As a whole, I am a bit ambivalent about the recent Halloween sequel. The film certainly has an interesting first and third acts; facts that I feel mask an underwhelming middle that bridges the two. Yet what exists in those two exhilarating endpoints is what causes my thoughts to linger on the film; this rumination focused on how the film communicates Laurie’s (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) trauma and the setting’s reactions to it.
When the film first introduces it’s new rendition of Jamie Lee Curtis’s debut role, any naivety that existed in her original incarnation had been extinguished in the 40 years since her assault by Michael Myers. Isolating herself from the suburban Haddonfield, Laurie has constructed a literal fortress as her dwelling. Fencing surrounds the perimeter of the property, windows are barred, doors have several layers of locks, and the kitchen is furnished with a safe room holding enough firearms to supply a militia. If Fort Knox is the most secure place in the States, this might be a close second!
Hyperbole aside, the way Laurie’s introduction visually demonstrates her emotional state very poignantly communicates her paranoia and desire for retribution. Having become painfully aware of the suburban terror embodied by Michael Myers, Laurie has deliberately isolated from Haddonfield to secure herself from repeating said experience. Yet her possession and training with firearms indicates a desire for retribution against her assaulter, as if retribution for that initial incident never came to pass. She even confesses to such a desire to officer Hawkins, saying that she wished that one day Michael would break out so that she would get to kill him.
While these feelings are presented as warranted to the audience, they nevertheless engender negative reactions from the people in Laurie’s life. Raised by a traumatized Laurie, Karen was raised harshly by an emotionally distant mother figure who was eventually deemed unfit for parenting by child services. Now an adult, Karen actively to keep her mother away from herself and her daughter in attempt to not engender the same anxieties her mother attempted to pass on to her. Allyson (Karen’s Daughter), though she tries to bring her Grandmother into the fold by inviting her to her honors enrollment dinner and comforting her during panic attacks, lacks the ability to nurse Laurie that stems from a deficit in similar experience of trauma.
Though Karen and Allyson’s naivety is inevitably broken when Michael Myers returns to his hometown of Haddonfield. Much has been said on the anxieties that Michael Myers embodies, but for the purposes of this analysis he primarily represents two:
- The fear of evil forming from within suburbia itself, given he was raised in Haddonfield and assumed to have been brought up in a normal suburban life for a white boy.
- The fear of violence towards women by men given that the victims of Michael the film places the most significance on are women (Judith Myers, Laurie and her family, etc.)
With this in mind, the state that Michael is seen in when the film introduces him is rather interesting. Captured that harrowing Halloween night in 1978, the authorities, prompted by Dr. Loomis, chose to not kill Michael and instead simply return him to the asylum for further psychological evaluation. Despite Dr. Loomis’s pleas to kill Michael later in his life, the state’s study continues under Dr. Sartain. In short, Michael is confined to his previous arrangement, his latest crimes against Laurie and others not inspiring any new conviction or sentence. Instead the state and other powers seem more interested in empathizing with Michael rather than his victims, as seen through the actions several representatives of these institutions.
Dr. Sartain is obsessed with understanding what type of satisfaction Michael gets when killing. He reminds the police and Laurie that Michael is an asset to the state that must not be harmed. The severity of this decree is made clear after the doctor stabs officer Hawkins in the neck for trying to kill Michael. The aftermath of the murder of Hawkins illuminates the Doctor’s intent to empathize with Michael. Adorning the iconic mask, the doctor drags Michael into the squad car to see him confront Laurie for the purposes of seeing “the metaphysical divide between killer and victim blur”. Sartain’s priorities are evident; he rather empathize with Michael and preserve the anxieties he represents than prevent further harm by his hands.
This desire to empathize with the shape is shared, albeit to a lesser degree, by the journalists Dana and Aaron. Concerned with uncovering any hidden truths of the 1978 killing spree, the pair interviews the mute Michael and the annoyed Laurie. With Michael, their approach is to coax him to tell his version of events via kind words and showing the stain William Shatner mask he used during the murders. Despite Michael’s silence, the interviewers are eager to simply listen to his perspective. When interviewing Laurie however, their approach becomes more confrontational. Aaron is dismissive of Laurie’s comparisons to the bogeyman and Dana brings up Laurie’s failures as a parent in an attempt to make her question the validity of her perspective. They gaslight her in other words; for the purpose of presenting a story more sympathetic to Michael.
It’s this response, trivialization, that also representative of the perspectives of minor characters in the story. Officer Hawkins partner Barker is dismissive of the threat posed by Michael Myers, saying they “can’t cancel Halloween” with a naive smile, and Allyson’s friend Dave questions the significance of a few murders given all the problems in the world.
What all these responses and reactions of state and media actors indicate is a societal complicity towards the actions of Michael Myers which serve to trivialize Laurie’s experiences. Characters of societal power tend to treat Michael as a man to empathize with, up to the point of their ultimate rejection via brutal murders at the hands of the killer, over a woman like Laurie; or act to trivialize Laurie’s experiences. This in turn fuels Laurie’s desire to seek retribution on her own accord, which isolates her from a society that is complicit in Michael’s actions and trivializes her experiences.
Towards the end of the movie, Laurie gets her chance at retribution in a confrontation with Michael, and we get Sartain’s promised blurring of the line between victim and killer. In Laurie’s fortress, the killer Michael is disempowered. Laurie is privy to his tricks and make sure to check closets and lock the rooms she visits. Meanwhile, Laurie becomes the hunter, tracking the hidden Michael to enact her revenge. In doing so she becomes akin to him in some respects. After being thrown of the balcony of her house, she disappears much like Michael did in 1978 and even appears from the shadows much like Michael. Even the rest of Laurie’s family gets in on the appropriation, with Karen feigning helplessness in order to lure Michael to face the barrel of her rifle and Allyson using Michaels iconic butcher knife to stab the killer. This blurring of the lines, this usage of Michael’s tactics by the family serves a crucial expression; for Laurie and the rest to communicate to whatever shred of actual character exists in the shape of Michael the trauma they experienced before sending him to his death. A death by pyre as Laurie and her family burn Michael along with her house, a monument of her isolation and trauma that she hopes to put behind her.
Yet, despite the cathartic finale, the film concludes with uncertainty much like the original Halloween. In the fire, Michael cannot be seen and the film cuts to credits on a sweep of the family ending on a shot of a solemn Allyson still clutching the titular killer’s knife. As the trio return to normalcy in Haddonfield, they are still returning to a society that produced a killer like Michael and was complicit in his actions. For Michael was merely a shape, a vessel for that society’s underlying violent tendencies aimed at woman. The anxieties still exist, ready to be embodied by a new shape.
It this theme, of communicating the trauma of a victim and see her confront her assaulter for retribution, that makes Halloween very poignant in the present. With ascendence of figures like Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh into positions of power despite their respective records of accusations of sexual assault, many survivors, particularly women, reasonably feel that their traumas are being trivialized and ignored by a society complicit enough to give these people favor. For such audiences, I can imagine Halloween would be a very cathartic experience, for it will provide them with chance to experience a justice they are deprived of. A chance to look their tormentor in the eye and, in the words of Laurie, wish them “Happy Halloween”.