Early in Halloween Ends, the odd but unexpectedly delightful conclusion to David Gordon Green’s three-film reprise of John Carpenter’s iconic horror franchise, a character we haven’t previously met makes his way up a spiraling, three-story staircase.
It’s been exactly one year since the events of Halloween Kills unleashed a mob and a massacre on the oft-terrorized town of Haddonfield, Illinois, and local teenager Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) is babysitting a young boy — one who still wets the bed at the thought of what happened last Halloween — in a creaky old house filled with long shadows and doors that groan as if wounded when they’re opened. So when Corey starts hearing footsteps, and that boy abruptly vanishes, he doesn’t just tense up, as we do; he grabs a bread knife from the kitchen table and goes to confront the boogeyman.
The joke, of course, is that neither this serrated blade nor its cowering wielder is any match for Michael Myers and his far meaner chef’s knife; without seeing his shape, we sense evil lurking and picture his hollow mask. We know it, Corey seems to know it, and so we settle in for the jump scare ahead. But Ends has a very different, more tragic punchline in mind, one it executes with a horribly satisfying crunch. Suddenly, we’re not so sure we know what kind of movie we’re watching.
This cold open, it turns out, is only the first instance in which Green and co-writers Danny McBride, Paul Brad Logan, and Chris Bernier set out to upend their audience’s assumptions of what a Halloween sequel, particularly one marketed as a dramatic culmination, can entail. That is not to say that Ends has entirely knocked down the house and demolished its foundation. Jamie Lee Curtis is, of course, back as Laurie Strode, who we catch up with after that opening — four years after Michael Myers last visited carnage upon Haddonfield, leaving her daughter (Judy Greer) dead. Laurie continues to mourn the loss but she is moving on, at last, from all the tragedy and terror that has befallen her. The series’ past kills are replayed in a grim montage that emphasizes moments of death but passes too quickly for an in-memoriam, instead registering as flashes of agonized memory.
No longer the reclusive survivalist she was at the beginning of Green’s trilogy, Laurie is living in her daughter’s house with granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and penning a memoir about her experiences as a survivor, a process that involves addressing past traumas (“As he was locked away in his prison, I disappeared into mine”) but has also led her to reflect upon the cloud of grief, fear, and paranoia that has descended upon Haddonfield since Michael’s most recent rampage.
Unable to glean motive and meaning from the evil Michael represents, locals still accost Laurie in public, sometimes simply to call her a “freakshow” and other times to blame her for “teasing” a mentally unstable man, an extraordinarily cruel framing of Laurie as complicit in unleashing the horror that has overshadowed her past 44 years. She refuses to listen to such things. “As the town turned in on itself, I made a promise not to let fear rule my life,” Laurie says.
She seems to be the only one. Michael has not shown his face in years, but he no longer needs to. Confronted with the personification of such evil, the people of Haddonfield have begun to see it everywhere; some are closer to letting darkness inside than they realize, but most are simply doing their best to move past the terrible things that have happened to them. It’s here that Corey re-enters the picture as a troubled but well-meaning young man who’s been cast out by Haddonfield, much in the way that the town has ostracized Laurie. It’s no wonder, then, that Allyson, who bristles at the townspeople’s preconceptions, is drawn to Corey after an oddly endearing encounter in the hospital where she’s been working. As pumpkins line porches and autumn leaves scatter in the breeze, they seem to be the only two in Haddonfield who feel the season not as a long chill but as a time of eventual, inevitable change.
Their budding romance, along with Laurie’s own efforts to move her life forward (perhaps with Will Patton’s deputy, Frank, who’s been a quietly reassuring presence in all three of Green’s films) is at the heart of Ends’ first hour — a surprising amount of time to afford love in a franchise better known for evoking fear, but one that makes sense within Green’s overarching interest in the lingering trauma of survivors. Here, ahead of all the bloodletting, he delivers a carefully observed rumination on the potential for healing, one that strikes a balance between both the naturalistic poetry of Green’s emotive early work (especially All the Real Girls and Snow Angels) and the heightened, uncanny atmosphere that Halloween movies — and especially their propulsive synths, afforded ghostly reverence this time around by Carpenter, son Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies — tend to conjure.
It’s not the first time that Halloween has swung a left turn — that would be 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a curio involving dastardly toymakers and ancient pagan rituals, whose once-maligned reputation is reassessed more favorably each year — nor even the second or third. At this point, surely at least a few fans of the franchise admire Halloween as much for its strange digressions — involving Satanic cults, psychic possessions, and Busta Rhymes — as for its foundational story of Michael Myers and the babysitter he once stalked. But Ends feels especially novel, occasionally even prankish, in our present landscape of “legacy sequels,” which exist solely and often laboriously to extend a franchise’s lifespan through uninspired callbacks to better-regarded originals. (One need only recall this year’s intellectually craven Scream sequel and the fatally bloated Jurassic World finale, or look back upon the already-notoriously dismal Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker to assess the limits of such a shamelessly Pavlovian approach to filmmaking.)
Rather than replay the franchise’s greatest hits at feature length, Green and his collaborators have fashioned a grace note, one that furthers the emotional thrust of its predecessors but tells its own story, about the burdens of legacy and the duty we all have to heal after tragedies we can’t reason with, lest their horrors erode us. Michael Myers is eventually back as well, still wearing the same white latex mask that he appeared in almost half a century prior; its expressionless visage has withered, cracked, and blackened throughout each of Green’s films, and the mold and mildew festering on its surface in Ends now evoke Michael as a crumbling statue, a relic of the past in progressive decay. The man underneath, abnegation though he is, has shown signs of aging as well; still severely burned after the events of the previous films, Michael may be in no state to kill, but he’s found other ways to live his murderous purpose.
The specifics of how are best left for the audience to discover, as they simultaneously work in service of Green’s lofty thematic ambitions and lead this film in a more openly allegorical direction, one that at times skirts the eccentric supernatural antics of lesser-loved installments. What if Michael was in fact, as his psychologist once suggested, a pure embodiment of evil, and in that, something closer to a dreadful notion than flesh and blood? Could that notion be contagious? If Green’s initial Halloween remake went back to the basics in revisiting Laurie and the Shape, Kills played more ruthlessly with the character’s immortality, envisioning Michael as a mythological spirit of violence that whipped the people of Haddonfield into a frenzy. A more tender, romantic film, Ends fits within this trilogy as a meditation on how fear and anger only begets more of the same.
Naturally, there’s still grisly fun to be had with the late-breaking kill sequences, and Green’s rather exhilarating sense of craftsmanship serves to steady the more absurd moments (a cheesily brooding motorcycle ride set to “Come 2 Me” by Johnny Goth, a bloodbath at the radio station with sound design that drops vertiginously out when a turntable’s needle is jostled out of its groove). But Ends is still impressively compelling even when it’s focused on Haddonfield without Michael, finding another kind of Halloween sequel inside what other filmmakers might treat as a mere prelude to slaughter. It’s clear, as Green brings his trilogy to a close, that he’s always been as invested in examining the mythological import of this place — an all-American town infected by evil it cannot fathom or even face — as what happened there one Halloween night.
Halloween Ends is now playing in theaters nationwide and streaming on Peacock.