By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak and Rohan Campbell
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green
Sigh. This one hurts to write, since John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN remains my favorite horror film, and the one that set me on the path to horror fandom when I saw it on its 1979 rerelease at age 12. Carpenter and his team spun terrifying gold out of a deceptively simple premise, one that’s a lot harder to pull off successfully than it might seem, as witness the many substandard imitations of HALLOWEEN and a number of its own sequels. To that latter list, sadly, add HALLOWEEN ENDS, which makes some bafflingly weird choices regarding how to wrap up the saga and, the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis, The Shape and Carpenter on the soundtrack notwithstanding, often barely feels like a HALLOWEEN movie.
The big hook of HALLOWEEN ENDS is that it brings to a close the long antagonism between Curtis’ Laurie Strode and Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney). And yet, as in director David Gordon Green and his team’s previous HALLOWEEN KILLS, Laurie is sidelined for a good portion of the story, and Michael here has almost no screen time for the first hour. That’s a byproduct of the same issue that afflicted KILLS: the insistence by the filmmakers that this all Mean Something, with the themes becoming equally muddled this time out.
HALLOWEEN ENDS does start promisingly, with a tense little setpiece that takes place on Halloween night 2019 in Haddonfield, IL. A young man named Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) is babysitting a little boy whose prankishness leads to tragedy, before the main titles play out against some neat jack o’lantern imagery backed by Carpenter, his son Cody and Daniel Davies’ variation on the classic music. There’s some fun homaging in this early going as well; as in the ’78 film, babysitter and babysittee watch THE THING on TV, only here it’s the Carpenter version, and the font in those opening credits is the same one used in HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH.
In fact, were it not for a few brief Laurie appearances, a large portion of what follows might lead you to think you’re watching another HALLOWEEN follow-up that’s eschewing the Shape narrative. The principal focus is on Corey a few years later, and four years after Michael’s last rampage; Corey has now become something of a local boogeyman himself, subject to ostracization by the townspeople and harassment by the local high-school jerks. There’s nothing wrong with taking an established franchise in a new direction, of course, but doing so in a film that’s supposed to be the culmination of a 44-year conflict between its two key players is a dubious approach. And it’s a serious distraction here, since Corey doesn’t spark either the empathy or intrigue to hold the center.
The premise that’s supposed to unify Corey and Laurie’s stories has to do with trauma, and how they deal with it; Corey begins to succumb to it while Laurie has done her best to put her tragic past behind her and live life again. She’s writing a memoir and seems to have gotten over Michael’s murder of her daughter at the end of KILLS pretty well (similarly, Corey has apparently been lucky enough not to do the amount of jail time that the events of that night in ’19 would seem to warrant). Curtis gives the role her all, and is clearly committed to giving Laurie one last hurrah, but can’t overcome the patchy way she’s written, with a number of her scenes ending before they’ve achieved their dramatic potential, or giving her conflicting bits of characterization. That’s an issue throughout HALLOWEEN ENDS; people act inconsistently from scene to scene, and sometimes between the beginning and end of the same scene. Particularly unconvincing is a key subplot that has Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) falling hard for bad-boy Corey. Matichak remains an appealing screen presence, but there’s no way she can sell this attraction, which is neither properly motivated nor plausibly developed.
Where does Michael fit into all this? Well, when he’s (finally) introduced, he’s lurking down in a dank chamber of Haddonfield’s sewer system, waiting for someone to come along and spark him back to murderous activity. He’s evidently a personification of the bad vibes that Laurie’s narration keeps telling us are suffusing Haddonfield, which must make metaphorical sense to the filmmakers but is hardly logical as a continuation of the killer from the previous entries. Once he (finally) gets down to business, he mostly slices and stabs his way through cannon-fodder supporting characters on the way to his final tussle with Laurie, which is shot in too much darkness and with too much choppy editing (around Curtis’ stunt double, it would seem) to have the impact it should.
There’s one more crucial issue: HALLOWEEN ENDS just isn’t scary. It does blessedly eschew the protracted sadism of KILLS, yet despite Green and co.’s HALLOWEENs having retconned all the other sequels and remakes out of existence, no stylistic continuity from the first film is maintained; the repetitive blunt-force shock tactics have little relation to Carpenter’s classical suspense and scare techniques. All Hallow’s atmosphere is also lacking in ENDS–only that prologue and about the last half hour of this 111-minute movie are set on the holiday–and Haddonfield is hardly recognizable as Haddonfield. In particular, one major setpiece is set in a doctor’s house that looks like it belongs in Beverly Hills instead of small-town Illinois.
This section contains one of several visual shout-outs to Carpenter’s film, and there are quick snippets from it flashed on screen as well. But by the time the camera zooms in on a framed photo of Curtis, Nancy Loomis and P.J. Soles from ’78, it only serves to remind how much better the original was, and how the 21st-century HALLOWEEN team have lost their initial inspiration that seemed so promising when they first brought Curtis back into the fray in 2018. How ironic that this year’s SCREAM, the relaunch of the film series that owes its existence to HALLOWEEN, would prove to be a far more satisfying legacy sequel, with much better ideas of how to combine the old and the new, than this one.