Halloween Kills

Written by Alexander Reams

93/100

I love movies. I have since I saw the first Iron Man. Films will sometimes come along and remind me why I love them. David Gordon Green’s follow-up to 2018’s Halloween is one of those films. 

Beginning back in 1978 on the first night Michael came home, we are introduced to a young Deputy Hawkins (Thomas Mann) and his partner Pete McCabe (Jim Cummings). They are hunting Michael after his killings, Laurie has been rescued, and now the hunt continues. Before he returns to his childhood home, Michael runs into a young boy, Lonnie Elam (who will become a surprising lookalike to actor Robert Longstreet). After this encounter, Michael makes it to his home and waits for his next victims to come to him. He is truly an animal, and he hunts like one, why would he go out and risk being seen when he knows they will come to him. Eventually, this comes to pass, with Hawkins and McCabe reaching the house. When they do, one can imagine what happens. We already know Hawkins survives, and Michael is apprehended. 

Jump to 40 years later, a quick recap for those who did not watch 2018’s Halloween. Michael escapes, Laurie is suffering from PTSD, Michael does some stabbing and choking, Laurie, her daughter Karen, and granddaughter Allyson trick Michael and trap him in Laurie’s “Batcave” and light the place up like a Roman candle. That was the end, or until Blumhouse decided to make 2 more sequels. Now all they have to do is have Michael (logically) escape a burning house. 

To my surprise, they took this challenge and conquered it with relative ease. Then made it macabre, beautiful, and horrifying. From Michael’s opening scene, escaping Laurie’s trap and cutting through several firefighters with ease. Gordon Green’s DP from 2018’s Halloween Michael Simmonds returns for Halloween Kills and his skill of blocking horrific, violent set-pieces is showcased once again. The lighting, using the fire as a gorgeous backdrop to show the silhouettes of the firefighters being slain. Making the entire sequence appear like a painting.

After he makes quick work of these firefighters, Michael begins to hunt, presumably for Laurie, who is now in the hospital recovering from the wounds that she received at the end of the previous film. Which was a welcome rush of realism to this franchise, Laurie is not a young woman anymore, she can’t jump back up immediately and go toe-to-toe with Michael again. She needs time to heal, which means in this film she is mostly relegated to the sidelines. While some might be disappointed, I was not, this gave time to other characters who were sidelined in the first film, i.e. Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter. She takes center stage and shows how great of a performer she can be when she is given the right material. 

Following its 2018 predecessor, Halloween Kills also has something to say about society, and is now even more relevant after its countless delays. The idea of a mob mentality after the majority of 2020 is constantly in the social zeitgeist and here the creatives behind the film took that idea and turned it into Michael being the creator of more monsters and having them destroy the town for him. These survivors of Michael’s attacks and his continued hold on them have poisoned their outlooks on life and their ability to reasonably react to his return to Haddonfield.

Gordon Green and company’s return to the iconic franchise managed to do the impossible, continue the stories set up in the first film, tell a story between the beginning and ends of this trilogy, and deliver even more brutality than the first. With this writer loving the latter aspect the most. With every kill I felt the blood spattering and the force of Michael’s presence crushing my soul with every step he took. The final 15 minutes are some of the best filmmaking of Gordon Green’s career and set up a finale that cannot and should not be missed. Truly the Empire Strikes Back of horror films(or at the very least Halloween).

Halloween Kills Trailer

Halloween Kills is currently available to stream on Peacock and playing in wide theatrical releases.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Beta Test

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

“Everybody still wants to be Harvey.”

This sentiment isn’t explicitly expressed in The Beta Test until the end of the film, but nevertheless makes itself felt from the get-go as we follow Hollywood agent Jordan Hines, who is inching ever closer to the end of his fraying rope as he struggles to maintain some semblance of control in his life, grasping for the days where his white male ego meant something more. As played by Jim Cummings, who co-wrote and directed The Beta Test alongside PJ McCabe, Jordan is a compulsively watchable snake, his manic smile never quite reaching his eyes, his laugh just a little too forced, all of these sociopathic tendencies underpinned by a real sense of anxiety and dread and the knowledge that Jordan is one moment away from unraveling completely and having a nervous breakdown. 

But he can still pretend with an unnerving ease, smiling at clients and offering his assistant networking help, giving a better performance than his actor clients. He pretends to like his job, pretends that he has power and control, pretends to be thoughtful and attentive to his fiancée, Caroline (Virginia Newcomb).

So when a mysterious letter in a purple envelope comes along inviting Jordan to a no-strings-attached sexual encounter at a hotel, Jordan goes, eager to finally get some sort of real thrill in his life. Jordan—blindfolded—has sex with this unknown woman—also blindfolded—and intercut with this are scenes of Jordan elsewhere plastering his fake smile on and saying various iterations of, “That’s exciting.” (“The audience for television is so much larger than independent film,” he says, in a none-too-subtle meta moment in a film littered with them; unsubtle, but not ineffective.) But in this hotel room, free from pretending, it actually is exciting for Jordan. 

And that’s it. No more letters, no more anything, just the lingering memory of brief few moments of bliss, and so Jordan becomes increasingly paranoid to the point of hallucinating, or at least mishearing innocent remarks from his assistant and snapping at her. Losing his grip on reality, Jordan confesses to his only friend, PJ (fellow writer and director PJ McCabe), and they begin to track down where the envelope came from.

From here, McCabe and Cummings weave together various disparate threads, some not given enough weight or thought to be as substantial as they ought to be, but all coming together to illustrate the rapid loss of control and identity occurring in Jordan’s life. Much of it comes together in a critique of the Internet that is simultaneously both too on-the-nose and not developed enough, largely tacked onto the end and stated rather than shown; luckily, anchored by such a strong performance by Cummings—by turns pitiful and repulsive, but always electrifying—The Beta Test never loses your attention.

Even if The Beta Test doesn’t quite reach the height of its lofty ambitions, it remains a gripping narrative and a searing indictment of Hollywood and its (our, really) warped masculinity. #MeToo didn’t end sexual assault, or adultery, or any of it, it just made people get more creative about hiding it, as The Beta Test shows. “I think the world’s about to become a fucking horrifying place,” Jordan says. “I think I just watched it happen.” But hasn’t it always been one? It’s just wrapped in a different package now.

The Beta Test Trailer

The Beta Test screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Watch Anna’s Interview with The Beta Test Producer Natalie Metzger.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Interview: Producer Natalie Metzger Talks “Werewolves Within” and “The Beta Test”

Interview by Anna Harrison

Natalie Metzger is an award-winning director, writer, and producer based in Los Angeles and known for films such as Werewolves Within and The Beta Test, both of which had their premieres at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Additionally, she has produced The Wolf of Snow Hollow and Thunder Road, which won the Grand Jury Award at SXSW.

Keep up with Natalie and her projects on Facebook, IMDb, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and her website.

Werewolves Within and The Beta Test both premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.​ You can read Anna’s review of Werewolves Within here.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Episode 28: Piercing / Monsters and Men / Thunder Road / Destroyer

“Horror, almost better than any of the other genres, pits the will to live against the will toward nihilism. I just think that’s worth exploring. I don’t know what is more important, actually, to explore than that very dynamic. “

Karyn Kusama

This week on the Podcast we discuss: First Impressions of The Hustle & Ma. The Feature Films: Piercing, Monsters and Men, Thunder Road, and Destroyer.

Links:

Apple Podcasts (iTunes)

Castbox

Google Play Music

Google Podcasts

LibSyn

Spotify

Stitcher

YouTube

Streaming links for titles this episode

Monsters and Men and Destroyer on Hulu

Piercing and Thunder Road are currently available to rent from multiple sources.