We might sometimes be forgiven for forgetting how fortunate we are to exist on the same timeline as Laurie Strode. It is easy to take for granted the prototype for the final girl – the greatest example of the product ever produced – until you see the myriad inferior iterations that have peppered the years. Can you remember the name of the heroine in A Nightmare on Elm Street*? Or Friday the 13th? I can’t, and those are both actually pretty solid entries into the category. But I always remember Laurie Strode. Because she was strong; she fought back. When Michael Myers came for her, she armed herself, and she protected the crap out of the kids she was babysitting. So while it is possible to overstate the significance of the new Halloween film, I don’t think I am, because it returned Laurie Strode to us, as something that is seldom shown in horror movies: the end product of the terror she endured.
Because while we watch the original Halloween or any other slasher movie, for that matter, it often benefits us – for the sake of how fun a good jump scare can be, or how weirdly satisfying shit getting gnarly is – to not consider that the characters being massacred or those surviving are supposed to be human and not just killer fodder. Halloween (2018) introduces us to a Laurie Strode who, having survived an evening with Michael Myers, is traumatized. She has suffered, and one truly hideous and horrible night has defined the trajectory of her adult life. LIKE IT WOULD. Because seriously… that isn’t the kind of shit you just get over. But Laurie is a survivor, and we know that from the first film. So instead of cowering, she prepares. She lies in wait for the bad thing to happen. She welcomes it.
Does a lot happen in the new movie? Yes. Yes it does. Michael escapes, as we knew he must. This is a Halloween movie, after all, and after the under-appreciated bonkers genius of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (yes, I am one of the maybe 10 people who loves that movie) the franchise can never stray far from Michael’s beaten up Shatner mask. The thing is, most Halloween movies exist as a reason to watch Michael Myers kill the crap out of a bunch of people, mostly teens, preferably horny. The bar is low. So by mere consideration of that bare minimum, Halloween is so much better than it needs to be. Michael’s storyline – without betraying any spoilers, because I know people get very honked off about those – is basically thus: some (very clearly “Serial” inspired) podcasters are trying to make a “What made Michael Myers into Michael Myers?” podcast, that provides exposition in a far more clever way than most narratives would bother providing. It also provides one of the most effective set pieces in horror we will see this year (don’t come at me, Luca Guada-call-my-by-your-name Suspiria people. I haven’t seen it yet, I’m going to, I’m sure the disgusting dance scene everyone talks about is very good but meet me on the other end of the parenthesis and let’s have a chat) a steady, sturdy build of dread that needs not an ounce of bloodshed, as the podcasters hold Michael’s retrieved, damaged mask out to him, chained to a prison yard that looks like a chessboard. Michael remains unmoved, even as the people and animals around him grow frantic and manic. Yes, it was shown in the previews. No, that does not lessen its impact. It’s a fucking great tiny movie in itself. But anyway. Michael is being transferred, because no one ever learns a lesson about letting sleeping Myerses lie, causes a crash, escapes, and cuts bloody carnage back to Haddonfield and the one that got away.
Meanwhile, Laurie has armed herself to the teeth, trained tirelessly and alienated the people she loves, all in anticipation of Michael’s return. My sister-in-law described the Halloween movies as being very Tom and Jerry… and while she meant it in a pejorative sense, I agree, but favorably. (Nota bene, a lot of the Halloween movies are stone cold garbage – I am just referring to the two titular ones – the first and the last). Not to get exceedingly heady about the notion of cat chases mouse, but there is a reason it is a well and a theme returned to so often. And it is because there is something fascinating about an arch-nemesis. Batman is at his most interesting when he is interacting with the Joker; when he is up against a foe he has history with, one who defines his identity. Halloween is almost a break-up story: how do you move on when the person who defined you is taken away? Even if that definition was based on a horrible, scarring trauma, for Laurie, and for Michael, the irritation of refusing to die. They are forever drawn into each other’s orbit: could one exist without the other? While Halloween does not belabor the more contemplative themes, they are undeniably there. And too, the way that our traumas reverberate through subsequent generations, as demonstrated through Judy Greer’s classically normal daughter Karen Strode, who has built her entire life around being NOT her mom. Again, a heady motif to dive into in one of the most celebrated horror franchises of all time.
There are, of course, plenty of surface delights to be had as well. Purists will recognize loving homages heavily featured throughout. Additionally, praise to the screenwriters for taking the time to actually develop the majority of the victims into likable, real feeling people instead of just machete fodder.
This is not A Quiet Place or Hereditary. There will be no Oscar buzz, or talk about how it subverts the horror paradigm. There frankly won’t even be enough said about the quietly revolutionary decision to have the film anchored by a woman over the age of 60, in an action role. To take nothing away from the Insidious series – I have a lot of respect for that bonkers franchise, and I love that the pivotal character becomes an older, intelligent woman. But she is thoughtful and quiet. She is not straight up kicking asses, and in many ways, she is relegated to a very motherly, nurturing role. As women over a certain age often are in movies. But Laurie, while a mother, is not at all defined by that. She is the bad ass that Sylvester Stallone and his merry band of undesirables or unwanteds or un-somethings, I can’t remember what his elderly men action movies are called, get to be. She is fearsome. And we are lucky to have her.