Halloween Ends sounded like sweet surrender after Halloween Kills, the cruel, moralistic middle chapter of Michael Myers’ latest rampage. The 2018 reboot was good fun, but Kills, ever the high-minded slasher, tried to say something about shared trauma and mob mentality by having the people of Haddonfield drive an innocent mental patient to suicide—you know, because we’re the real monsters. After that drivel, an ending would only be merciful. But in the bitterest of ironies, Halloween ends with interesting thoughts left unsaid.

The story picks up four years after Michael (spoilers for Kills!) killed (well, that part’s obvious) Laurie Strode’s daughter (oh no!) and vanished without a trace. Laurie and the rest of Haddonfield enjoy an uneasy peace in his absence, but trouble stirs when Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, who lost her parents and boyfriend four years ago, falls for local outcast Corey Cunningham (played by Rohan Campbell, lovechild of T.J. Miller and David Patrick Kelly), who, three years prior, was involved in an accident that left a kid dead. Corey’s an okay guy—it really was an accident—but he’s ostracized nonetheless, leaving him just broody enough to win over a trauma survivor. The focus on Corey is curious, initially, but soon comes into commendably weird shape.

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After Corey is captured by a sewer-dwelling Michael, the killer sees something familiar in him and, through channels unexplained, imbues Corey with his essence. Besides filling him with bloodlust, the possession has the side effect of making Corey even edgier: he cuts through the night with his girl on his motorcycle, stands up to a bully with fire in his eyes, and whisper-shouts about burning the town to the ground. The later Halloweens have their strange little personalities; this is the young rebel romance one. It’s an unexpected flavor. Amid all the studied but familiar shot and scene compositions, it gives the film a unique temper.

More involving is what Corey does thematically. By making him a sympathetic reflection of Michael—a kid demonized for killing another kid—the film restores a sliver of humanity to who Michael once was. Maybe he wasn’t too far gone when he killed his sister; maybe he just never got the help that he (and Corey) needed. Ends complicates the myth of Michael Myers without cluttering his backstory’s simplicity, a feat in the vein of Rob Zombie’s Halloweens (with neither their mess nor their stylistic bravura) that makes a social point more subtly than Kills (though it still launches into preaching and platitudes).

But then the film abandons its best threads. From its opening minutes, Ends is a hodgepodge of Laurie vs. Michael rivalry, winking cinephile references, and clashing modes of social commentary, but in its third act, it narrows down to the least interesting version of itself and casts off the rest. The transition to a rote, completely expected showdown is as disappointing as it is jarring. The climax is just somber enough for morbid fun and the coda just sweet enough to surprise, but they don’t hold a candle to the preceding audacity, however limited that audacity was. The scariest thing about Halloween Ends is how little it trusts its own weirdness.

Now that it’s all dead and done, this nu-Halloween trilogy—another handful of bad-to-decent sequels—doesn’t make a great case for the self-referential reboot. Beyond Carpenter’s continued iterations on the Halloween theme, none of the films come close to the artistry or originality of the original. Passing thrills do not a legend revive.

★★½   (2.5/5)