance of reasonable fathers against Myers’ monstrous fatherhood is a bit of a false opposition, by gradually associating them with the dual logic of white supremacist rioters – forming a mass when it suits them, and appealing to the welfare of first responders when it doesn’t. In the final showdown, Myers and Tommy come face to face, in an eerily quiet scene that slows down the pacing into something resembling classical suspense as they register these latent, underlying synergies.
These two tropes – the gay couple and the dad gang – make it clear that Michael derived his pleasure as much from accelerating suburban fatherhood as in policing teenage bodies (or makes it clear that the two were the same thing). In doing so, they provide a fleeting vision of where the patriarchal structures that Michael accelerates might still persist in the present – in anxieties around gay suburbia, and in fragility around the ongoing role of white fathers. Yet Halloween Kills never really develops these two strands, which remain the only time when Michael recovers the full force of his slasher enjoyment as a prospect in the present. Perhaps it’s too confronting to acknowledge Michael’s ongoing relevance, at least for the second film in a row – and yet Halloween Kills’ effort to compensate with joyless gore is a pretty limp substitute, paling in comparison to the courage and clear-sightedness of Green’s original film.
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