“I’ve been praying for the day he’s released.”
These words are said by Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) after stumbling across the latest crime scene committed by Michael Myers. In the newest incarnation of Halloween the film gestures toward a narrative about trauma and the aftermath of violence, but does so with a distinctly simplistic, offensive and male idea of survival. The above phrase stuck out to me while watching the movie like a sore thumb and a Rosetta stone of sorts on this movie’s understanding of traumatic events. To put it in the most basic way: I was offended at the notion that this is what post-traumatic stress disorder looks like in women. The last thing a trauma victim would want is the release of their monster into the world to do damage to more people, but this doesn’t seem to bother Laurie. Probably because those in charge have no idea what trauma actually feels like.
I was in a Costco about a year ago with my in-laws stocking up on groceries for the winter season. It was a regular day, and despite the store giving me anxiety due to the sheer amount of people aisle to aisle and the occasional unwanted brushing up against other customers I was mentally holding it together. Going down the freezer aisles, however, was a disaster, because I saw someone who looked eerily similar to my father, and I couldn’t breathe. I hyperventilated and shut down. I stood there, disassociating, until he turned around and I realized it wasn’t actually my father, but I still had to be taken into the food court to calm down. I have no concept of whether or not I made a scene or was noticed, but it felt like a black hole was pouring out of me and pulling me inward. I was disappearing. I didn’t realize how badly I had shaken myself up until my fiance gave me the finer details of what happened later that evening. He was there to calm me down, but I don’t know what would have transpired if he had not been there. With post-traumatic stress disorder we do our best to move forward in day to day life. We try to make a life out of something damaged and we do our best not to dwell on things that may trigger or send us spiraling into the abyss of our own memories. This is not typically how post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized in motion pictures. In movies, it’s an avenue for revenge, but the last thing we’d ever want to do is to be put into a position where we could be hurt again. What we want is sanctuary and peace of mind. Not bloodshed.
What Halloween suggests is that the only way to get closure is to kill your abuser and ensnare your entire life around the past waiting for the perfect moment to take back what was lost. I would respect Halloween’s understanding of trauma if it were at all intellectually rigorous or honest in its intentions toward recognizing images of bodies, power and gender like in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series, but it is merely a short-cut for the same boring “strong-female lead” characterizations we’ve been seeing for the better part of twenty years now in place of women who feel like actual human beings. Laurie stalks Michael’s place of hospitalization to keep an eye on him, she stockpiles fire-arms and lives in constant panic that he’s going to come back. I’m not going to assert that everyone who experiences PTSD is the same, but to insist that this, of all things, is a stunning portrait of female trauma is absurd to me. The real strength that lies with us is the understanding that we can still live our lives. Laurie Strode doesn’t. She’s a plot-device waiting to spout a one-liner before blowing her victimizer’s head off. She’s little more than a frat boy’s idea of a badass grandmother. Jamie Lee Curtis does her best playing this character who is obviously fractured and scarred by her past, but you can only do so much with a script that cares more about the jokes that are inserted to de-escalate tension than it does the victim’s themselves, including Strode.
Even if one were to look beyond the absolutely abysmal rendering of trauma and pinpoint only director, David Gordon Green’s chops as a filmmaker you’d come across with the same tired result of Carpenter copy-cats that have run this series into the ground sequel after sequel. Rob Zombie being the lone exception. Green renders all of his slasher showdowns and kills with over-calculated consideration for the shot above the actual violence or the humanity of the characters. He can snake his camera through a maze of trick or treaters in a long tracking shot, but he can’t give anyone any depth or linger on shots long enough for us to feel the full impact of the violence. It’s the same tired slasher bullshit. The only person who comes away from this movie unscathed is John Carpenter who created a soundtrack to accompany the film, updating his score from the 1978 picture with some consideration for modern sensibilities while still leaning on his classic synthesizer horror. He’s still the master. His music is the only thing that gives this movie life, lifting the otherwise rote filmmaking out of the gutter from time to time. I’d say John Carpenter deserves better, but I’m sure he’s very happy cashing checks on movies that only further cement his legacy as someone no one can equal in a genre of filmmaking he helped create.