The New Halloween May Be More Sensitive Than Ever, But It's Also More Brutal


We shouldn’t ask art to be emblematic of the #MeToo movement, but sometimes its makers tell us that it is, regardless. Case in point: Those involved in the new Halloween have linked the film’s sensibilities to the current moment. In a recent interview, Jamie Lee Curtis, who is once again donning the role of Laurie Strode, struck a parallel between comeuppance for predators in powerful positions and the fate of the character who’s been plaguing hers on and off for the past 40 years, Michael Myers. “You see, a bunch of those perpetrators are in prison today,” she said, according to Variety. “And the women who helped put them there are relieved, a little bit, of that trauma. And that’s what our movie is going to bring to people on Friday.”

Curtis acknowledged that Halloween (2018) was written in January 2017, almost a year before The New York Times and The New Yorker published their floodgate-opening stories about Harvey Weinstein. Acknowledging this timing as well, Halloween co-writer/director David Gordon Green nonetheless reasoned, “Once you cast these strong female voices and we’re looking at a reflection of culture in this time period, it’s hard not to acknowledge that.”

Curtis’s Laurie Strode is the quintessential final girl, a phrase coined by academic Carol J. Clover to describe the trope of woman horror-film protagonists, who through a series of narrative loop-de-loops, become relatable to the teen-boy segment of the genre’s audience, and emerge victorious at the end of the movie against whom or what is haunting them. But this new, woke-adjacent take on Halloween had me thinking of another observation in Clover’s perpetually relevant book of essays, Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. In the section on rape-revenge, Clover criticizes the pat ending of The Accused, Jonathan Kaplan’s 1988 prestige-film take on the subgenre: “The Accused, in its implication that the story is over when the men are sentenced, is pure Pollyanaism.”

This Halloween sequel, named simply Halloween… gestures toward examining the effects of trauma.

She’s referring to the very real risk of rapists and abusers seeking vengeance on their accusers when they’re finally allowed to walk free (“the film ends where many women’s fear begins, at the moment the jury delivers the ‘guilty’ verdict”). And indeed, this Halloween, like many that have come before it, examines the vengeance that occurs “the night he came home” from exile. But to Curtis’s broader point, it’s true that many horror movies don’t acknowledge the emotional effects carnage leaves in its wake. Violence, in essence, is uncontainable—it yields more violence, trauma, and life-shattering loss. This is part of what makes The Purge franchise so preposterous—the movie pretends that the other 364 days of the year wouldn’t be spent cleaning up after, making up for, and exacting revenge on the events of that supposed single night of crime contains.

This Halloween sequel, named simply Halloween, like John Carpenter’s 1978 classic (and Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake), gestures toward examining the effects of trauma. “We make movies about violence, we glorify it, but we never ask what happens [after],” said Curtis at the premiere. “Never” is a stretch—this year’s Hereditary immediately springs to mind, and in the realm of the slasher subgenre Nightmare on Elm Street final girl Nancy was studying therapy in the series’ second sequel, undoubtedly as a result of what she went through in the original movie—but it is true that this is a rare thing to see, and for even suggesting it, everyone involved in this Halloween should pat themselves on the back.

This Halloween ignores the events of the sequels that preceded it, which is less confusing to watch than it is to read about, given that this franchise already has branched into multiple timelines. Its laser focus on the events of the first film matches that of its protagonist. Laurie lives behind a gate in the middle of nowhere, much as Sidney (Neve Campbell) did in Scream 3 (another movie that at least waved its hand at final-girl PTSD). Laurie’s lawn is surrounded by forest and littered with mannequins she’s been target-practicing on in the event that Michael should come for her. Her cellar is so packed with guns that the movie at times plays like what Ted Nugent must consider pornography. She drinks heavily and anxiety weighs on her face, pushing downward her eyes and mouth.

Curtis’s physical inhabiting of the role is by far the most masterful thing about her character and the movie that has once again resurrected her to confront her demon. Besides what’s listed above, there’s not that much more to Laurie this time. Because it juggles so many characters (only to drop their bodies when the time comes), we don’t actually spend that much time with Laurie or get a multidimensional reading of her interior, just some manifestations of it. She has a daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who was taken out of her care at age 12 and who has no sympathy for her inability to get over almost getting murdered by a madman now 40 years after the fact. Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), is far more sympathetic to her plight, and the movie kinda-sorta makes an interesting point about generational differences in sensitivity. It’s a terse explanation as to why we’re getting this Halloween at this moment.

But there are only broad strokes here, and as deeply as Halloween wants you to feel for Laurie, it is a shallow movie. Then again, of course it is: It’s a slasher. Green and co-writer Danny McBride understand that they have a balance to strike between antisocial genre expectations and pro-social societal imperatives, but as the movie progresses, they more often defer to sadism over compassion. We don’t really understand what’s in Laurie’s head besides the desperate need to kill Michael Myers, who, as luck would have it, escapes from detention while getting transferred to another facility. How he comes to remove his shackles and overtake the bus that’s transporting him isn’t shown on screen—we only see the aftermath of the bus pulled over to the side of the road and his fellow psychiatric inmates milling around like directionless and well-fed zombies. His escape is as inevitable as this sequel itself.

Green and McBride understand that a big part of why the original Halloween was so scary was the senselessness of its violence, precisely because of the human need to make sense of violence. Knowing this must have played a large role in the motivation to delete the previous Laurie Strode timeline(s)—the reveal that Laurie was Michael’s sister in Halloween II provided a logical target to a monster that had previously existed without logic. It undermined Carpenter’s ethos.

The bodies pile up furiously with all the passion of someone ticking off items on a shopping list.

Carpenter had an elegant way of scrambling viewers’ minds, and there’s nothing elegant about this latest entry in the franchise. Something that also made the original so indelible was its suffocating tension, which is lacking in Gordon’s, and not just through the guiding inevitability of various plot points that lead up to a final confrontation between Laurie and Michael we’ve now seen five different times (even if this film is claiming that three of them don’t count, it can’t scrub them from our memories). There’s something so matter of fact about the murders here that they’re just rarely scary—Michael shows up and he kills, again and again. The bodies pile up furiously with all the passion of someone ticking off items on a shopping list. Sometimes he kills someone within seconds of setting eyes on them (he walks into a woman’s house and stabs her from behind). Sometimes he plays with his prey for a bit, showing himself and then hiding and then killing. He’s also adopted traits that feel more in step with other movie villains—in a Leatherface-esque move, he apparently removes the teeth of his victims, which allows him to spill them on the floor of a gas station bathroom to let his next victim know what’s coming to her (least amusing amuse-bouche, ever!). And the way he stomps on the head of another character who’s unlucky to cross his path is pure Jason Voorhees.

McBride and Green have freed themselves from a lot of what we expect in this franchise, but still there’s so much that feels familiar here. We have the trope of exposition by school lecture—Allyson sits through a lesson on Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s writing on hope during and after trauma, which speaks directly to the movie’s larger themes. We have references to past Halloweens—Michael is run down by an automobile in a manner that an imposter is in Halloween II; we see trick-or-treaters wearing masks like those in Halloween III; Laurie at one point refers to him as “the shape,” which is how Michael is listed in the credits of at least the first two entries in the franchise.

It ends how you know it will. Clearly, this Halloween wants to rewrite the canon and be the definitive sequel, but it is merely just another sequel, right down to its open question of just how dead Michael Myers is at the end of this movie. The thing is, Carpenter’s Halloween is a perfect movie and nothing will ever adequately follow it up. Proper respect would prevent those as seemingly well-versed in this franchise as Gordon and McBride are from even trying, but then idealism ultimately is no match for money hunger in mainstream entertainment. Mark my words, we’ll see another one of these flicks in not much time at all. No matter how heightened this iteration’s sensitivity toward its protagonist claims to be, the filmmakers know that violence begets violence, and we know that in legacy horror franchises, sequels beget sequels.

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