★★★★☆ David Gordon Green rounds out his trilogy with a definitive ending for the long-running horror series. An absurd, baroque, and jaw-droppingly ambitious capper to a franchise that has been defined by wild variations in quality, Halloween Ends' reach may well exceed its grasp, but nevertheless offers a fearless and deranged vision in horror.

★★★★☆

David Gordon Green rounds off his Halloween trilogy with a definitive ending for the long-running horror series. An absurd, baroque, and jaw-droppingly ambitious capper to a franchise that has been defined by wild variations in quality, Halloween Ends’ reach may well exceed its grasp, but nevertheless offers a fearless and deranged vision in horror.

John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween wasn’t the first slasher film, but it was the first to cement many of the genre’s tropes: the masked, seemingly unstoppable killer, the enduring final girl, and the endless, endless sequels. Many horror franchises commit to a ‘final’ instalment that turns out to be not so final, but after thirteen films, four separate timelines, and numerous resurrections, remakes and reboots, this instalment’s promise that “Yes – this really is the end,” is the real deal.

Halloween Ends caps off a trilogy that began in 2018 with the simply-titled Halloween (serving as a direct sequel to the 1978 original), followed by Halloween Kills. Halloween 2018 was a stripped-down, straightforward and a worthy follow-up to the original, originally pitched as a standalone sequel. Kills upended that as the middle instalment of a new trilogy, arriving as a baffling assemblage of clichés and half-finished ideas. Fears that Ends would repeat the same mistakes are quickly banished with a series-best prologue that succeeds at paying homage to Carpenter as well as being nail-bitingly tense and shocking.

Picking up four years after the events of Halloween Kills, Michael Myers has disappeared and the town of Haddonfield has turned to paranoia and scapegoating. While Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) try to put their pasts behind them, young car mechanic Corey (Rohan Campbell) lives as a borderline recluse, shunned by a community that blames him for a terrible accident. Eschewing both the tight structure of Halloween 2018 and the febrile nonsense of Kills, Ends is a sprawling, often convoluted psychological narrative that, at 111 minutes, is surprisingly slow to get to the stabbing.

Yet in taking its time, the first act in particular resolves much of the thoughtlessness of its predecessor, toying with Laurie’s need for closure and the long-term consequences of essentially being the figurehead for community trauma. In focussing on their emotional travails, Ends succeeds in making us care about its three leads long before Michael takes up his favourite past time. New character Corey is likely to be divisive and his psychology is certainly questionable at times. Still, the franchise in earlier guises has visited similar ideas before and his addition opens new narrative doors for Michael to lunge through.

The film’s slow pace does start to drag and the second act sags under the weight of its ponderousness, while the excesses of the franchise’s stupidest tendencies make themselves known here too. The film isn’t anywhere near as clever as it thinks it is and the screenplay (penned by four separate scribes) simply isn’t equipped to tackle some of the bigger ideas it grapples with, chief among them its interminable theses on the nature of evil. Equally, Green’s direction has nought of the rich sense of fear that Carpenter crafted in 1978, the atmosphere of tension and dread long since evaporated.

Still, ‘stupid’ and ‘bad’ are two separate things and while Halloween Ends veers dangerously close to one, it rarely tends towards the other. When the violence finally does kick into gear, Green offers us some of the gnarliest, squirmiest, most blackly comic kills in the franchise’s history, but with a moral compass that the previous film lacked. For those wondering about another instalment, resurrection is always the name of the game, but it’s difficult to imagine how a film could better and more definitively put a monster to rest. For all its missteps, Halloween Kills gets it right where it matters: namely, in the final showdown between Laurie and Michael. Their four-decade enmity is finally given figure at once domestic and baroque.

Though this trilogy ignores all previous instalments bar the original, the central fight is fundamentally a paean to all the films to date, transcending simple narrative diegesis. As blades pierce flesh and Carpenter’s iconic theme swells, the film wrestles with provocative imagery it’s not entirely in possession of, but which is nevertheless rich and layered with meaning. Whether transcendental, idiotic or both, the effect is overwhelming, a catechism for a series that has defined modern horror.

Christopher Machell