As the 13th film in a decades-spanning franchise, “Halloween Ends” was marketed to prospective viewers with an inherently ironic sense of finality. The series has endured long enough to have star Jamie Lee Curtis transform from a high schooler to a mother with a teenage son (“Halloween: H20”) and for iconic slasher-villain Michael Myers to go from shooting the fair one with Busta Rhymes (“Halloween: Resurrection”) to being reimagined by Rob Zombie. No matter how melodramatic the promotional interviews have been, no one believes this or any future outing could actually be “the end.”
“Halloween Ends” begins three years after the events of “Halloween” and “Halloween Kills,” the first two acts of director David Gordon Green’s trilogy, itself set 40 years after the events of John Carpenter’s 1978 original (sidestepping years of continuity and perceived missteps.) Consider that his first film depicts traumatized survivor Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) coming into contact with a figure of pure evil, and his second film explores how that same trauma could impact an entire town. In that case, this final chapter takes those ideas further, delving into what kind of individual could be shaped by that persistent aura of paranoia and rage.
Five years ago, indie filmmaker Green and his co-writer/co-producer Danny McBride were two of the unlikeliest names to reinvent a horror franchise, given their dual backgrounds in off-kilter comedy. Now, however, Green has helmed more “Halloween” movies than Carpenter himself. Up to this point, the trilogy has been characterized by a loving, if slavish, dedication to the original film, tethered to the contemporary horror’s preoccupation with pushing trauma metaphors to the surface of the genre. Both earlier films paid their dues to Carpenter’s vision of “The Shape” by displaying the central killer’s malice with disquieting matter-of-factness, following Myers from house to house spilling blood with the routine of a door-to-door salesman. The kills themselves are straightforward interludes between Green and McBride’s otherwise inconsistent messaging, particularly in “Kills,” where the town’s fearmongering at Myers’ return (unintentionally?) mirrors the anti-masker demonstrations from earlier in the pandemic.
But these films have been successful despite their broad ideological flaws, mainly due to stellar performances from Curtis, Judy Greer, and Anthony Michael Hall, and Green’s skill for building tension and intrigue. The worst thing about the trilogy thus far has been how superficial it all feels. With the arrival of trailers that promoted a final battle between Strode and Myers with carnival barker intensity, “Ends” looked and felt like a foregone conclusion, the closing punchline of a new set of films with seemingly no burning reason even to exist.
Unfortunately for purists and fans of the status quo, “Ends” is somehow a completely different movie than what has been advertised, with most TV spots spamming shots from roughly 5% of the actual film. Viewers expecting a definitive conclusion to Strode’s never-ending war with Michael Myers instead watched the ballad of Corey Cunningham (played by Rohan Campbell), a young man ostracized by the town of Haddonfield for his part in the accidental death of a young boy he was babysitting. Rather than double down on the (frankly chilling) malice of “Kills,” Green takes a hard pivot into uncharted territory for the “Halloween” franchise: he turned it into a love story.
Naturally, people seem to hate it.
(Spoilers ahead for the plot of “Halloween Ends”)
Corey, a bullied outcast who works at his uncle’s junkyard whenever his overbearing mother is not henpecking him, finds star-crossed love with Strode’s granddaughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak), perhaps the only other person in Haddonfield who knows how alienating the ignominy of tragedy can be. But while Allyson would be content to put the town into the rearview mirror of Corey’s motorcycle, he would instead personally render it unto ash. Nearly halfway through “Ends,” Michael Myers makes his first appearance, as Corey becomes something of a protege, a spiritual successor to the eternal boogeyman, spurring Strode to step in and try to save her granddaughter from burning up with Corey.
While in execution “Ends” does, in fact, devolve into the over-the-top main event its trailers promised, there’s something so admirable and alluring about Green’s gonzo approach here. The beating rebel heart at its core, with needle drops that call to mind Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” and visual references ranging from Kar-Wai Wong to David Lynch (within the very same scene!) set this apart as a movie that is truly going for it in an era when the shackles of studio money prevent most filmmakers from getting to try.
Unlike its more successful antecedents, “Ends” feels like the daring and unorthodox movie one would have expected from a creative choice as left field as Green. From the moment it opens with the same blue title credits font as the oft-maligned “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” Green broadly telegraphs to anyone with a clue that this isn’t going to be more “elevated horror” navel gazing or lazy homage. It feels like a movie that, even in what some might call failure, has a reason to exist.
In an increasingly risk-averse cinematic landscape, audiences experience stories told from Hollywood in recursive feedback loops. Sure, people may claim to want original stories, but the industry’s “same, but different” approach yields all-too-reliable box office returns. Every weekend, a Pavlovian response to weaponized nostalgia leaves folks voting with their dollars for a kind of artistic stagnation no one would knowingly choose. Pandering prevails, and anything deviating from that becomes a sacrificial lamb for those chasing Twitter clout through excoriating jokes. But don’t rubberneck and gawk with the masses who’ll wait years to accept something different into the fold. Get ahead of the classic cult curve, and welcome a movie deliberately made to be this weird and charming into your heart with open arms.
“Halloween Ends” is currently playing at the Senator and streaming on Peacock.