On Halloween Kills & Lamb
OCTOBER 19, 2021
Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer in 2021's Halloween Kills.
alloween Kills is just like all the other sequels to the original Halloween movie of 1978: so much worse than the film that gave it its reason for being that it poisons, a little, the purity of its source. There was a time when I and others had reason to believe this might not
happen. Many, like me, probably remember that Halloween Kills’ immediate predecessor — the surprisingly good 2018 reboot of/sequel to the ‘78 film — was a rare exception to the franchise-strong trend of producing ever-diminishing returns.
Set almost exactly 40 years after the original, the 2018 Halloween followed up with the still-traumatized heroine of the original movie, the smart-on-her-feet teenage babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), at the same time it contended with the escape from a mental hospital by the scary-masked serial murderer who served as its villain, Michael Myers (Nick Castle). The 2010s Halloween both mirrored and refracted the simple (and perfect in part because of its simplicity) 1978 feature and wound up being one of the better additions to the franchise. (Though that’s not saying much.) It had the same general plot — Myers descends on the small and fictional Illinois town of Haddonfield and kills a lot of people with a creepy lack of feeling — but had a smoothly updated and decently thoughtful approach. Myers would not only terrorize Laurie, still so shaken up that her house is essentially half booby-trap, but also her now-grown daughter (Judy Greer) and her family. Nobody in the family besides Strode had themselves ever interacted with Myers, but everyone is so familiar with the trauma he inflicted on their matriarch that it’s like he’s at most family gatherings anyway.
Like all the sequels to the 1978 Halloween, the Halloween of 2018 wasn’t an essential movie. But, as co-written and directed by David Gordon Green, it nonetheless did a compelling and sometimes even powerful job of delivering fan service that earnestly sought to be as unnerving as its predecessor while attempting more emotionally than it had. It miraculously managed not to feel like a complete cash-in. I can remember, if not the movie itself on the whole, getting a little choked up at its designed-to-choke-me-up final shot: that of Strode, her daughter, and her granddaughter (Andi Matichak) sitting in the back of a truck, teary-eyed and hugging, as they sped from the scene where they’d thought they’d seen the last of Michael Myers. (The women trapped him in the basement of Strode’s compound of a house and then set it ablaze.)
When Halloween (2018) was greenlighted, though, it wasn’t meant to be a satisfying standalone conclusion. It was technically movie-length set-up for the rest of a new and gratuitous trilogy, which meant you couldn’t fully get emotionally sucked in by that memorable last shot. It wasn’t actually closure at all — just an illusion of it to ensure more box office could be capitalized on. (Myers survives thanks to some ill-fated firefighters.) So Halloween Kills, just like Halloween II (1981) and all the movies to come in its wake, naturally does little besides further cheapen the striking stuff to precede it. I suppose that Halloween Kills being not only bad but also noticeably cynical is just part of the brand these movies have propped up for four decades. This wouldn’t be the Halloween franchise if the general pattern of a very good movie being cashed in on until there is nothing but a husk left to exploit wasn’t returned to.
Halloween Kills picks up immediately after the events of its predecessor. Like Halloween II, much of it is set in a hospital, where Strode recovers from the non-fatal stab wound she suffered in the previous movie. (This also necessitates Curtis disappointingly be in the film very little.) The scope widens elsewhere. While most of the drama in Halloween (2018) had been between Strode, her immediate family, and their friends and loved ones, here the lens enlarges to absorb more townspeople, who catch wind that Myers is again on the loose via frantic news reports.
A now-grown-up Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), whom Strode had been babysitting while fighting for her life in Halloween (1978), takes it upon himself to start a de-facto militia with other residents to ward off the killer that had so rattled the area 40 years earlier. His impassioned pleas work — community members are soon acting like Frankenstein’s monster is in town, angry chanting and armfuls of weapons and all — though the ensuing mayhem is dramatically undercooked and generally dumb.
Whereas explorations of passed-down trauma had enriched Halloween (2018), they’re abased when Green and his co-writers, Scott Teems and Danny McBride, stretch it out to the whole city. It doesn’t feel like a natural expansion; it’s more obvious that the writers are striving for additional thematic pertinence. They’re also “elevating” the seedy material by subtextually relating the increasing fire of Doyle’s mob of mostly angry white men to the Capitol Riots of this January. It’s a woebegone bid for refreshed relevance — importance — in an objectively monotonous franchise best at straightforwardly undermining the feelings of safety that can cushion American suburbia. Must we explore the toxicities of the mob mentality in a movie saga about little else besides cyclical and senseless violence?
Halloween Kills gleefully ups the amount of that cyclical and senseless violence. It’s the most nauseatingly gory of all the Halloween movies I’ve seen. Michael Simmonds’ cameras practically make eyes at, with licked lips, close-up shots of heads getting smashed against glass, spines being snapped using broken staircase railings, knives and calloused thumbs piercing eyeballs as if they were unruly zits. (There’s about as much eye stuff in Halloween Kills as there usually is in a classic Lucio Fulci gorefest.) All this carnage isn’t backed by any real suspense, though: Myers has been demoted from champion stalker to champion of showing up randomly for cheap jump scares.
The humor is upped, too. Several murder scenes begin with their victims playfully teasing each other or doing something engineered for laughs, a little like the not-as-clever-as-they-think-they-are characters of the Scream (1996)
franchise. There’s the doomed husband and wife charmingly sparring over a mini-drone toy the latter is playing with to pass the evening at home; there’s the couple currently living in Michael Myers’ house inventively warding off bratty trick-or-treaters so that they can resume their Halloween-night screening of Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) over pot and charcuterie board snacks.
Though even those flashes of humor have a queasiness to them that prevents them from being totally welcome. The drone-commanding wife is a Black woman (Diva Tyler) whose fears feel pointedly more made fun of than most other cast members. (Save for a Black bartender character, the very few people of color in Halloween Kills are basically introduced as quickly as they are killed, often with a comedic relish the white characters aren’t as much subjected to). And the Myers house-inheritors (Michael McDonald and Scott MacArthur) are gay and written with a kind of evolved stereotyping that still has old-fashioned whiffs of it being funny in itself that they are gay. (The characters, really, are named Big John and Little John.)
Is there anything to like in Halloween Kills? It’s never really thrilling — just noisy. And it’s never effectively funny when it tries to be, as emotionally resonant as its direct predecessor or the 1978 film. When you make it to the end, which makes the strong case that it’s OK to generalize Haddonfield residents as very stupid, the film almost immediately metamorphoses in the imagination as a film produced almost completely to gear us up for the third movie. I’ll see it; I’m not excited for it. Halloween (2018) convinced me that maybe it wasn’t so bad to revive this beaten-to-death franchise; Halloween Kills redefines that line of thinking as naïve. Much like Frankenstein (1818), we’re left with the distinct impression that it might have been wiser to leave the dead alone.
aría and Ingvar (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason), the couple at the center of Valdimar Jóhannsson’s weird, hushed directorial debut Lamb (2021), live on a farm in middle-of-nowhere Iceland where they grow potatoes and tend to a few dozen sheep. We
don’t know what they do with their crop or these animals — we never see the pair shill their harvest or trim or slaughter members of their pack. And we don’t know much about their relationship: how they met, why they’re here, for how long. It’s implied that they have long wanted children but have struggled to conceive; their relationship is loving but routine-dependent to the point of being blank.
Things take a world-altering turn shortly into the movie, when one sheep gives birth, sans help, to a baby that is half lamb, half human. The head and right arm are categorically farm animal; everything else is typical of any human infant. (The movie visually conceals this fact for a long time, as if it was meant to be a big shock or plot twist, though once we’ve arrived at the reveal we’ve already guessed what it is that’s going on.) María and Ingvar decide not to let the baby’s mother do what she will with her strange progeny. Instead, they straight up kidnap this breathing mashup. They raise it as their own; they call the offspring Ava. Many viewers may legitimately grow fond of this lamb thing, though one’s brain may be unsure whether that fondness aligns more with the kind you’d heap onto a house pet or a precocious toddler.
There will be dire consequences for María and Ingvar — so surprising and brazen that they might make you appreciate this slow-going film a bit more — for their brash intrusion on nature. I guess the ending sort of makes Lamb a horror film, which it has generally been marketed as by a clearly-struggling-to-sell-it A24 in its trailers. But it’s much more of an eerie, patchily pretty funny domestic drama I guess angling to function as a semi-allegory for the difficulties of adoption, of the dangers of projecting onto your child. (Things are further complicated when Ingvar’s liability of a brother, played by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, shows up unannounced.)
Lamb isn’t that gratifying a movie. Jóhannsson’s drowningly quiet, minimalist approach after a while suggests both an incuriosity about his characters — how do we go the entire movie without even one discussion between these new parents about their decision-making? — and a general timidity about engaging with its thematic ideas aside from simply bringing them up through oblique suggestion. Lamb is well-performed by its central trio, and it looks beautiful — the wet landscape of Iceland, shot lovingly by Eli Arenson, becomes an ethereal otherworld that seems to place the action outside the bounds of reality. But Lamb does so little that’s memorable outside of its commitment to its bold premise that one wonders why Jóhannsson felt the need to stretch his conceit across nearly two hours rather than present it in the space of a short film.
Halloween Kills: C-