HALLOWEEN KILLS is David Gordon Green’s movie, through and through

Because the Halloween movies are part of a long-running horror franchise, it’s natural that a new entry like Halloween Kills will be received as part of that legacy—even as the movie intentionally picks and chooses what’s part of its continuity, what’s sneaky homage, and what’s brand-new. Halloween Kills is a follow-up to 2018’s Halloween, which itself is not a remake of the original 1978 Halloween, but a 40-years-later sequel that ignores the many other sequels (and the 2007 remake, and its sequel). The new sequel takes some cues from the “original” Halloween II, but it’s not a remake of that one, either; at times, it seems to be consciously rebuking some of that old sequel’s most famous elements.

To a lot of critics and fans, Kills reverts its 2018 predecessor into slasher-sequel mode: more (and gorier) killing, additional backstory (or is it retconning?), more vaguely supernatural power emanating from the unstoppable masked killer Michael Myers. And the film undeniably has all of those elements. But Halloween Kills is more interesting than it sounds, because it represents another left turn in the career of director/cowriter David Gordon Green.

Green also made the 2018 Halloween (and is about to make Halloween Ends, the final movie in this trilogy, slated for release next October). That was a left turn, too, in a filmography full of them. He started out doing soulful, Terrence Malick-esque Southern indies like George Washington and All the Real Girls; tried his hand at stoner comedy with the well-received Pineapple Express and the less-beloved Your Highness; did some movie-star-gone-indie portraiture like Joe and Manglehorn; made a couple of true-life dramas including Stronger; and then signed on for this Halloween trilogy. Green has made a rich and prolific career of baffling different factions of his potential supporters.

Halloween Kills continues that tradition, in that it is less conventionally satisfying than its predecessor. But this quality also makes it feel like a Green film—maybe even moreso than the 2018 film, as this one is less directly indebted to the 1978 original. It does run parallel to the old Halloween II in that it picks up immediately after the previous movie, and sends Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) to the hospital while announcing that Myers is on the loose again. (At the end of the 2018 film, he seemed to be trapped in a burning building; here, he makes quick work of a dozen or so firefighters.) Though Laurie has some downtime in the old Halloween II, here she barely shares the screen with Myers. Green seems amusingly intent on sticking closer to the realities of a 60-year-old woman hospitalized for a stab wound, lingering on gruesome surgery scenes and emphasizing Laurie’s physical pain alongside her mental anguish.  To this end, he also subverts the genre-movie cliché of heroes who stick themselves with pain medicine to temporarily enable impossible ass-kicking. Laurie defiantly performs this go-to maneuver at one point and winds up screaming in agony, back in her hospital room some 10 minutes of screentime later.

This will be disappointing to anyone hoping for a Strode-Myers rematch, which is doubtless in the cards for Halloween Ends. In the meantime, though, Green seems more interested in the town of Haddonfield, which he depicts as a functional, supportive, diverse community that’s nonetheless haunted by the actions of Myers. These are the parts of the movie that feel most of a piece with the director’s other movies.

Though Green’s past characters aren’t menaced by a hulking, masked man armed with a butcher knife (or an axe, or a light fixture, or his terrifying bare hands; this Michael Myers is truly a multipurpose tool in a human shape), they are often depicted as modest communities or enclaves, carved out of something larger. Images of post-industrial decay are all over George Washington and All the Real Girls; Prince Avalanche and Joe see their characters laboring and bonding on a natural landscape; even the crass Adventures in Babysitting riff The Sitter has a sense of how its suburbs relate to the bigger nearby city.

In keeping with those movies, Halloween Kills repeatedly dips into the lives of Haddonfield residents—most often couples, presented without too much exposition. There’s a doctor wife with her nurse husband, dressed up as the opposite for a Halloween outing; an older interracial couple, fooling around with a miniature drone in their cluttered home as they share some wine; and, in the old Myers house where a young Michael once killed his sister, a gay couple celebrates the holiday by dressing up, eating fancy cheese, and watching the decidedly unspooky Minnie and Moskowitz. This being a slasher movie, these characters are largely doomed. But while the movie’s nastiness will please gorehounds, the kills are especially disturbing because Green depicts these characters so warmly—and their deaths so ignominiously. He seems genuinely interested in their home décor and bric-a-brac—the art direction, by Elliott Glick, is excellent—and the little moments of familiarity and affection that define their relationships. (This was characteristic of the 2018 film, too, which included a scene where a boy gently and earnestly breaks it to his dad that he wants to take dance class rather than go hunting. Some took it for an attempt at a cheap laugh, but the scene is played with real sincerity.) Then he lingers on multiple characters’ bodies as their breathing goes shallow and their eyes vacant. There are repeated, helpless point-of-view shots from the dying or possibly the dead. It’s horrible, but it’s not shunted offscreen to make it easier to cheer for the slasher (the typical late-period endgame of a slasher series).

As Myers picks off these poor people, other Haddonfield residents are involved in dark business of their own. Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), the kid Laurie babysat in the 1978 film, has grown up bearing plenty of trauma (sorry) from that first encounter with Myers, and upon learning the boogeyman is back in town, declares that he’s had enough. He gathers up the townsfolk and leads a gathering mob on a rampage, determined to search and destroy. There are faint echoes of genre classics like Frankenstein or The Twilight Zone’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” especially when the unruly group turns their ire toward a different, non-Myers individual, but there are also echoes of nothing less than The Simpsons’ Springfield, where a gaggle of entertaining and endearing characters can nonetheless be whipped into a senseless frenzy for any number of reasons.

That’s not to say Green treats this material lightly—or even that he’s engaging in an acid satire of small-town groupthink. With their desperate chants of “evil dies tonight!”—a great horror-poster catchphrase turned into a clumsy battle cry—the citizens of Haddonfield are, as the movie explains (itself sometimes clumsily), becoming part of Myers’ evil, rather than fighting against it. They’re not trying to turn on each other, but they’re succumbing to violence anyway, sinking into a morass Myers has inadvertently created, and feeds off of. Lots of horror movies, especially post-Halloween slashers, indulge in a kind of cheap doominess about the futility of this kind of conflict; it became fashionable, after a certain point, to let the audience know the killer would be back, or to kill off the heroine in the sequel, or even earlier. Halloween Kills has moments that are similarly cruel, to be sure. But they feel questioning, rather than hopeless; Green seems to be looking for a way out, and uncertain if he can find one.

That’s what finally justifies the slightly diffuse narrative of the film, where no less than three potential protagonists become more throughlines than real heroes. This movie isn’t about Laurie Strode or her family taking on Michael Myers because, as one character explains late in the film, Myers isn’t particularly interested in Laurie Strode. (That’s the moment where Halloween II, the sequel that made Laurie the killer’s long-lost sister, feels like it’s shoved aside for good.) He’s a kid with the impulses of a monster, wandering through his hometown. The images in reflected surfaces make Myers look like even more of a townie ghost.

Some of the philosophical speechifying to this effect, from Green and cowriters Danny McBride and Scott Teems, will strike some viewers as an overreach; they may be correct, and I certainly didn’t leave the theater with the same elation as the 2018 Halloween, whose grimness gave way to a muscular, satisfying generational unity. Yet I can’t find much fault with Green’s ambitions, or where they’ve led him so far. As with his largely maligned broad comedies, the crass provocations feel inseparable from the humanity he brings to historically teen-pleasing genres. When a group of unruly tweens play a prank on the couple living in the Myers house, you can see more glimpses of older Green movies, the rambunctious, sometimes dangerous youthful energy of George Washington or Undertow. The gruesome killing scenes that here follow the joshing and goofing around are the slasher-movie version of this, and they go too far. But unlike so many other Halloween offshoots, humanity wanders around this corrupted landscape. Time and again, Green shows us goodness in Haddonfield, and implies that–despite all the people pledging to protect each other–the town may not know what to do with it.