movie review

Well, Halloween Ends Is a Pleasant Surprise

At long last, this most recent run of Halloween movies has its Season of the Witch.
At long last, this most recent run of Halloween movies has its Season of the Witch. Photo: Universal Pictures/YouTube

There are maybe two jump scares in Halloween Ends — neither of them good — and three decent kills, and yet somehow, David Gordon Green’s third and presumably final entry in the Halloween series winds up being the pleasantest of surprises. After the carnival-belly inanity of the previous movie, Halloween Kills, which swirled together au courant hot takes about trauma and media opportunism and mob justice in an unattended blender of fan service and gore, this new film takes a step back and remembers to tell a story, with characters and everything. In so doing, it plays to director Green’s strengths and largely steers clear of the pitfalls that dog many a horror sequel. There’s no desperation to escalate, no tiresome fetishization of the gruesome.

Indeed, the craziest thing in Halloween Ends might be its opening scene, which takes place on Halloween night 2019 and features a teenage babysitter, Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), taking care of a young boy who’s a little too fond of pranks. Sure enough, one prank goes horribly wrong, and Corey is unfairly branded a child murderer. (Relax — it’s not a spoiler if it’s the first thing that happens in the movie.) Although he ultimately gets off, Corey’s life is ruined. He’s an outcast in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois, a place that knows a thing or two about child murders.

The only person who seems to show Corey any kind of grace is longtime franchise survivor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who after the events of the previous film appears to be trying to shed much of her gun-toting, survivalist persona. She’s also working on a memoir, which means we get to see her at a computer, Carrie Bradshaw–style, offering voice-over insights about Michael Myers. (“As he was locked away in his prison, I disappeared into mine.”) Her new attempts at a soft-focus life notwithstanding, Laurie secretly wants to mix it up. One day, she saves Corey from a group of local teen bullies who are attacking him and helps slash their tires. Then she takes the bloodied young man to a nearby hospital, mainly in order to introduce him to her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), who works there.

Look, I never said that this movie made any sense. What Halloween Ends demonstrates is that it’s not impossible or ill-advised to crossbreed the slasher genre’s fondness for fantastical and broadly foreseeable schlock with a sense of acute unpredictability, to mix some sadness in with the silliness. We might know where the story is going generally, but individual scenes retain the element of surprise, as the story takes unexpected emotional detours.

Watching the slow-building romance of Corey and Allyson against the backdrop of this dead-end small town, it feels at times like director Green has finally brought to the series some of the charm of his earlier independent films. Here are two young people who’ve been ostracized by almost everyone around them, united by one another’s pain and loneliness; it’s the first time in many a Halloween picture that the characters have felt like actual people. Even though we can tell that nothing good can come of Corey’s increasing need to stand up for himself, we feel for him regardless. The film takes its time showing how guilt and fear can curdle into resentment and cruelty. In so doing, it wins us over to the characters’ side. Haddonfield, as these movies have repeatedly made clear, is a mostly terrible place. It’s hard not to empathize at least a little with Corey and Allyson’s burn it down energy.

Which is when Michael Myers finally shows up — not like an intruder or an otherworldly demon, but a spirit of evil lurking beneath Haddonfield.
Literally: He’s apparently living in an abandoned concrete drainage pipe, half-dead among the cobwebs. One encounter with Corey, however, and suddenly Michael has a newfound lease on life, as if the negative energy of this place and these people has begun to feed him. It’s all very Ghostbusters II. It’s also, in its own way, surprising and tragic.

At least for the first half. Eventually, the movie does begin to indulge in gore and other typical genre kicks, which can feel like a bit of a letdown, in part because Green, despite having co-written and directed all of the entries in this most recent crop of Halloween sequels, isn’t really a horror guy. He doesn’t seem to have the precision and rhythm required to truly shock us. Luckily, with Halloween Ends, he’s found a way to make one of these movies his own, sans scares but with tons of atmosphere and a sense of queasy, gathering dread.

More than any other film in the series, Halloween Ends reminded me of 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, that bizarrely creepy, slow-burn one-off that was once widely loathed but has now (rightly) been reclaimed as a beloved cult item. The new movie is maybe not quite as goofy, but it has a similarly irreverent spirit, a refusal to fit into the demands of the broader slasher genre and a cavalier attitude toward this specific slasher’s so-called lore. After the dutiful but effective Halloween and the bloviatingly tedious Halloween Kills, at long last, Halloween Ends does manage to reinvent this series — right before (presumably) killing it dead forever.

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Well, Halloween Ends Is a Pleasant Surprise