Warning: SPOILERS! Don’t read this until after you’ve seen the movie.
The new Halloween sequel is a hit. Audiences seem to be hungry for it. In the sold-out screening I attended on Saturday, women outnumbered men by about 2 to 1. It’s well-made, not as elegantly directed as John Carpenter’s 1978 original, but no sequel could be. It is, however, extremely knowing in its themes and metaphors. Jamie Lee Curtis has been a passionate advocate for the movie and locating its place in the era of #Metoo.
The most popular horror movies are always about more than just their plots. They always have themes and metaphors, subtexts about what’s going on during the time they were made. Sometimes it’s entirely unconscious. Conscious or not, they tend to catch the mood of the times and resonates with society’s anxieties. My friend Adam Simon made a documentary in 2000 called The American Nightmare, which charted how the key horror movies of the late 60s, 70s and 80s were all expressions of anxieties wrought by the Vietnam War, the Cold War, nuclear weapons, civil unrest and the bad economy. Horror movies often provide a social x-ray of the times. And Halloween is the latest in that line.
Where the original 1979 Halloween was about the post-Vietnam mood of uncertainty where the home, the neighbourhood is no longer safe, the 2018 Halloween feels very much about the current mood of apocalyptic uncertainty, that nowhere is safe, that violence and horror could hit America at anytime. One dominant theme throughout the first half hour of the movie is complacency and denial. The people in the town think they’re safe from Michael Myers. The kids, born after 9/11, who never grew up with any real horror think nothing horrible come ever happen to them. Only Laurie Strode knows he could come back, that doom could come back, but no one believes her. And when Michael Myers returns and strikes, it’s too late.
Laurie Strode’s PTSD and desperation to be believed locates her and the movie in the #Metoo era where many women feel they’re struggling to be heard and believed. And she turns out to be right. The movie doubles down on its feminist subtext: in this world, men are corrupt, selfish, inept or complacent. Laurie’s son-ln-law is an affable blowhard. Teen boys are jerks or goofballs. Authority figures and institutions like the mayor or police are ill-equipped to deal with a catastrophe like Michael Myers when he hits town. The lone sheriff who has the right idea – that Michael Myers has to be killed and destroyed – is betrayed. The doctor, another authority figure, turns out to be obsessed and seduced by evil, convinced he can understand Michael Myers, even preserve him as a fetish. The patriarchy is a crumbling system in this movie.
In the end, Michael Myers is fascism. He is indiscriminating destruction. Pure hatred and nihilism. He has malice that a hurricane or natural disaster does not have. He is fascistic terror, might makes right, preying on the weak and vulnerable. The ultimate bully as murderer. And that he stalks the one woman who got away from him forty years ago makes him a misogynist monster.
Laurie Strode is a feminist doomsday prepper and Doom is Michael Myers. She’s the only one who knows he’s coming back. She’s the only one who knows the threat never really goes away, it’s always waiting to come back when everyone has become too comfortable and doesn’t think it could happen again. Like with Fascism. When it comes back, everyone is shocked when they shouldn’t have been. They should have been prepared but they weren’t, except for the small number of people who are and have been warning everyone all along. The lack of sympathy her own daughter has for her PTSD is also a sign of the times. It’s something that many women and every veteran can relate to.
And when the shit hits the fan, we’re off to the races. The final act of the movie is the most subversive. It’s inverts Little Miss Riding Hood. Instead of the Big Bad Wolf laying a trap at grandma’s house, it’s grandma, mom and granddaughter who lay a trap for him in the house. Laurie’s daughter fakes female panic and helplessness to lure Michael Myers into the basement and shoot him. Laurie’s granddaughter seizes the knife, his murder weapon and a phallic symbol, his male symbol of power, and stabs him with it. The symbolism here is obvious.
The message of this movie is that women are on their own. They can only band together to save each other and save the world. The final shot of the movie is three generations of Final Girls.