Halloween Ends (2022)

Halloween Ends (2022)
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Rohan Campbell
Genre: Horror
Country: United States

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m aware it isn’t in vogue to enjoy Halloween Ends, the conclusion to David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy, itself billed as the arc taking John Carpenter’s 1978 original and bringing it to a definitive conclusion. I understood this going into the movie, given the unavoidable disdain for it and my disdain for last year’s Halloween Kills. And yet, once it ended my partner and I found ourselves looking at each other and simultaneously saying, “Oh no, I liked it.”

Much of the vitriol admittedly confuses me. I can wrap my head around why one dislikes Halloween Ends, I can certainly wrap my head around why one going in with a set of preconceived notions would leave Halloween Ends disappointed, I don’t buy one bit into the hyperbole that posits this is the biggest pile of shit to grace horror cinema. It’s obvious this stems from the emotionality inherent to most fandoms, perhaps it spurs more cognitive dissonance because we’re talking about Halloween of all things. I love Halloween, but it isn’t some acclaimed prestige franchise. This is the franchise that includes Halloween: Resurrection.

Plus the idea of “expectations” plays almost uniquely anathema to Halloween. There are now thirteen Halloween movies, tonally varied and comprising no less than five timelines to pick from. These movies range from minimalist to maximalist in terms of narrative and violence, they go from European surrealism to brutal realism. We have fairytale-esque Halloween. We have meat-and-potatoes body count Halloween. We have occult Halloween. We have hip 90s post-Scream Halloween. We have found footage Halloween. We have white trash Halloween. We have Halloween where Michael Myers chases people of all ages, shapes, sizes; we have Halloween where Michael Myers doesn’t factor at all. We have Michaels of all ages, shapes, sizes. We have Halloween where Michael Myers goes after family lineage; we have Halloween where Michael Myers kills indiscriminately. Anyone who goes into Halloween with a genuine checklist is taunting fate — inadvertently (or not) begging to come out disaffected.

Anyway, Halloween Ends.

I get the sense there was some deliberate course correction from Halloween Kills, namely the shift in Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Whereas she was Traumatized™ and relegated to spewing gibberish monologues about evil in Green’s Halloween ’18 and Kills, respectively, they make the choice to more or less change her entirely here. Laurie in Ends, which takes place four years after the events of the prior two movies, has embraced life in honour of her slain daughter Karen (Judy Greer). She’s bought a house and lives with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), she’s writing a memoir, she’s baking pumpkin pies and decorating for Halloween. It’s difficult to believe given how stark this change is from the dour Laurie of the last two films, but frankly it’s more difficult to care about that as this is all around the better choice. Laurie is more fun, Curtis clearly lets loose, she feels like a more natural progression of her character in 1978 — lightly funny, a bit awkward, but wiser. And this take has a touch more depth than the other Green movies bothered to give: we see moments where it’s obvious Laurie’s new “live and let live” mantra is fragile, we often get the impression she’s overcompensating, yet it rarely lingers on these things and for that I am grateful.

Existing characters get quiet doses of development from Kills — Hawkins (Will Patton) has been finding means to expand his horizons after surviving Michael’s 2018 spree, Lindsey (Kyle Richards) is a bartender content to hang out with Laurie and read tarot cards, Allyson’s moved on from adolescence and finds herself lonely and unfulfilled, skeptical of Laurie’s newfound attitude and distanced accordingly. Most characters flit in and out, serving just to add some ‘slice of life’ essence, hewing closer to the intimacy of simply watching people do as they do as often seen in Green’s earlier filmography, though also because Ends is more interested in a new character: Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a young guy living with a manslaughter charge after a babysitting accident on Halloween night in 2019 (itself one of the film’s strongest scenes).

Corey finds himself Haddonfield’s new boogeyman following the vacuum left by Michael Myers’ (James Jude Courtney) absence — he’s a pariah, getting stares and harsh treatment from townsfolk, clearly an occasional target of the radio DJ Willie the Kid (Keraun Harris) who serves as a Joe Rogan-esque type dishing Myers conspiracies. This pressure builds until Corey snaps upon encountering Michael, who’s been wallowing in a sewer, weakened by his beatdown in Kills, killing sparingly over the past four years, perhaps cannibalizing his victims. Michael lets Corey live for a number of possible reasons — it’s implied that Michael’s evil ‘infected’ Corey, though how literal this can be taken is up to you. It could’ve been simply because a fisherman spotted another fisherman. Maybe Michael was too weak to finish the job and Corey’s brain shorted from the encounter. Either way, Corey starts his dark descent, gets a taste for murder, all that lovely stuff, and Laurie finds herself drawn into that web via Corey’s budding romance with Allyson.

Cutting from Michael the raging hellbeast in Kills to Michael the gutter creature in Ends is understandably jarring, but I think it makes fine enough sense in the context of this story. He isn’t so much a character here as a metaphor, taking the interpretation of Michael as “The Boogeyman” and running with that with some Stephen King flair. We don’t know he’s been in that sewer the whole time, we know little regarding Michael — we’re left wondering, which works better than spelling out every detail just to check off some mental box. It feels in a few ways like Dennis Etchison’s unused Halloween IV script, where a community’s fear of Michael leads to his supernatural resurrection. Combine that with the film’s obvious influences like King, Lynch (Twin Peaks and Lost Highway, particularly), 80s-era Carpenter (especially with the gore effects), and the aforementioned sensibilities from Green’s earlier efforts and you have a movie well suited to my tastes.

Michael Simmonds’ cinematography steps up big from Kills‘ ugly, often harsh and sickly palette — the autumn days have an appealing light grey, very nice velvety blues and blacks at night. One scene above the radio station has some lovely reds and neon clashing with nighttime, feeling much like a fever dream. The imagery’s more striking — curled hands fading into the moon, a grand spiraling staircase once pristine then abandoned and rotting, a man getting shot and the killer vanishing behind them are just a few examples. I haven’t watched Halloween ’18 in a hot minute, so can’t concretely comment whether Ends usurps it from a production standpoint, but I’m certain it all around feels like a more precise film than Kills ever was — the blocking, the framing, the symbolism, the sets, they’re all executed with a greater sense of purpose. This also rings true for Carpenter’s score (in collaboration with his son and godson) shifting away from the grindhouse verve in Kills and returning to a relatively minimalist rhythm with some thoughtful cues.

Where Ends starts to hit roadblocks for me is around the last half or so, certainly the last third — the film is somewhat leisurely then seems to remember it has to get to a third act in its allotted runtime, speed-running beats that warrant breathing room and consequently sacrificing some needed atmosphere. Corey’s massacre scenes feel more like a jumping montage than a dreadful, heavy culmination; the climax between Michael and Laurie happens with minimal buildup where easy opportunities could’ve been taken to better establish its inevitability; we get two fleeting shots of trick-or-treaters when Halloween night starts. The almost lightning pace of Allyson and Corey’s romance didn’t bother me much — I’ve known people coping with problems who fall very hard and very fast for those who promise empathy and salvation from their woes, though it isn’t the most narratively satisfying thing as presented. Really, these are problems where I wished to have more of everything — that’s not a horrible chief complaint.

Insofar that this is a Halloween movie and thus carries the promise of death, Ends has some solid, inventive kills that don’t feel as undeservingly mean-spirited as the ones in its immediate predecessor. It pulls back from Kills‘ bludgeoning, often insipid heavy hand (no “evil dies tonight” to be found here, thank fucking god) and has a dare I say lighter tone than expected. There’s implied humour laced through the whole thing, starting in earnest with the opening death:

Mom: “Where’s Jeremy?

Jeremy, falling behind her: “AHHHHHHHHH” *thud*

I’m fairly sure Ends‘ muddiness regarding its context in this overall timeline could’ve been absolved with a few more minutes of development, and I’m fairly sure my enjoyment of Ends directly relates to how little stock I placed in needing this to slot nicely into a given timeline anyway. Green and co. bit off more than they could chew here — their grander ideas get requisite lip-service and not a ton of follow-through, though I enjoyed how relatively tight this story ended up feeling. It’s an intimate and surprisingly soulful Halloween, certainly not the best possible version of itself, but an engaging one nonetheless.

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