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Spoilers for “Halloween Ends” follow.
About three-quarters of the way through the slasher flick “Halloween Ends,” Willy the Kid (Keraun Harris), the D.J. of Haddonfield, Ill.’s radio station, receives a stern call from a listener who objects to the way he has been exploiting Haddonfield’s special long-running tragedy for entertainment. “Beware, sir,” she admonishes, “that when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster, for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Little does the caller realize that she is dealing with a fellow person of letters, equipped with a slightly less ubiquitous quote from old Friedrich. Willy replies: “Nietzsche also said, ‘Without music, life would be a mistake,’ ” and to demonstrate puts on The Cramps’ “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.”
So goes “Halloween Ends”’s approach to philosophy, which is to spout vaguely thoughtful-sounding platitudes in the hopes that the resultant scramble might take on a blurry cast of thematic resonance. Such faux-philosophy provides one of the film’s two major driving forces. How much better is the other, which finds expression less than a minute later when poor Willy finds his head bashed six times into WURG’s dual turntable and his tongue severed with a pair of steel scissors! (Sensitive viewers be warned: The camera spares us nothing.)
“Halloween Kills,” the predecessor to “Halloween Ends,” was a delightful parade of no-holds-barred silliness (the title of this video is appropriate but, perhaps, not quite wide enough in its scope) that followed its own absurdity to the (il)logical point of implying that “Halloween” franchise masked baddie Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) might actually have superpowers.
“Ends” has some moments that live up to “Kills”’s reverie — as when new baddie Corey (Rohan Campbell) drives a truck into a chain-link fence which his adolescent prey is in the process of descending, knocking the fence to the floor and flattening her with it — but for the most part it is a regretfully somber affair. Not that there is anything wrong with somberness, but “Ends” is the filmic analogue of a college student who is only amusing after two or three shots of liquor and is otherwise not only unamusing but barely tolerable. The “Halloween” films’ liquor is gore — stupid, stupid gore — and “Ends” is in bad need of more of it.
The trouble begins — the movie begins — with Corey, who in 2019 is caught in the unfortunate position of appearing to have murdered his babysitting charge. He is innocent, and cleared in court, but fast forward to 2022 and Haddonfield has made him a pariah. Yet Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who as Michael’s primary target going on 44 years is the recipient of much venom from most Haddonfieldians notices his suffering and reaches out. (“Kills” enthusiasts will recognize that film’s stab at commentary on the cruelty of crowds carrying over into the sequel.)
Then Corey finds Michael Myers living in a sewer and becomes his apprentice.
Why does he do this? At one point it is suggested (over a pool table — the single best conduit to thought, as whoever outfitted Harvard’s residential houses knew well) that Corey has been turned into a (metaphorical) monster by the Haddonfieldians’ ostracization. But Corey shows no sign of any such Shelleyan monstrosity when we first jump forward to 2022, and at several key junctures Corey mounts the insistence that if he can’t have Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) then no one will, so we are left with a jumble of motives, and no ambiguity of the sort that causes one to smile and furrow one’s brow.
Adding to the thematic jambalaya is Michael himself. Laurie calls him the embodiment of “pure evil” more than once, but he also seems to represent trauma, and then at the end of the film he also also becomes the Nazarene, as Laurie pins him to a table by putting knives through both his hands and initiates a reenactment of the Crucifixion, complete with a miniature Holy Lance. Christ on the Cross is a powerful symbol, but not when it is made to be ridiculous. A single character cannot bear the symbolic burden of standing for evil, trauma, and the King of the Jews all at once, and Michael Myers collapses under it. Are we to learn from the film’s finale that the best thing to do about one’s trauma is to grind it in an industrial shredder?
Despite all this, it bears mentioning that Curtis is fantastic, as when she advises Allyson, “You need to find someone that … makes you want to rip off your shirt and show grief your fucking tits and say, ‘You know what? Let’s go!’ ” At this point the “Halloween” franchise is hers more than it is anyone else’s — including the pretender Christ — and these movies seem to be a real passion project for her. If this is more than a line she feeds to the press, then it alone justifies their existence.
The fact that a bad movie’s existence is justified, however, does not stop it from being a bad movie. And make no mistake: That is what “Halloween Ends” is. It is not a “good bad movie”; it is too ponderous for that. One should be skeptical of those who would build a wall between entertainment and artistic merit; but for most of its runtime, “Halloween Ends” has neither.
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