The 2018 reboot/sequel to John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece 'Halloween' turned out a lot better than I think anyone was expecting. There was no discernible way it could have matched the original - one of the most accomplished horror films of all time - but while it fell into many of the horror film cliché traps, it was built on strong foundations. David Gordon Green's direction balanced an understanding of the visual language of the 1978 film with flourishes of his own and the conceit of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, 'Everything Everywhere All At Once') caught in an unending cycle of post-traumatic stress disorder seemed an obvious yet justified direction to take the character. It was artful, it was brutal, it kept you on the edge of your seat and delivered some memorable set pieces, even if the supporting characters didn't always stick out.
It was a surprise when it was announced this was the start of a trilogy, but if this film had surpassed expectations, it wasn't ridiculous to assume the second film would follow suit. Instead, 'Halloween Kills' sent this new strand of the 'Halloween' franchise into a nosedive, crashing and burning under the propulsion of a truly diabolical screenplay that, despite an interesting conceit (vigilante justice gripping the town to bring Michael Myers to an end), did absolutely nothing with it. Our two icons almost never encounter each other, Laurie mostly confined to a single room and Michael wandering around aimlessly killing anyone he comes across, but what made it worse was the clichéd pontificating of the rest of the town out for blood. It wasn't a script as much as a hodgepodge of lines for the trailer.
And so it is understandable to approach the final film, 'Halloween Ends', with a sense of trepidation. On the one hand you have a really effective film, and on the other about as inept as you could find, but which category would this "third" film fall under? The result is somewhere in the middle. While 'Halloween Ends' is not a good film per se, it isn't a terrible one. Perhaps more so, it's almost a surprising one. In some respects, it does exactly what you expect and makes similar mistakes to the turgid 'Kills'. In others though, it's almost not really a 'Halloween' film at all.
SWITCH: 'HALLOWEEN ENDS' TRAILER
I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but be warned!
We begin with a prologue on Halloween night in 2019, a year after the town hunt for Michael, his murder of Laurie's daughter Karen and his disappearance. Despite an exquisite build of tension that leads us to believe we're about to see The Shape's return, we're instead given a tragic introduction to Corey (Rohan Campbell), an unassuming college student whose life is shattered by a terrible accident. Four years later, Laurie and her granddaughter Alison (Andy Matichak) are trying to move on with their lives, with no sign of Michael in years. Alison and Corey begin to grow close under Laurie's watchful eye, but the town, seeking some sort of outlet for its unresolved anger towards Michael, chooses Corey to dump it on. His frustration and pain building, Corey's life changes completely when he stumbles on Michael in hiding, and sees him as a means to exact revenge on the town of Haddenfield.
Like 'Kills', 'Ends' hangs itself on a real-world concern - lonely and disaffected young men turning to some sort of fundamentalism or fanaticism in order to feel a sense of power or purpose - but unlike its predecessor, the idea almost works. Green and his bevy of co-writers actually take the time to anchor this conceit into Corey's character, occasionally finding moments of narrative integrity amongst all the lazy clichés. A lot of time and effort is put into making you feel for him, pretty much positioning him as the film's protagonist for the most part. Watching his slide towards violence and revenge forms the emotional heart of the film, and is certainly the most affecting aspect of it. This arc starts to fall apart though when Michael is brought into the picture, and this highlights the most curious problem with 'Halloween Ends' - it feels like a 'Halloween' film that forgot it needed to be a 'Halloween' film until its conclusion.
What we have are two films haphazardly pushed together. Corey's story has a strong throughline, and it could have been an interesting premise to have him fully assume the mantle of The Shape, with Laurie's final confrontation being with the idea of Michael Myers rather than Michael himself. Monsters become heroes for those wanting to tap into their own monstrosity, and the horror is that the cycle of violence always seems to find its way back into being. This idea is certainly somewhere in the film, with Green pulling liberally on another of Carpenter's classics, his magnificent Stephen King adaptation 'Christine' (1983), but at the point where you feel like the film is about to land this rather bold idea of removing Michael from the final chapter in every way other than as an icon, the big hulking beast re-emerges and the final act becomes a mad scramble to have him and Laurie face off against one another one last time, even if it hasn't earned it. As a result, the ending (and it is an ending) feels rushed, unsatisfying and at times genuinely bizarre. The relationship both Laurie and Haddenfield have with The Shape is now so confused, so ill-formed, that there's almost no way to end this that doesn't feel a bit silly. The endless problems with 'Kills' leave too many thematic ideas flapping in the wind, but rather than leaving them behind, the film foolishly chooses to try and tie them down.
It feels like a 'Halloween' film that forgot it needed to be a 'Halloween' film until its conclusion.
It's a real pity, because there is a good film in here. Rohan Campbell is genuinely charismatic as Corey, and had the script charted his descent better, it could have been a really meaty character to play with. Green also executes some really great moments of tension in a film that's oddly uncomfortable with indulging in gore and violence the way 'Kills' did. Unfortunately, everything else around these better elements just doesn't come together. Trying to follow Laurie's arc becomes an almost impossible task, the script throwing Jamie Lee Curtis left, right and centre with conflicting information, weighed down with a really horrid voiceover. Andy Matichak fares slightly better, but she's forced to change motivations so swiftly as to induce whiplash. The problem is that the film wants these important characters to mean something, but doesn't invest the time to earn it. You almost feel that the good work in the 2018 film is assumed to be enough, but an arc needs constant propulsion, and neither of the sequels have offered that.
It's really hard to know what to make of this reboot of 'Halloween' now that it has come to an end. Perhaps it would have been better to leave it as one film, with the satisfying ending of Laurie and her family fleeing the burning monster together. The creative team have said this was always intended as a trilogy, but very little in the sequels supports this. The most convincing evidence for this is the ending itself. The problem here is the same one that plagued 'The Rise of Skywalker' - the end of a multi-part narrative is supposed to offer us some idea of what the purpose of this narrative was, but without the groundwork laid to get there, the ending doesn't really offer anything at all. Maybe catharsis in seeing the great combatants fight one last time? But that's not emotionally satisfying, and the miracle of the 1978 film was its ability to create a deeply affecting experience through the simplest of means. The power of the ending here feels assumed because the icons on display are supposed to be meaningful, but as this nostalgia boom is proving, icons are empty without anything to provide context or purpose, and the ending of 'Halloween Ends' has an unfortunate emptiness to it.
That said, there was still something about this film I enjoyed. Maybe it was the surprise of a well-considered character study for its first act. Maybe it was the inertia built from the unexpected prologue. Maybe it was the connective tissue with 'Christine'. Maybe it was the fact that Rohan Campbell is charming and pretty and easy to emotionally connect with. Or maybe it was just that it was (thankfully) a better film than 'Halloween Kills'. Regardless, if you go in with your expectations tempered and open to not quite the film you expect it to be, you might find yourself a tad surprised. The end has come though, and to be honest, it couldn't have come soon enough. The mask of Michael Myers is looking pretty tired and worn out by now. Maybe it's time to leave him on the shelf for a while.