Review: Halloween Ends and The Banshees of Inisherin

Return of the Big Figure, and Colin Farrell at a new peak.


Halloween Ends

The story so far:

1978: In suburban Haddonfield, Illinois, teenage babysitter Laurie Strode meets suburban man of mystery Michael Myers for the first time.  She is drawn to him (sometimes with a great big knitting needle clutched in her fist), but only sticks around for one sequel. Which, in what will become a tradition, is very bad.

1982-2002: Laurie and Michael call it quits for a bit, but eventually reunite for another pair of sequels, one of them truly awful. Michael then slips away for two solo outings with trash-film master Rob Zombie.

2018-2021: Laurie and Michael are reunited by fanboy director David Gordon Green and cowriter Danny McBride. Ignoring the abundant cheese of all the previous movies, they make a direct sequel to the very first Halloween, and it's a lot of fun. However, hewing to the franchise SOP, they follow this with another dud, which makes $130 million anyway.

2022: And here we are.

The chief problem with the Halloween franchise, as has been demonstrated over and over again over the last 44 years, is its bloody tedium. There are only so many variations on a knife in the eye or a bone-crunching tumble from a high bannister that can hold up against endless repetition, and only so many shameless jump-scares that even the least discerning viewer will tolerate. In Halloween Ends, the thirteenth installment in the series, returning director Green attempts to freshen things up with a bold violation of the unspoken cinematic prohibition against inflicting violence on small children. This shouldn't work, but the shot in which it occurs is so sudden and in-your-face—and the child imperiled is such a brat—that it triggers an irrepressible bark of laughter: It's just—regrettably, I suppose—funny.

The movie feels longer than it is (a little under two hours) because of a serious Michael Myers deficit in the early innings. A whole lot of time is spent, instead, with a mopey teen named Corey Cunningham (minimally expressive Rohan Campbell), a nutcase who has some sort of spiritual connection to Michael, and the returning Allyson (Andi Matichak), the girl who, for some hard-to-grasp reason, loves this whiney trouble-magnet. (Corey keeps mumbling things like "I killed someone.") Allyson is the granddaughter of the aging Laurie Strode, whose house burned down in the last movie with Michael inside. That she now believes Michael is really dead shows how little she's learned about Halloween logic over the past four decades.

This is not a very good movie, but at least the dialogue is overdone in an amusing way. (How many times do we really need to be told that Michael is "pure evil"?) And it's a treat, as always, to meet the snotty kids and abrasive grownups who we know won't be accompanying us to the end of the picture. Most of all, it's a movie that fully delivers on the one front where it really matters—it's fearlessly committed to the slasher tradition of gross-out gore. (The sight of a man being juicily ground up in a car compacter is so lovingly contemplated that you can't help but smile, or at least grimace, in appreciation.)

There are some classically batty B-movie lines here. When Allyson is feeling down, for instance, Laurie tells her she should "cut off your shirt and show grief your tits." Surely there's an aspiring Ed Wood out there who could build an entire movie around such an inspired notion.

The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin is a stirring demonstration of the actor's art. The stars, Brendan Gleeson and (especially) Colin Farrell, mine their seemingly simple characters—two men paying out their days on a rustic island off the western coast of Ireland—for every nugget of human complexity they can gather, and at the end we behold them, if not transformed, at least reconstituted.

The movie's writer-director, Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, last guided Gleeson and Farrell through his wonderful 2008 film In Bruges, which followed two expatriate Irish hitmen from London, where they made their violent living, to the twinkling medieval city of Bruges, Belgium. Banshees, being confined to a (fictional) island, tells a more concentrated story, one that subjects its principal characters to more minute examination.

The year is 1923, and the Irish Civil War is loudly underway—you can hear the mainland cannon-roar from Inisherin and see the battle smoke clouding the sky. But life goes on as always for the island's residents, among them Colm Doherty (Gleeson), a crusty, retired music tutor. As age advances on him, Colm feels a need to redirect his life toward higher things: art, poetry, a more serious commitment to music. (Gleeson, an accomplished musician himself, does his own fiddling here, plays mandolin as well, and also composed the movie's title song.) He feels he no longer has time to waste on unnecessary activities—like listening to the empty prattle of his sweet, devoted friend Pádraic (Farrell).

This simpleminded man is a problem. Unlike Colm, who thinks only of spiritual expansion, Pádraic is entirely content with his lot in life. He lives in a small cottage with his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), and tends a clutter of sheep and cows whose milk he sells. He also dotes on a miniature donkey, which he likes to keep indoors, like a house pet.

Pádraic and Colm are daily patrons of the village pub, and their placid, untroubled life, with its plaster saints and clattering horse carts, was always all they needed—until one day Colm tells Pádraic he no longer wants to be his friend. "I just don't like you no more," Colm says. "You liked me yesterday," Pádraic says, baffled. Siobhan gets wind of this rift and quickly confronts Colm about it: What does he suddenly have against her brother? "He's dull," Colm says. "But he's always been dull," Siobhan says. "What's changed?" "I've changed," Colm says.

This petty conflict takes on a more alarming tone when Colm tells Pádraic that if he doesn't stop trying to talk to him, he'll begin chopping fingers off his hands for each infraction—a terrible thing for a musician to say. But would Colm really do such a thing?

Farrell gives a transporting performance in this movie, capturing the tragic sadness of a dim but cheerful man who has trouble coping with the challenge of everyday life, and can barely withstand the sudden hostility of his only friend. (When Siobhan asks Pádraic to take his donkey outdoors, her brother is stricken. "I'm not putting the donkey outside when I'm sad," he says.)

Condon is likewise wonderful as a woman who loves her brother but is being smothered by the contentious and small-minded society in which she is marooned; she's desperate to be gone. And Barry Keoghan as Dominic, the village simpleton, manages the difficult feat of giving a full account of his seemingly uncomplicated character without condescending to him. But it's Farrell who owns the movie. His Pádraic is a man who's beginning to suspect that people are ridiculing him as a dullard behind his back, and he hasn't the first idea what to do about it.