“There are three choices when you’re traumatized–die from it, run from it, or face it.” Jamie Lee Curtis, 92Y, October 7, 2018
I was very lucky to be able to see an advance screening of the new Halloween with a talkback with Jamie Lee Curtis and director David Gordon Green that was moderated by Rolling Stone‘s David Fear. I’m working really hard to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I’m not going to discuss specific events, but be careful reading this if you want to go into the movie blind. Most of what I reference is information you could get from the trailers.
The movie is set forty years after the original Halloween. It’s a direct sequel, the events from Halloween II aren’t referenced and don’t exist in this universe. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode. Her relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) is strained by what happened to her forty years ago, although she’s close with her granddaughter, Allison (Andi Matichak). The movie follows three generations of Strode women dealing with the escape of Michael Myers (Nick Castle reprises his role with James Jude Courtney).
Halloween: H20 had Laurie Strode faking her death and changing her name to hide from Michael Myers. This iteration has her prepared to face Michael.
This is a movie about trauma and obsession in the guise of a slasher movie. The fates of Laurie and Michael, as victim and victimizer, are intimately linked. It’s a movie about how you move on from trauma. Laurie has chosen a proactive approach, that isn’t necessarily healthy (Although I also strongly agree, that Michael Myers is a threat as long as he’s alive). Her entire life revolves around fighting Michael to the point that her relationship with her daughter is strained and her whole family is used to her obsession. People who have been victimized know the fear that they may never be safe again as long as their abuser is alive. In a way, Laurie is the new Dr. Loomis. People didn’t listen to him either and thought he was being hyperbolic about Michael Myers.
The main point is that a legacy of trauma never goes away when you’re dealing with interpersonal violence, it just changes hands. The effects get passed down from generation to generation. Laurie calls Michael Myers the Boogeyman but he’s a way to show how sometimes random, awful violence just happens to people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s no attempt to explain or rationalize Michael Myers, although Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) thinks he’s up to the task as Loomis’ protegé. What I appreciate is that the filmmakers chose to eliminate the sibling connection between Laurie and Michael. He’s not targeting his sister, she was a stranger the first time he tried to kill her. It’s just random, horrifying violence and Laurie Strode was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The other message of the movie is that monsters don’t always stay dead and you shouldn’t dredge up the past unless you’re prepared to face it. In the movie, two true crime filmmakers (played by Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) try to interview Michael. Narratively, they serve to inform the audience of the past events (Why haven’t you seen Halloween already? Go home and watch it right now) but they’re also a catalyst. I’m not sure if it’s on purpose but I think this can be seen as a critique of true crime culture. I read a lot of true crime but I never listen to podcasts and rarely watch the documentaries on Netflix because they seem really salacious and it’s like they forget that there are actual victims of the killers they talk about and that the families of the victims are still alive.
Watching the movie in the context of the political events of the last two years in my country felt very cathartic. Now, I know some of you are going to be saying, “Keep politics out of horror!” Horror and politics are linked, whether you like it or not, since filmmakers are influenced by what’s happening around them. You can take a gross movie like Street Trash and see the commentary about the homeless in it. Watch They Live and tell me it isn’t about politics. Look at this shot from Silence of the Lambs and tell me it’s not a comment on who gets to be in the FBI.
Whether the filmmakers meant to or not, they have an entire film about a victim confronting their abuser that happened to be released at a time when we’re having a nationwide conversation about confronting abusers. Jamie Lee Curtis herself has noted Laurie Strode’s resemblance to Christine Blasey Ford. If you’re a woman who’s tired of seeing victims being treated like they’re crazy or had it coming, then this movie is going to feel good. It’s a profoundly feminist movie in its commentary about how female victims are dismissed as crazy or hysterical.
I’ve seen on my Twitter feed how some fans are worried about the quality of this movie as part of the Halloween franchise. It picks up very respectfully from the original.
The first thing I noticed was the presence of Dr. Loomis, Donald Pleasence. He isn’t brought back with CGI, thank god. You see him in courtroom sketches and hear his voice in a way that is very respectful to someone who was such a huge presence in the series.
The Halloween theme returns but the music is like variations on a theme, without being just a replay of the original music.
There are callbacks to the original that I appreciated. Michael has a damaged eye, left over from the original. P.J. Soles plays a teacher. There are shots that are composed in a way that’s similar to the original but also different and that’s all I can say without spoiling the delight, you’ll know them when you see them. Certain lines reflect past dialogue. There’s one really spectacular tracking shot early in Michael’s killing spree that’s incredibly beautiful and reminiscent of how revolutionary the original Michael Myers POV shots were. There’s a true sense of menace. According to David Gordon Green, it took eleven takes to perfect and the craftsmanship shows. It’s the kind of shot you reference when you’re arguing with someone who says horror isn’t art.
The movie is set in the present but there’s a vaguely seventies feel to the set decoration and costuming. Not overwhelming but enough to remind the viewer that the original was set in the late seventies.
I think it differs from the original because it’s more gory. Michael finds his knife after escaping but he’s willing to kill people with hammers or just bash their heads in with his bare hands. There’s something more intimate about bashing someone’s head in or choking them to death with your own two hands as opposed to using a weapon. It makes the violence more intimate and scary. There’s also more of a sense of humor in this one than the original. I appreciate a horror movie that tempers horror with humor since real life is so often scary and funny at the same time. In the end, I strongly recommend this movie.
Jamie Lee Curtis was amazing at the talkback. Here’s my very blurry far-away picture that I took.
I’ve been to a lot of talkbacks with authors and actors and you can tell when someone is just going through the motions. She was spontaneous, funny, tough, and vulnerable at the same time. It was a treat hearing her talk about why she decided to work on the original Halloween–because Laurie was on every page of the script and the t.v. shows she was working on at the time were lucky to have a single line for a woman per episode. She also spoke appreciatively about John Carpenter writing a role in The Fog for her. What she’d have people take away from the character of Laurie Strode is never give up. That’s what I have always taken from her. There weren’t a lot of widely known women superheroes when I was growing up so Final Girls are a big deal for me.