Everything is frightening this week, but for different reasons.
The most disheartening thing about how shitty this modern Halloween trilogy is the fact it was the brainchild of Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, two legitimate comedic geniuses who clearly have no idea what they’re doing in the horror genre. Their work on Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals and most recently, The Righteous Gemstones, is fantastic and helped pave the way for modern TV “comedies” blending pitch black existential drama and goofy irreverence – mainly Barry, The Resort, Atlanta to a certain extent. Their first entry of this series, Halloween 2018, wasn’t great but it at least gave the franchise some of its teeth back without going full Rob Zombie. Even if its blend of comedy and scares was more than a bit clunky at times, it was better than 80% of franchise horror. The second installment, Halloween Kills was far less successful than its predecessor in its feeble attempt to give gravitas to characters we were never supposed to give a shit about. Lindsey Wallis? Tommy Doyle? Sheriff Bracket? These characters existed in John Carpenter‘s 1978 original as mere plot devices. Blended into this awkward, overwrought mock-Shakespeare drama with never-ending rally cries of “EVIL DIES TONIGHT!”, was some of the most graphic violence the franchise has ever seen. This made for one of the most uneven and confused entries of the Halloween series, but nothing could have prepared for the hard left turn their third and final entry, Halloween Ends, takes. It takes a huge narrative risk that doesn’t pay off and ends up feeling like a network TV version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Let me clarify, it’s a narrative risk for Halloween but the story Green and McBride choose to tell has been told several times before in infinitely better films across several genres.
Taking place a full two years after the events of Halloween Kills, this story sees Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) turning her experiences with Michael Myers into a novel. She’s in desperate need of a ghost writer folks…yikes. Trying to heal but not quite finding the words to articulate her pain in a way that doesn’t feel like a copy for a Hallmark ad, she’s trying to start again with her granddaughter/roommate, the wholly underdeveloped Allyson (Andi Matichak). A whole 35 minutes or so goes by without Michael Myers and we don’t even get Michael Myers going full NANNERS till the end. Instead, we focus on Allyson’s new boyfriend, a bullied outcast (Rohan Campbell) shunned by the town for accidentally killing a child he was babysitting. The kid was a total prick and in a fantastic opening scene, far and away the best sequence of the movie, he locks the new boyfriend in a closet and makes it seems like Michael Myers is back. Panicked, the new boyfriend kicks open the door, pushing the kid off the second story railing causing him to fall on his neck. The kid’s head explodes into old spaghetti and the parents come home to witness their only child’s mangled corpse. As disturbing as this is, it shows the kind of traumatic effect Michael Myers’ killing spree has had on this town.
From there, McBride and Green hammer down this point exhaustingly and we just want to grab them and shout, “YES! WE GET IT! WE GET THAT YOU TOOK PHILOSOPHY CLASSES IN COLLEGE BUT WE CAME TO SEE HALLOWEEN, YA JACKASSES!” The new boyfriend character gets bullied and harassed by everyone, causing him to seek out Michael Myers and basically become the new Michael Myers, only way less intimidating cause he’s just a sad boy. This film features a scene where he wrestles Michael Myers to the ground, WWF-style. This scene completely takes the wind out of the final 20 minutes where Green and McBride make a sudden u-turn back into typical Halloween movie territory. How is Michael supposed to be scary if a sad boy can wrassle him to the ground?
The movie is all over the place, too shallow to be a rumination on grief/trauma and too deep to be merely a fun slasher movie. It reduces Laurie Strode to a two-dimensional character, as very few things she does makes sense this time around, and it tries to get us on board with a new boyfriend character we don’t care about. The most ironic thing about Halloween Ends is that in its desperate quest to be different it ends up being one of the most bland and flavorless entries of the franchise. And the Halloween franchise fucking sucks, so that’s really saying something. Grade: D+ (In Theaters & Peacock)
Far more intimidating than Michael Myers is Lydia Tár, filmmaker Todd Field‘s fictional EGOT-winning orchestra conductor brilliantly portrayed by Cate Blanchett in her finest and most complex screen performance yet. Lydia is exactly who you’d expect an asshole in her position to be – pretentious as hell, controlling as fuck and absolutely, and sometimes comically, oblivious to the fact that she’s the villain in her own story. When a news story breaks about a former student/colleague who died by suicide due to Lydia’s abuse and professional sabotage, she begins frantically deleting incriminating emails with her assistant, Francesca (Portrait of a Lady on Fire‘s Noémie Merlant). All sorts of other stuff begins trickling in as the icing on this #cancelled cake such as a heavily doctored iPhone video of her argument with a BIPOC student over the student refusing to play Bach in class because Bach had many mistresses in life. The student claims playing his music would support the patriarchy and misogyny in general. Lydia finds this ridiculous saying as a U-Haul lesbian herself, she thinks you can interpret and play music in a way that makes it your own and not some old dead white dude’s way. He says something snarky back and she proceeds to call him a robot. She challenges him to critically think and generate his own opinions on issues rather than lazily mimicking a classical music #hottake he once saw on TikTok. The student calls her “a fucking bitch” and storms out of the classroom. This is perhaps the only thing Lydia does in the film where she isn’t 100% the asshole, and that’s important. Field and Blanchett aren’t interested in having a central character that’s a Disney villain, they’re interested in having a fully developed, flawed human being you keep catching yourself liking from time to time, until you remember that she controls and manipulates every relationship in her life from her fellow conductors/musicians, to even her wife, Sharon (a remarkably subtle Nina Hoss). There isn’t much of a plot to this film, Lydia glides from one situation/catastrophe to the next in seemingly random order, much like life. At 158 minutes that would normally present a major problem, but Field and Blanchett manage to keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire runtime. You become so enveloped by this character, you feel like you know her. It all culminates in a final shot that’s one of the flat-out funniest visual gags of the year. I howled in the theater while a bunch of senior citizens scratched their heads in confusion. TÁR is the first #cancelculture movie I’ve seen that doesn’t feel contrived and it’s the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. Grade: A (In Theaters)
The Midnight Club
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I can’t even believe that Mike Flanagan, the monologue mastermind behind last year’s Midnight Mass had anything to do with this overlong, thoroughly confused slog of a YA ghost mystery. Based on the work of Christopher Pike, who I’m assuming is like an R.L. Stine type but hipper, The Midnight Club follows a band of terminally ill kids living their final days at a gorgeous but secluded hospice. To help them come to grips with the heavy fact that they’re going die, they meet in the hospice library at midnight and tell each other ghost stories that of course are rooted in their own personal struggle with sickness. They don’t have Netflix yet because it’s 1994, but certain needle drops and X-Files episode references suggest the story takes place closer to 1998. For someone as detail-oriented as Flanagan this is a bit of a shock. The kid characters range from well developed to one-dimensional, with the performances following suit. The clear stand-out is Ruth Codd as Anya, a bitter, sarcastic but surprisingly enlightened teenager who lost everyone in her life as well as her right leg. The adult characters are even more surface level with the typically excellent Zach Gilford as a friendly gay nurse and Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Heather Langenkamp, really underwhelming here, as the the doctor in charge of the whole hospice operation. As it turns out, the hospice is haunted by a scary old woman and scary old dude, and the lead teen, Illonka (a pretty solid Iman Benson) decides to investigate and maybe find a way through ancient witchcraft to cure her and her friends. I know, it’s a weird jumbled mess of a plot that is for the most part, tension-free. It seems to be more for children but you know, at the same time having the f-word a good twenty times an episode. Who the fuck is this for? That’s the question you’ll be asking yourself all through this series, if you even make it all the way through the staggering 10-hour runtime. Ultimately, the stories the kids tell within this story are more engaging than the overall arching mystery of ghosts in the house, and they give you more insights into their character’s motivations. However, interspersed with all the thematic stuff that flat out doesn’t work, are some good character moments. Not nearly good enough for a ten hour commitment though. Grade: C– (Netflix)
A far less nuanced #cancelculture movie than Tár, Joseph and Vanessa Winter‘s Deadstream follows an OBNOXIOUS and truly hateable YouTube prankster trying to redeem himself after one of his goofs lands a homeless man in the ICU. As penance, he decides to lock himself in an old abandoned haunted house and livestream himself being terrified. It’s his way of showing the internet his humility, but honestly it seems like it only makes the internet hate and want to see him die more. Of course, the house is legit haunted and the movie stumbles through painfully predictable and anything but scary beats with awful Spirit Halloween makeup effects. It cannot be overstated how awful the makeup is in this, it’s good for my dad’s Halloween party but since this is an actual movie and not a 69-year-old dentist’s Halloween Party, it presents a major issues. Added to this is how absolutely horrible the protagonist is. I understand this is the whole point but the filmmakers really go overboard making him a piece of shit. It doesn’t help that the actor who plays him delivers a remarkably stiff and anything but believable performance. I haven’t felt this actively annoyed watching a movie since Sia‘s Music. It’s torture and the only reason I’m not giving it an F is because the actress who plays the second lead is decent. That’s the only silver lining I could find in this crap fest. This has to be the worst Shudder Original Movie I’ve seen and most of them are pretty bad. Grade: D– (Shudder)
Orphan: First Kill
I wasn’t a fan of the original Orphan back in 2009. I found it to be a thoroughly not fun movie that completely misunderstood what a ridiculous premise it had. I was ready to write off the wholly unnecessary 2022 sequel as more of the same, until about halfway through when an absolutely bananas twist catapults this whole thing into super campy horror territory and I was all there for it. Isabelle Fuhrman is back, thirteen years later and not even remotely resembling a child, but judging by the ludicrous cuts from her face to a child double walking down the street, the filmmakers knew it too. She’s great but Orphan: First Kill really feels like Julia Stiles‘ movie, seriously one of her campiest and honestly, best performances. It’s certainly doesn’t break any new ground in the campy horror genre, but for roughly fifty minutes (the second half) it manages to be a stupid good time and a reminder to horror filmmakers that maybe they shouldn’t take their shit so seriously all time. Grade: B- (Paramount+)
ALSO STREAMING OR IN THEATERS
Reservation Dogs (A-) – Hulu
The Resort (B) – Peacock
Harley Quinn (B+) – HBOMax
The Rehearsal (A+) – HBOMax
Only Murders in the Building (B+) – Hulu
Smile (C+) – In Theaters
Hellraiser (C) – Hulu
Blonde (D+) – Netflix
Mad God (B+) – Shudder
Pearl (B+) – In Theaters
Barbarian (B+) – In Theaters
The Innocents (B-) – Shudder
Watcher (C+) – Shudder
On the Count of Three (C+) – Hulu
Prey (B) – Hulu
Ice Cream Man (4.5)
Deadly Cheer Mom (3)
Death Spa (2)
The Sand (1.5)