Please check out my previous coverage of the Halloween franchise, the 2018 reboot and last year’s superlative Halloween Kills. I can’t promise this review will echo how I felt when I wrote those reviews. Times change, and we change with them. At least that’s the ideal. David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy has tried to live by that idea, for better or worse. Halloween Ends is the conclusion to Green’s story and it lands on the better side.
This one is advertised as the final confrontation between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her personal boogeyman, Michael Myers, aka The Shape. It delivers on the promise but not without subjecting viewers to a much more thoughtful take on the material that will almost certainly fall flatter with audiences than the cruel and unusual Halloween Kills. In fact, the two are complementary opposites. While the previous film delighted in violence and horror, Ends is by and large a psychological thriller, almost devoid of big gore moments and the catharsis of onscreen violence. It’s kind of bizarre, a complete turn away from what audiences nominally want from a Halloween film.
After all: This is the 13th entry in the franchise, technically the second Halloween III (and also the second Halloween IV, if you’re nasty and pedantic). What can you do but something new? The previous entries in Green’s series did away with the old mythology about Strode and Myers as secret siblings, opting instead to make the classic monster double as a more metaphorical evil amid his bloodletting. To mixed results. Green’s three films are all vastly different approaches to the idea of a Halloween film. The first will remain the audience favorite given the way it leans into Laurie as a survivalist and mostly delivers on what it promises. The second, with its delightful political allegory and merciless depravity, will always be the strongest, even if I’m the only one shouting it from the rooftops.
Ends picks up four years after Kills. Michael disappeared after his confrontation with the people of Haddonfield and his murder of Strode’s daughter, Karen (Judy Greer). Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) lives a peaceful life with her orphaned granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). She’s moved on from Michael and is writing a book about recovery from trauma. Allyson works at a doctor’s office and is looking at a potential promotion. They’re ostensibly happy, although the world around them is worse for wear. Although Michael is gone, his impact on the town remains. A murder here, a suicide there. Darkness lingers over Haddonfield even if Laurie is desperate to detach herself from it.
For those curious: Ends is definitively a sequel to Kills, and not the extended edition of that chapter, which ended with Laurie setting out to kill Michael. Not the case here. Not at all.
In fact, Laurie isn’t really the main character for most of Ends, which is more concerned with Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a Haddonfield teenager whose life was ruined sometime between films when a little boy he was babysitting died a terrible death on his watch. Green and his fellow writers do a lot of thematic work with Corey, contrasting his trauma with that of Laurie and Allyson. Soon enough, his smoldering anger finds its mate in Allyson’s own frustrations while Laurie starts to see a future Michael in his eyes. It’s a simple plot, and the focus on a teenage romance built on mutual, tear-ridden hate against a world that endlessly re-victimizes them makes for something altogether different.
Green has real ideas about the co-opting of trauma and the inability of contemporary culture to forgive, leading to further violence. What do the young do when their worst moments are made to define them forever? When our entertainment ecosystem is so depraved that corporations make popular miniseries about real-life serial killers without consulting the victim’s families? When hobbyists make ghoulish podcasts about true crimes just to sell mattress ads? These are questions Ends asks, and in its finest moments, truly engages.
The key is Campbell, who deserves starring roles after his complex turn here. There’s one moment when he and Allyson are discussing burning the world down where his character starts to cry, and it’s an odd moment where a character with such dark potential is given a moment to be human in a franchise that usually eschews such concerns in favor of shocks and thrills.
That complexity, though, falls apart somewhat in the conclusion, which takes an operatic turn that feels a little dissonant with the rest of the film. I’m still wrestling with whether this actually harms the film because it’s done in such an interesting fashion. The story ends, and suddenly it all exists on a higher plane, only attainable by a sequence of films that have told the same story endlessly. It’s kind of fascinating.
When I reviewed 2018’s Halloween, I was deeply critical of Green’s directorial stamp. His over-reliance on close-ups and quick cuts drove me up a wall. Those same techniques were present in Kills, but by then he’d learned to film action and violence with a bit more clarity. Ends, with its talkier plot, falls more in his wheelhouse, but he adds enough visual pizzazz to make it a delightful watch. He finally feels confident in the genre sandbox. Throwing this film onto Peacock day-and-date with its theatrical run is a crime.
Perhaps it feels like I’m grading Halloween Ends on some sort of curve because a majority of the series is unwatchable garbage. Maybe that’s true, but then, given how few of the films are actually worth watching, it wouldn’t be hard to say Ends is a stinker — which, thankfully, it isn’t. It’s a unique and idiosyncratic slasher that shies away from convention and tries to tell a broader, more insightful story. Between this and Halloween Kills, it’s safe to say Green made something truly special in the annals of American slashers. Ends seems fully self-aware that it is destined for derision for a few years before a small audience declares it an unsung masterpiece — and what’s more Halloween than that?