“Halloween Kills” is as gruesomely brutal as a night spent with Michael Myers should be, although the horror sequel loses some of its skull-crushing effectiveness juggling rampant carnage and social commentary.
While director David Gordon Green’s 2018’s “Halloween” brought the slasher franchise back in a huge way, the series takes a step back with the gory follow-up (★★½ out of four; rated R; in theaters and streaming on Peacock now). The previous film featured a return match with masked villain Myers versus vengeful, empowered heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), 40 years after John Carpenter’s original “Halloween.” Yet in picking up exactly where the last one left off three years ago, “Kills” separates its two key main characters, and not for the better. It just seems like a filler chapter before another main event, albeit with nasty kills, mythos building and cool references.
Best horror movies: 10 thrilling, chilling films to watch for Halloween 2021
The last “Halloween” notably wiped the series slate clean as a direct sequel to the 1978 first film, though “Kills” is essentially a do-over of 1981’s “Halloween II,” with Laurie spending quality time at a hospital recuperating from her injuries. She, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) caught Michael in a fiery trap and, thinking he’s toast, head off to get Laurie’s gnarly abdominal wound treated. Michael, naturally, isn’t that easy to eliminate as an essence of evil. He gets out – plus goes to town on a crew of doomed firefighters – and continues tearing a grisly path through Haddonfield that's revealed to be more purposeful than random.
Green’s new installment also catches up with local residents like Tommy Doyle (franchise newcomer Anthony Michael Hall), whom Laurie protected when he was a boy all those years ago. As a bat-wielding grown-up, Tommy rallies the town to take up arms against Michael and kill him once and for all ("Evil dies tonight," they chant), though their anger more than once gets the better of them. Meanwhile, at the hospital, three generations of Strode women struggle with what role they will play: Laurie is a fighter but out of commission, Karen wants everyone to remain safe, while young Allyson yearns to be like her grandma and enter the fray.
Their plight and an insightful discussion between Laurie and fellow wounded warrior Deputy Hawkins (Will Patton) explores interesting philosophical themes, and the film also has a lot to say about the dangers of mob mentality that feels timely. But bouncing between that and Michael’s murder spree tends to leave the whole venture seeming unfocused, especially compared with the hard-charging, supremely confident 2018 movie.
Even with her character sidelined to a degree, Curtis owns this franchise and gets to show a more vulnerable, insightful aspect here after the empowered warrior fighting through trauma of the last film. Greer also impresses, with Karen proving herself worthy of the Strode name, as does Hall, the 1980s comedy star ("The Breakfast Club," "Weird Science") who’s the rough-and-tumble heart of this movie.
Don't know what to be for Halloween? Check out these DIY TikTok costume ideas anyone can do
There is a strange disconnect considering that in the last film, Laurie was presented as the town pariah after decades spent preparing for Michael’s return, while in the new one she’s toasted as a symbol of Haddonfield’s survival spirit. Tommy and the other locals, who gather annually to remember the fateful night back in '78 and are forced to replay it again now, represent the greater impact of a mass tragedy on a community rather than an individual.
When it comes to Michael’s deadly shenanigans, “Halloween Kills” more than lives up to the title – the big guy is a huge fan of head shots this time – and tosses in nods to previous franchise entries, including the Myers-less “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” It also leaves viewers in a darkly compelling place before the next film, “Halloween Ends” (expected next year), even if it’s a bumpy, bloody route to get there.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Halloween Kills' review: Jamie Lee Curtis stands out in messy sequel