***Warning! Spoilers for Halloween (2018)***

It’s a rare thing to see a horror movie sequel that expands upon and develops the source material in an exciting, worthwhile way. It’s even more unusual and unexpected for a film with as storied a following as John Carpenter’s Halloween. A groundbreaking film that spawned a stream of uninspired sequels, the original Halloween finally has a sequel worthy of its legacy in the latest Halloween film, from Blumhouse Productions.

This horror fan enjoyed the film immensely because it did much more than pay fan service to horror legend. Halloween (2018) dove deep into the genre in a way that slashers rarely do. Sure, it’s got the body count, jump scares, and genre conventions of a slasher (along with some clever role reversals and callbacks), but Halloween will be remembered as a meta-slasher.

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40 years after the events of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Laurie Strode, the only survivor of that fateful night, is convinced that Michael Myers will come for her again. Between not treating her PTSD and struggling to live a functional life, Laurie has become a hardcore survivalist. But she’s lost a lot in the process. She has a strained relationship with her family—daughter Karen, son-in-law Ray, and granddaughter Allyson. She is a recovering alcoholic. She doesn’t seem happy at all. But at least she knows that when Michael Myers returns, she’ll be ready for him.

And sure enough, Michael Myers escapes from state custody the night before Halloween. He hasn’t forgotten about Laurie either, and he will stop at nothing before he finds her and kills her. After all, she’s literally the one that got away.

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The Final Girl Gets Her Due

My favorite part of the film by far was the character of Laurie Strode, played by the incomparable Jamie Lee Curtis, aka America’s Mom.  Curtis does a fabulous job portraying Laurie Strode as a conflicted, deeply troubled woman who nevertheless possesses great strength. She’s wounded and still frightened even after all these years, but she’s also prepared and pissed off.

Curtis not only found the same character after 40 years, but she brought her back to life, scars and all, and built a whole lifetime. And while we get snippets of details—that Laurie is twice divorced, that the state took away her only child—we learn much, much more from the moments of silence. Those exquisite little moments where a quivering frown or a set jaw tell us about the unfathomable mix of pain and regret and anger Laurie feels.

I loved her anger, as well as the storm of emotions Curtis brought to the character—sorrow, regret, guilt, desperation, and cold calculation. Laurie wants her revenge, even if that desire makes her feel a range of unpleasant feelings. Make no mistake, this woman was victimized by Michael Myers, but she’s determined not to let him win, no matter what the cost.halloween

That’s the question at the heart of Laurie’s character—is she just afraid of Michael Myers and his continued grasp over her life, or does she feel like she deserves one more confrontation with him on a more even playing field? That push-pull between her unresolved trauma and her longing for vengeance was the most compelling part of the film. Of course, victims might feel torn between debilitating fear of their tormentor at the same time that they feel compelled to demand closure on their terms. And Laurie’s conflict makes Halloween much more than a slasher. In the face of a man who feels entitled to kill whomever he wants, Laurie Strode’s anger gives her strength to stand up and, say, “I don’t think so, fucker.”

It’s a level of (flawed) empowerment we’ve never seen from the Final Girl. No longer is her experience served up as thrilling entertainment. She reclaims a small but crucial part of her identity. Halloween (2018) forces us to grapple with the human cost of the Final Girl’s trial.halloween

A Strained Mother-Daughter Relationship

I also loved the mother-daughter relationship between Laurie and her daughter Karen because it spoke to the multi-generational effect of trauma, how it’s almost hereditary. In Halloween, Michael Myers’ actions have a tragic effect on the lives of people he’s never even met.

On the one hand, you can understand how Laurie, who obviously did not receive therapy after that fateful night 40 years ago, would be entirely ill-equipped for balance her trauma with motherhood. She would rather have a daughter who hated her and could protect herself instead of a daughter who loved her but would be a sitting duck for Michael Myers.

On the other hand, how unfair would it be to have your entire childhood geared towards killing the boogeyman? To have a mother who gave all her effort to her paranoia and trauma instead of being there for you? What would that do to a person?

Again, it’s a tragedy.

Judy Greer also deserves a shout out too. The role of Karen could easily have been played with a lot of melodrama, but Greer wisely plays the character as restrained and somewhat cold, torn between pity for her mother and her own unresolved anger for the way her mother’s trauma damaged her childhood.

Together, their relationship gives the movie its emotional core, its anchor.

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Examining the Spector of Michael Myers

Juxtaposed with a mature Laurie Strode and a poignant family dynamic, Michael Myers’ also becomes a fascinating figure in Halloween, though not for the reasons one might expect. Instead of humanizing him, like some ill-advised sequels, Michael Myers is never not a cold-blooded killer.

What I found fascinating about the film was Halloween’s refusal to explain Michael Myers. Multiple characters beg him to “say something”—why? Why do we need Michael to say anything? His actions speak for him, don’t they?

Of course, that’s not really what’s going on there.

The two characters who are most drawn to him, the male podcaster and Dr. Sartain, are almost rapturous in their obsession with Michael. It’s as if they’re experiencing a vicarious thrill of murder, of being Michael Myers. Laurie Strode is merely an afterthought, a sacrifice made to an enigma worthy of study.

But they’re missing the point—there’s nothing more to Michael Myers other than being a psychopathic murderer who doesn’t give a shit. Sure, he’s a human being, but human beings are sometimes straight up evil. There’s no romance, no deep well of pain, no secret little truth that justifies any of this bloodshed. Stop looking for it. Stop asking Michael Myers to explain this to you (or he’ll stomp your head in).

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Thus, Halloween dissects the troubling pattern of romanticizing and idolizing slasher villains. It becomes a fun game, right? Let’s see what Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees or Freddy Krueger is going to do next! How many people will he kill? How savagely? Too often with such violent entertainment, we horror fans forget the gravity of the events we watch on screen. We become transfixed by the villain, maybe even come to root for him, which says some a lot about who we are.

Further still, Halloween points out that there’s a fine line between trying to unpack a person’s motivations for violent crime to prevent it in the future and trying to vicariously experience them to satisfy your own latent, unsavory thoughts.halloween

The Not-So-Great Elements

For all its thematic ambition, Halloween suffered from some execution issues.

The pacing was all off. The original was a masterclass in how to create suspense and dread, with lots of lovely long shots of Michael Myers being menacing in backyards and on sidewalks. In this film, the action moves so quickly that there’s no time allowed for the same slow build of terror.

As a result, the film relied on jump scares and graphic violence and gore, which…is a choice. The lack of effective pacing and slowly building dread muddies the film’s emotional impact. For example, the scene where Myers attacks the two podcasters feels just as intense as Jamie Lee Curtis’s showdown with him. The pacing could and should have been managed better.

Halloween also fell into a lot of horror tropes. Some of these are to be expected, I guess, like people being stupid at the most plot-convenient times. However, Halloween relies too much on the trope of the psychologist/doctor who drinks the Kool-Aid of his worst, most fascinating client and begins committing horrible acts to “know what it feels like.” Dr. Ranbir Sartain’s obsession with Michael reinforces the film’s examination of lionizing slasher villains, but I still saw it coming from a mile away because it is an established horror movie trope. I almost wish they had just made Dr. Sartain’s inappropriate compulsion to understand Michael evident from the beginning. That would have lent some potent dramatic irony to the film and infused it with much-needed suspense.

I couldn’t ignore the plot hole surrounding Michael Myer’s and his fitness. I know that a 61-year-old man who eats right and works out regularly could be a formidable physical opponent. But seriously, does Smith’s Grove Sanitarium provide protein supplements to patients? Does Michael Myers do CrossFit in his cell? How does Michael Myers maintain enough strength to kick through the backseat of a cop car? It’s specifically designed not to allow that! The trope of the superhuman killer reflects lazy writing, and I feel like this could have been avoided.

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Lastly, some of the humor felt misplaced, particularly in the scene involving the babysitter’s murder. As adorable as that smart-ass kid was, his reaction didn’t feel genuine at all, and it felt 100% included to cut the tension. By having such ill-timed jokes to undercut terrifying and violent scenes, the film undermines its goal of reminding us of the gravity of Michael Myer’s crimes. I thought we were supposed to take this stuff seriously now?

But all in all, Halloween’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

Even with its faults, Halloween is a subtle yet powerful indictment of how we consume violent horror while ignoring the implications of onscreen events. To be fair, many slasher films (and their sequels) sacrifice character development and nuance for increasingly imaginative and over-the-top violence. Strong characters make movies great, but word-of-mouth about shocking kills and impressive body counts sells tickets, right?

Film producers wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t work. Thus, we must examine why there is an enduring audience for this kind of entertainment.

And just as the film refuses to guarantee the death of Michael Myers (a character is not dead without seeing a body in a  horror movie), Halloween seems convinced that the audience will always be there.

What did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments!

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