‘Halloween Ends’ Is Another Solid If Unspectacular Addition To The Franchise

I’ve always had to squint a bit to understand the appeal of the Halloween movies, and this latest one, Halloween Ends, playing in theaters and streaming on Peacock, is no different. Best I can come up with, Halloween taps into the fear of the unknowable, the idea that some Michael Myers character could make it his mission to kill you simply because he saw you standing by his house one day, like he did with Laurie Strode in the original.

Laurie, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is back for this presumably final installment of the David Gordon Green/Danny McBride trilogy they started in 2018 with Halloween. Laurie is a grandmother now, living with Allyson (Andi Matichak), her now-grown granddaughter whose mother Karen (Judy Greer) Michael Myers killed in the last installment, Halloween Kills. This still in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois, where all the Halloween characters steadfastly refuse to move out of for some reason.

Allyson works as a nurse, and the Strodes are all kind of low-key town pariahs on account of being inexorably associated with the town’s most traumatic day. I’m not sure this really tracks, because if October 31st is Haddonfield’s 9/11, wouldn’t the Strodes be their pre-Trump Giuliani? Instead, they’re partly blamed for the trauma, for whatever reason. Anyway.

The town has another, even less low-key pariah in the form of Corey (Rohan Campbell), who accidentally killed a kid he was babysitting a few years back, which we saw in the film’s opening frame (its best scene). Even though this was all a terrible accident, no one really believes it, and Corey becomes an outcast.

One of the best, most “out there” plot conceits in Halloween Ends is that Corey’s chief bullies are a group of rich high school band nerds, led by a guido kid (Michael Barbieri) with a never-explained New Yawk accent, whose chief henchman has pale-dyed eyebrows, a truly disgusting mullet, and is played by (and this part I only just learned) a one-named singer/songwriter named Marteen. If horror movies are meant to tap into primal fears, you could do a lot worse than the fear of being menaced by local teens with inexplicable social mores and fashion. You can survive a knife attack but there’s no coming back from getting roasted by teens. Yikes!

Anyway, Laurie eventually notices that Allyson and Corey, these two sweet-faced 20-somethings alienated from their town, could both use a friend, and tries to play matchmaker. Which works… not so well at first, and then well, and then a little too well. To say victims make the best victimizers is true, but empathy isn’t a rewind button once the die is cast.

If Halloween was about the fear of the unknowable, externalized in the form of Michael Myers, Halloween Ends is about the unknowable evil that lurks within. It doesn’t feel like the most incisive commentary to point this out, seeing as how Laurie has a monologue in which she basically says this all outright. Halloween is also traditionally, intentionally un-“thinky,” to the point that it’s never going to belabor these themes. It’s always going to be more about the guy in the mask holding the knife. John Carpenter, who started the franchise, famously refuses to acknowledge that “elevated horror” is even a thing.

To the extent that even the schlockiest horror movie should have themes and allow the audience to assign their own metaphorical value the material, I understand what he’s saying. Yet it still feels to me (and has always felt) like Halloween falls in some awkward middle ground, eschewing the sometimes-didactic allegory of your A24 and Jordan Peele horror, but also lacking some of the schlocky panache of gorier 80s horror or something like Malignant.

Halloween Ends has some narrative grounding, and the theme of internalized evil in people that can’t quite be excised or negotiated with is a compelling riff on the themes of the original. Likewise, there are occasional scenes of gleeful gore and brutal kills to make you throw your popcorn in the air and/or chuckle stonededly. There’s a tasteful balance to all the things Halloween Ends is trying to be — a little thinky, a little schlocky, a little plotty.

But it also strikes me as a little too tasteful. This is a movie that’s just good enough at a handful of things without really being great at any one. The who’s-going-to-live, who’s-going-to-die of it is compelling enough, though never quite white knuckle intense. And while there is some thematic heft, it’s never explored quite deeply enough to leave you thinking about it after you leave the theater. The acting is solid from top to bottom, if never quite delicious.

In the end, we’re left with a(nother) Halloween movie that’s just watchable enough and mostly pretty fine. It’s perfectly of a piece with a franchise that seems to mean more to film history than it ever meant to me personally.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can read more of his reviews here.

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