John Carpenter’s Halloween, the story of a masked serial killer stalking babysitter Laurie Strode one Halloween night in 1978, was a watershed moment in American horror. Suddenly the setting for horror was no longer spooky backwoods or haunted mansions, but our own backyards, and no film until David Lynch’s Blue Velvet in 1986 would so well capture the unnerving potential of a suburban setting. The scariest moment in Halloween isn’t any of the slayings or jump scares, but when Laurie goes banging on a neighbour’s door for help and the neighbour closes their blinds.
Although the original film was fairly apolitical, with subtext there for those looking for it, David Gordon Green’s sequel-slash-soft-reboot (a soft-sea-boot?) plainly sets out to tackle contemporary issues of media obsession with serial killers, political blindness and apathy, male sexual entitlement, trauma and above all, the feminist movement pushing back against historical acts of anti-female violence.
The story is simple, Terminator 2 with Michael Myers; Michael breaks out again, comes back to Haddonfield but this time Laurie is badass and she’s ready for him. But it’s not just a gimmick either. Years have passed and Laurie is estranged from her daughter and granddaughter, having turned her home into a survivalist compound, literally putting up walls between herself and the outside world. She badly needs the catharsis denied her at the end of the first film, she needs to confront Michael and put what he did to her and her friends behind her, and the ties to real world heroines like Christine Blasey Ford stepping forward to bring their abusers to account are easily drawn. The movie properly goes into the effect that her experiences in the first film have had on her and her family. She really feels like a woman who has survived a trauma and it’s left its mark on her for good and for bad. You understand her desire to keep her granddaughter safe but also her daughter’s desire to blot out Michael’s influence and move on with their lives. It’s a similar dilemma to that represented in Paul Greengrass’s superb 22 July, where do we draw the line between fighting the dangers of the world and ignoring them just in order to live? How much self-care do we allow ourselves before we are just leaving ourselves blind to real dangers?
The film makes a few too many call-backs to the original and other sequels and there are a couple of fourth wall jokes that I could have done without, but for the most part the humour is well handled too, it builds the characters and is actually funny. Unlike in the original, the supporting cast, even the throwaway victims, the usual line-up of exploitative journalists, oafish cops, comic relieves and horny teenagers, feel real and likeable. They reminded me of people I know, and behaved like real people, you really care about them and you feel bad when they die. I never really hated Myers in the first one, here I did because I liked the people he was hurting and wanted to see someone stop him.
The film goes out of its way to address all the potential problems of reviving this franchise. There are characters here almost taking a sick pleasure in orchestrating this match up, doctors and journalists are, like the filmmakers and the audience, nudging Michael and Laurie into a fateful confrontation. Are we going to just feed the cultural obsession with terrible men or are we going to change the narrative and build up new icons? I believe that the filmmakers found a way through that strikes the right path, they address the issue without it feeling like a lecture, there’s plenty of gore and suspense while letting these questions grow naturally out of the situation and the climax where the Strode girls take the fight to Michael is hugely entertaining in all the ways it should be.