‘Halloween Kills’ is as lifeless as one of Michael Myers’ victims

Rating

Since his debut in 1978, Michael Myers has transformed from a crazed killer to the supernatural embodiment of pure evil, an unrelenting force of bleak joylessness – a description that also fits this year’s entry into the “Halloween” saga.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride reunite to build on the success of their solid 2018 outing with “Halloween Kills,” now playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock. The 2018 film was a breath of fresh air for a series made up of mostly unwatchable sequels. That movie brought the series back to its roots: long, slow scenes of Myers scaring the bajeezus out of horny high school kids. Green and McBride seemed to know exactly how to make a “Halloween” movie sing – which makes it that much more baffling that they managed to get everything wrong this time around.

“Halloween Kills,” like 1981’s “Halloween II,” begins moments after its predecessor ends. Myers is trapped in a flaming house, while Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode races to the hospital with a deep stab wound. Strode, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) have already been through hell tonight, but most people in the picturesque town of Haddonfield, Ill., don’t know a killer is on the loose.

With Laurie Strode (Curtis) stuck in the hospital for most of the movie, “Halloween Kills” has a major protagonist problem.

But when Myers escapes his burning tomb, news of the massacre reaches the townsfolk, and they decide to take matters into their own hands. With cries of “Evil dies tonight!” they put together hunting parties to catch and kill their boogeyman before he can hurt anyone else – which of course puts them directly in the line of danger.

This is the first of many major narrative problems with “Halloween Kills.” Myers has always worked best when he’s creeping up on unsuspecting kids; he’s the embodiment of the irrational fear of the dark. Yet this just doesn’t work when most characters in the movie are actively searching for the killer. Instead of toying with unsuspecting prey, Myers spends much of this film defeating large groups of foes in close quarters combat. Even if you’re into the supernatural “essence of evil” parts of “Halloween” lore (which are really pretty silly) these scenes just aren’t scary in any way – certainly not compared to the slow-burn stalking sequences of the original and the 2018 film.

More unforgivable is the script’s complete lack of a protagonist. With Strode and her family out of commission in the hospital for much of the movie’s 105-minute runtime, we’re left with a bunch of characters who we barely know and who we’re apparently not supposed to care very much about; they exist only to be murdered by Myers, who’s the real star of the show.

This is enough to make “Halloween Kills” a bad film. What makes it nearly unwatchable, though, is it’s refusal to have any fun. You could feel the comedic backgrounds of Green and McBride shine through the spooks of their 2018 flick. The funny banter between sassy kids and their stoner babysitters didn’t detract from that film’s horror – it heightened it by reinforcing the humanity of the victims. Meanwhile, the lovingly crafted scares kept smiles on viewers’ faces, even as our favorite goofy characters ran into the business end of Myers’ iconic kitchen knife.

The film vaguely touches on themes of mob rule and vigilante justice, but the execution is lacking.

Yet there’s almost none of that here. Instead of teens looking to get up to some mischief, our characters are mostly adults with deep psychic wounds from their past run-ins with Myers. Callbacks to earlier movies in the series might be fun easter eggs for hard-core fans, but they won’t mean anything to casual viewers. The filmmakers have traded suspense for gratuitous gore and winking humor for trite metaphysical ramblings. “Halloween Kills” is such undiluted torture-porn for so long that when it finally has even a remotely original idea (the townspeople’s obsession with Myers drives them to become monsters themselves) it’s legitimately surprising.

Ironically, it’s the filmmakers’ failure to heed their own lesson that sinks the picture: they only care about their masked killer, so they can’t help but produce a film as empty as empty as him.

Watch it if: You like the gnarly kills of the “Saw” franchise.

Skip it if: You’re a suspense junky.

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