Fans have been cheering for the Halloween heroine Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, since the 1978 movie that started it all. Curtis revealed during the Q&A portion of the premiere Saturday night that the franchise creator John Carpenter (who is a producer on the current installment) was tasked with creating a scary “babysitter slasher film” on a very low budget years ago. Out of it came a Scream Queen in Curtis and a badass fan favorite of a cult character in Strode.
Although Curtis has donned the Strode character five times, including the latest film, she has never really delved into anything more than Strode’s efforts to survive yet another attack by Michael Myers. Myers in the latest Halloween is played by various characters over the years and by Nick Castle — screenwriter (Escape from New York, August Rush) and director (Dennis the Menace, The Last Starfighter) who was one of the actors who portrayed Michael Myers in 1978. In this latest installment, that changes. As the story begins to play out onscreen, it quickly becomes obvious that this story was not about Myers and Strode — it was a much more important look at how surviving isn’t living, and trauma can poison a family for several generations.
Yes, this horror story has a message. Don’t worry. It will still scare you sufficiently.
The opening scene sets up to introduce us to the source of the Strode family trauma — Michael Myers. He is inside a concrete and steel fortress, shackled to a cinder block, and docile. In this state and in this place, he is harmless. However, when a team of two podcasters looking for a story disrupts Myers with the actual mask he used when he murdered all those people 40 years ago, the evil is awakened. The awakening is so palpable that the other inmates can feel it and react. The bomb is activated. Now it’s just a matter of time when it explodes.
While Myers is stewing, the podcasters go see Strode, who lives in the middle of the woods, surrounded by barriers. Her house is booby-trapped and weapons are everywhere. It’s obvious that, although Myers has been deep inside a mental health prison, Strode still does not feel she is safe from him. We find out a lot about Strode and her life between 1978 and 2018. In this iteration of the movie, the films in between the first and the current versions do not exist. In their place is 40 years of living, unsuccessfully with trauma and that had permanently damaged the Strodes for three generations.
The podcasters dig up more background. They are, essentially, tools for director David Gordon Green (Joe, All the Real Girls) to hand the audience the backstory needed to not only dive into Halloween without researching the canon. The backstory establishes the most important information in the film. That survivors or violent trauma do not get a Hollywood, happy, tidy ending. Strode has suffered some major losses in her life, and carries around this tremendous guilt, sadness, and fear that are just under her surface. As seen later in the film, you don’t have to scratch that surface very deep to release the chaotic messiness that Strode has become.
This is what survivors of violent trauma look and act, and it’s not pretty, or badass.
Curtis gives a bold but raw portrayal of a woman living with untreated PTSD and the knowledge that her perpetrator is still alive. At one point, Strode completely breaks down into tears and apologies after an innocent and common infraction. Seeing our heroine in this state at that point is nearly as scary as Myers himself. But, this is the reality. Survivors are not always strong. They are also not always easily understood.
The tale of the effect trauma has on multiple generations also pays an homage to horror films of the 1970s and 80s in several tongue-in-cheek depictions of the campy, yet classic horror faux pas. Getting out of the car when the adult says not to, walking up to the body of a killer to see if he is dead, and leaving doors open that killers like Myers easily walk through are a few examples. They make for light moments that remind audiences that Curtis, Halloween, and Myers have been in the game long enough to have to watch it change before their eyes. It also gives everyone some good laughter releases.
Another important note is the role of memory in the film. There are several references to how obsolete the old way is, yet it is the old ways that everyone turns to when the devil himself is let loose in the form of Michael Myers. Kids are lax about their own safety and the parents are no better. No one remembers the murders or the toll it took on the community, many of them have doubts that the “story” even occurred as it has been told for 40 years. The authorities who remember Myers are dead and replaced by young blood in Omar Dorsey (The Blindside and Django Unchained) who plays Sheriff Barker. Hawkins is reprised by Will Patton, but he’s been neutered. Memory is key to helping the town this time around, but it’s also something that people don’t have when it comes to Myers.
In these ways, Green and Curtis bring fans a scary horror film that also has a message about the reality of trauma, survival, and memory. It’s great to see Curtis back at it again, and newcomers Judy Greer and Andi Matichak give grand performances as the next generations of Strode women. They are all touched by Laurie’s trauma in some way and forever changed by it. However, it is when they band together to attack that trauma head-on that the Strode women have a prayer of carving out a happy existence.
Halloween is in theaters October 19, 2018 everywhere.
For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following:
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Jonita Davis is a writer, mother, a certified nerd, and writer of Black Girl Nerds. Davis is a critic and journalist. She has been writing for 13 years about the way pop culture and politics affect our lives as parents, women, black women, nerds, and people of this planet.