Halloween Ends

We are Fourteen Films into this Franchise, and you would think that the screenwriter and director David Gordon Green would do his best to get it right, given that this purports to be the finale. I’m afraid he doesn’t, and in fact is so off the mark that it is irritating. “Halloween Ends” probably won’t be the end of these films, but it should be. The desire to keep using the tropes that John Carpenter practically invented is not going to disappear, but it is clear that knowing the language of these films is not the same as being able to speak it.

I had skipped the last film, “Halloween Kills” until this week, when I watched it for the Lookback Podcast I was planning. Had I seen it before, I probably would have skipped this movie and the lookback as well, because it is not good. There would be no rescue with the current film, it is much like it’s predecessor, an attempt to approach the concept of the film from a different perspective, and failing miserably in the process. At least the first in this trilogy kept the focus on Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. “Ends” attempts to turn this into an origin story for an alt Boogeyman, but does so without any grace or sense of feeling for the very subject it wants to be exploring, “evil”.

There is a smashingly effective prologue that does get us emotionally invested. The character of Corey Cunningham starts off as a tragic but sympathetic figure, who could have been integrated into the story in some interesting ways but instead is turned into a PTSD knockoff of a central figure in the film series. The phrase “evil eye” is taken a little too literally by writers Green, Logan, Bernier and McBride and the movie switches from the nature of evil to a contagion film like “It Follows” or “Smile“. Both of those films never quite explain why the horror is passed on, but they still are more convincing than what happens in this story. Let’s just say, four years of hibernation in a sewer, dining on rats, is not a convincing way to turn someone into a Mesmer. 

I was initially taken by Cory and his budding relationship with Allyson, Laurie’s grand-daughter, but both characters start acting out of the framework that has been created for them. It is as if another story is intruding on the promising character development and taking the plot in a direction that will lead to mayhem but be completely unsatisfying. Jamie Lee is forced to bounce back and forth between the character she was in the 2018 film, and the one she was in the original. Sometimes she is in denial and sometimes she is a realist. How she becomes a crystal ball, able to tell what is happening when no one else seems to know is not very clear. I like Will Patton as an actor, and I like his character, but he was supposed to be dead in the 2018 film and he lingers around the periphery of this story just to give us some hope for Laurie, he is wasted in this film.

There is no logic to the way secondary characters react to Laurie either. Some are sympathetic and still view her as a hero, while others seem to blame her for what happened for no reason at all. This feels like a thread from “Kills” but one that is not very strong and not essential to the plot. Like Patton’s Frank, it is also unclear how some of these people are alive after the first two movies. Two characters are picked at random for “Michael 2.0” to kill, and they are stalked in an amazing house that feels like it should be in the Hollywood Hills rather than in rural Haddonfield. The connection to Allyson seems important early on, but now it feels like a deliberate premediated act rather than a random Michael Myers slaughter. The inconsistencies in the story and characters just get infuriating after a while.

There is a lot of exposition provided by Laurie, supposedly writing her book out loud, and it sounds like it is trying to make a profound point but it is mostly gibberish, which demeans the character and antagonizes the audience even more. The best that can be said for this film is that there are some murders that are kind of interesting, but not memorable enough to make the story worth telling, much less having anything to say about evil. 

Knives Out

In spite of the hype and overdone praise that this film has received, it is still a pretty basic “Who Done It?” Maybe there is a slight hint of a criticism of the 1% to make it seem socially relevant and topical. There is one scene where there is a direct discussion of current political events, but that feels like it will date the film rather than make it relevant. Writer/Director Rain Johnson would probably have been better off sticking to the traditional focus of a murder mystery, rather than trying to make it woke by including jabs at immigration policies and tax brackets.

The creative part of the film is the overlapping story of who is behind the investigation rather than who killed the victim. As told in a series of flashbacks, we see how the victim died, and it appears that there was a cover-up of an accident rather than a murder. It is only after motives get investigated that it becomes clear a crime really did occur. The intricacies of the plot are manifest in a series of vignettes that reveal what happened, what the suspects say about what happened, and what took place after those events. All of this gives a variety of actors a chance to strut their stuff on screen and create a collection of self centered privileged characters that we can smirk at for their foibles.

Christopher Plummer gets a second chance to play a rich octogenarian with issues surrounding his heirs. He turns in a slight but joyful performance. While he is not in the film long, there are some great moments that he shares with each of the main characters. Harlan Thrombey does not seem to be malicious in the decisions he is making regarding his family, but he is less concerned with his family than he is with his personal desires. Jamie Leigh Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, and Toni Collette all are given reasons to want to see him dead, but is he really murdered? What Johnson has done with his story is to find an alternative approach to the primary motivation. Daniel Craig as celebrated private detective Benoit Blanc is brought in to determine what really happened, but why he is there and who is paying is the mystery.

Ana de Arnas plays the old man’s nurse/companion who becomes a prime suspect but also the victim of persecution. The fact that she comes from an immigrant family and is not part of the rich inner circle is the thing that tries to establish some social credentials. It’s a shorthand plot device that works but in the long run, her families legal status is a distraction to the story rather than a justification for giving this movie any weight.  Michael Shannon and Toni Collette are the quirky spice in the blend. Don Johnson could have been playing the Chris Evans role thirty years ago, so it does feel like the casting decisions were right. Craig’s accent is laid on a little thick but since so much of the film attempts a comic edge I guess it works well enough.

About halfway through, I figured out who the antagonist really is, it’s not hard given the story structure. The real question is what are their motivations for choosing the course of action that was taken. The complex legal conundrum is brought up in the funniest scene where a welcome performance by Frank Oz, addresses the consequences of the dead man’s will. The extended scene is where half of the laughs in the movie can be located, not because there are jokes but because characters act out of their natures. This is a place where Johnson’s ideas stretch us a bit but do entertain us.

The film is a solid mystery puzzle and there are some good laughs to be had, but people suggesting that this is one of the great films of the year are over selling it to you. Go in with reasonable expectations of being entertained and you will be fine.

Halloween (2018)

Jamie Lee Curtis and I are the same age. I wish I could say that I was in as good shape as she is. I’m also not the badass her character Laurie Strode has become in this update of the “Halloween” film franchise. This movie removes the history of the other nine films, and treats the original as cannon and everything else as a figment of the audiences imagination. I can go with that, but there are a couple of other films that I might want to save before I make this entry the cannon for the future.

So forty years after the original events, Laurie has become a PTSD victim, who has passed on her paranoia to a second generation, or at least she tried to. In a plot lifted from “Terminator 2” , Laurie has been found to be an unfit mother and had her daughter taken from her when the girl was only 12. That daughter grew up to be Judy Greer, a forty something Mom with a daughter of her own in her senior year of high school. There are some pretty obvious beats being set up for the story. The goody goody grand daughter and her friends strolling through the town replicate the early segments of the original “Halloween”. Dr. Loomis has been replaced with Dr. Sartain, an apprentice of Loomis. And of course it is Halloween. So expect murders and costumes and people trapped in houses to be filling the screen for most of the time this film is running.

The idea of the traumatic family dynamic is an interesting one but it is under-developed. We don’t really know how the relationship between the characters works. Sometimes it seems like the grand daughter and Laurie are strangers to one another and at other times they have a deep bond. Greer’s character seems to be indifferent to her Mother’s warnings, despite having been raised with the specter of “The Shape” looming over her through her whole childhood. It’s not clear if she is a chip off the old badass block or a snowflake who has turned a blind eye to the evil in the world because her Mom is a bit nuts.  Jamie Lee is the stoic guardian angel who seems to have been plotting to kill Michael for forty years, but she loses her composure when she most needs it to warn the people she cares so much about. The inconsistencies in the characters undermine the story way more than it can take.

There is a turn about three quarters of the way into the movie that is so out of left field as to be silly. I guess it was supposed to be set up by the opening visit to the mental hospital by two journalists. When the one reporter waves Michael’s Captain Kirk mask at him, all the other prisoners react while Micheal remains motionless and as silent as ever. It is as if Michael’s evil is contagious, and long term exposure will result in an infection of the same. The only redeeming aspect of this plot thread is that the new villain gets a gruesome comeuppance that looks like it is mostly practical make up effects.

As flawed as the film is, there are several successful aspects to it.  I’d say the best sequence is a replay of the scenario in the original film. A babysitter, with a romantic partner while on the job, has to confront the masked killer. There was some nice chemistry between the babysitter, her charge and even the boyfriend. It plays out with the characters fulfilling their destiny but with as much self respect as you could hope for ever one involved. Another very effective sequence involves Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s illegitimate son, confronting Michael in the shadow of a light connected to a motion detector. The staging of those moments was pretty tense and there is a solid payoff.  I also liked the two cops keeping watch over Laurie Strode’s compound. The tone was humorous in a natural way and did not detract from the horror around it.

Before we get to a couple of comments about the climax, let me rant about a couple of other things that I saw as problems. The whole relationship between the grand daughter and her boy friend is filled with some deep secret that never plays out. He ends up discarded as a character and Laurie’s grand daughter Allison, ends up as the new scream queen without much more personal development. The plot thread from the opening with the two journalists does get played out, but in such a contrived situation as to be irritating, in spite of the well put together attack that finishes that part of the story.

Two shots in the film will immediately be recognized as reverse call backs to the original film. Allison sees a brief vision out of her classroom window, just as grandma had forty years earlier. That shot also foreshadows a moment in the climax that was the most enjoyable moment in the film. Replicating the double take that Donald Pleasence has at the end of the movie was the fan service moment that most worked for me. I did not see it coming, although I probably should have, but when it arrived, I laughed and smiled.