‘Halloween’ 2018: A Horror Film For The #TimesUp Era

What might be possible if all women, and their allies of other genders, stood together? What would violent, penetrative, power-mad men do then?

In the first act of David Gordon Green’s Halloween, Allyson (Andi Matichak)—granddaughter of John Carpenter’s original film’s Final Girl, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)—asks why Laurie can’t just move past her trauma. The events of the original film, after all, took place 40 years ago. Isn’t it time Laurie, like, just, you know, got over it already?

In another scene, Allyson’s friend Dave asks a similar question, opining that, in today’s increasingly violent and detached era, murdering five people in one night and stalking, attacking, and nearly killing another really aren’t such big deals. Why all the fuss?

Whether Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley intended it or not, it is difficult not to connect such ideas to the conversations America is having about Donald Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, and other admitted and/or accused sexual predators. Grabbing women by the pussy? Just locker room talk. Walking into beauty-pageant dressing rooms unannounced, trying to kiss married women, sleeping with porn stars while married? Just boys being boys. Forcing a woman into a room, holding her down, ignoring her “no,” and then undermining the validity of her assault, her complicated reactions, her silence, her voice, her pain? Just another day in America.

As critics have long discussed, the Final Girl is a fixture of the slasher-movie genre who survives because she is virginal, avoids drugs and alcohol, and manages to fight off the (usually) male antagonist. Some of these Final Girls escape (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and some defend themselves better than any man does (Nightmare on Elm Street), and others stay alive just long enough for a man to swoop in and save them, as Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis does for Laurie. Though critics have made much of the slasher genre’s underlying conservatism, given how it punishes characters, particularly women, for sexual activity and drug use, the technique of using a female character as lone survivor of a male rampage can, and has been, read as an often-ridiculed genre’s subversive feminist telos.

In short, film and cultural critics have viewed slasher movies as much more than gory escapism.

Whether you buy any of those fancy ideas is, of course, up to you. What seems different about Green’s Halloween—a movie that, you may have heard, ignores every Halloween movie except the first one, including all others featuring Laurie Strode—is that there is no Final Girl, no run down a dawn highway with the killer still in pursuit, no shocking “last scare” in which the male antagonist just won’t go away. Though Michael Myers rampages through Haddonfield, Illinois, all over again; though he scares children and beats mothers to death and breaks into homes before plunging his knife into female bodies; though he kills men who stand between him and his female prey, this movie eschews many of the familiar slasher beats even as it asks important questions: Why do men treat women’s bodies like sexualized personal property, and why don’t we credit women’s ways of handling their (usually male-induced) trauma?

In this Halloween universe, the events of 1978 traumatized Laurie Strode so much that she has spent 40 years preparing for Michael’s inevitable return. She knows that he, like so many abusers and rapists and assaulters, will come back to finish what he started. After so much time passes, no one listens to her. “Has Laurie Strode lost her marbles?” asks one male character, even though he knows exactly what Myers did.

Why can’t women just move on?

Strode’s own daughter Karen (Judy Greer), resentful of being raised John-Connor-in-Terminator 2 style in a survivalist environment, keeps Laurie at a safe distance, lest she catch the crazy. Having never been assaulted herself, she cannot understand her mother’s inability to let her trauma go. In Karen’s world, men are safe, and abusers are locked away, never to bother us again. Of course, she learns these truths aren’t true.

Though Karen’s marriage seems functional and more or less healthy, Allyson must contend with two drunken, groping dudebros on Halloween night—her would-be boyfriend, who kisses another girl and then gaslights Allyson, holds her forcibly in a room, and steals her phone, an important plot point that also touches on women’s bodies as public space; and a male friend who drunkenly tries to kiss her approximately 37 seconds after she is humiliated and borderline abused.

With friends like these, who needs Michael Myers?

Yet there has also always been a sexual element to Myers’s killings. More than Leatherface’s chainsaw or Jason Voorhees’s machete or Freddy Krueger’s finger-knives, Michael’s weapon of choice, the butcher knife, is an instrument of linear penetration. Though he might slash your throat, he prefers to jam the blade deep into you—so deep he might pin you to a wall. Given his initial victims, including his sister Judith, were nude and/or sexualized, his use of violent penetration as murderous technique could be read as slasher code for rape.

In Green’s Halloween, though, women are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. The male characters are mostly useless in stopping Michael, or doing pretty much anything else. But once Laurie is proven right, once Michael publicly shows himself to be exactly what she always said he was, three generations of Strode women come together and say, “Time’s up.” That phrasing is actually used in the film, which, I suggest, is not accidental. If Michael has waited 40 years for another shot at Laurie, she has spent 40 years using her trauma as fuel for survival. If, as her family suggests, she has let Michael’s violence define her existence, that sacrifice allows for greater possibilities in her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives. When these three women stand together and support each other, the unstoppable male force that is Michael Myers finds himself in deeper waters than he anticipates.

What might be possible if all women, and their allies of other genders, stood together? What would violent, penetrative, power-mad men do then?

In that sense, the film might serve as a metaphorical warning to those who continue to abuse and silence women, to deny the validity of their trauma, to blame victims. Given what the trailers have shown, it is not a spoiler to say that Laurie has amassed a personal arsenal and turned her house into a fortress. When the world dismisses her, she meets the world on its own violent terms. And for a “crazy lady who should just get over it,” she proves herself quite effective in matching Michael’s vicious tenacity.

Were I a man in a high political position, one who has constantly and recently shown himself to be purely invested in patriarchy and power at the expense of women’s lived experiences and rights to be fully human, I might watch David Gordon Green’s Halloween and wonder when, and how, women and their allies will come for me. It might well be that the cage such men have been constructing for women was really a trap all along.

Brett Riley is the Pushcart-nominated author of The Subtle Dance of Impulse and Light (Ink Brush Press) and the feature-length screenplay Candy’s First Kiss, which won or placed in five contests. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as Solstice, Folio, The Wisconsin Review, Red Rock Review, The Evansville Review, and many others. Email him at officialbrettriley@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @brettwrites.

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