‘Halloween’ (2018) and The Shape of Trauma

Universal Pictures

Laurie Strode was just placing a key under the mat of a home for sale. A favor to her realtor father. If anything, potential buyers could’ve crossed paths with Michael at the derelict Myer home, or another teenager on the way to school. It had to be Laurie. She exits the porch and goes about her routine like any other morning on any other Halloween. It’s the last we’ll see of that Laurie, innocent and precocious; buried in her books, singing in her lonesome, content. When she sees Michael Myers staring at her across the street from her classroom, her life is never the same.

40 years later, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has spent a lifetime looking over her shoulder. When we’re reintroduced to her in 2018, it takes some reconciling. After all, she’s the famed final girl; she survived Michael Myers. She could’ve gone and done anything after that, or left Haddonfield for good.

Instead, she stayed. She lives in a prison of her own choosing. If before Laurie looked like an open door and talked like an open book, here she’s a brick wall. You have to get past an intercom and a chain-link fence to get to Laurie, and then you have to contend with Laurie who’s traumatized after the ordeal.

She’s her own harrowing ghost story. Long hair like before, though greyed and withered with a stone-hard face. She’s the answer to “what happens to the final girl 40 years later?” Laurie is tragically frozen in time. Everything in Haddonfield has changed since then. Dr. Loomis has passed, Michael Myers has been locked away, and Haddonfield has moved on. Kids may still talk of a boogeyman, but there are worse things out there than a guy in a mask who killed some teenagers.

For Laurie, the worst has happened, and it’s doomed to happen again. She takes up arms, puts up walls, and has built her home like a doomsday bunker. She’s not a doomsday preparer; she’s a Michael Myers preparer. To her, every house is haunted by Michael Myers. No place is safe so long as he’s still alive. Because he’s not a man. He’s pure evil, and the fear of evil can take on many shapes. She’s imagined every scenario in which Michael Myers will come after her again and makes damn sure she’s not the victim next time. He caught her by surprise 40 years ago. Never again.

A former student of the National Honor Society and a bookworm who once fretted over her chemistry book, Laurie has ditched all of that and transformed into a Western gunslinger. Laurie packs a revolver everywhere she goes. It had to be a revolver. In the final showdown, Laurie secures her home shouldering a Winchester rifle like the town sheriff. It’s not the Wild West; Haddonfield is Midwest, though Laurie has become just as hardened, cynical, and stubborn as a Western antihero. Michael Myers, then, is the big bad riding into town and stirring things up.

Her endless prepping has come at a tremendous cost. There’s a ghost of who Laurie could’ve been had Michael Myers never happened and it exists in Karen (Judy Greer), Laurie’s estranged daughter. Karen is everything that 1978 Laurie could’ve turned out to be as a mom, once the most reliable babysitter in Haddonfield. Karen believes the world isn’t an evil place but is full of “love and understanding.” She’s the alternate-timeline Laurie.

Allyson (Andi Matichak), Laurie’s granddaughter, is Laurie reincarnated, which means she’s doomed to experience exactly what her grandmother went through. The cruel twist is that Laurie did to her family what Michael did to her: she convinced them that the boogeyman was real. Karen’s childhood was spent in mad preparation for Michael Myers, trading dolls for weapons and fight training at 8-years-old. Karen tells Allyson of the ordeal like a debunked ghost story. There is no boogeyman, just a mom who put a gun in her hands.

Outside Allyson’s classroom, Laurie occupies a similar space as Michael once did. Laurie, too, breaks into Karen’s home, scaring her to teach yet another lesson in preparedness. This is it, she tells them. Michael Myers has escaped and they’re all in danger. But Karen doesn’t see Michael Myers, just a crazy mother who broke into their house telling the same old ghost story. “You said you were gonna try to put the past behind you…” Karen says at a family dinner that falls apart. Laurie replies, “I can’t.” What she means is not yet.

Universal Pictures

For the Strode family, trauma has an anniversary. It is its own occasion to go psycho and paranoid – on Halloween when everybody dresses up, passes out candy, and is entitled to one good scare. Laurie’s trauma is as residual as the yearly date on the calendar.

The tragic thing that Laurie forgot or perhaps never knew was that when Michael Myers stalked her and her friends, it wasn’t personal. How could it have been? Michael Myers didn’t know Laurie Strode in 1978 until that Halloween day. It could have been anyone. She’s the one who got away, so she believes Michael Myers came after her. And she believes he’ll never stop coming: “He’s waited for me, and I’ve waited for him.” Laurie’s state is so heightened that she doesn’t know the difference or is past the point of caring. It’s personal to her. Michael Myers chose her that night. She chooses Michael for the rest of her life.

For Michael Myers, it was just the opposite – impartial and inconsequential. When he escapes the prisoner transport bus in 2018, he doesn’t immediately go after Laurie. He picks up right where his 1978 streak ended, preying on those alone and vulnerable.

This is true of the true crime podcasters who visited Michael at the mental institution. Michael doesn’t have omniscient knowledge of where they were going. He was visiting his sister’s grave where the podcasters happened to be. It’s the same story with the spree that follows. He doesn’t stalk Allyson on her way home from the school dance because she’s Laurie Strode’s granddaughter. He doesn’t know who Allyson is at that point. He was already killing people in the neighborhood, and Allyson just so happened to cross paths in the same yard.

Allyson experiences firsthand the fear of The Shape the same way Laurie did, screaming for her life across a painfully quiet suburbia — fate, in all of its cruelty and symmetry, coming home. A third generation Laurie Strode on the same night in the same town 40 years later. The shape of evil may walk in the form of Michael Myers, but the shape of trauma is a perfect circle, always coming around and starting all over again.

Laurie tries to protect her family, but this puts them in harm’s way. Michael Myers doesn’t know Laurie has a family, so they could’ve been safe by all means. There’s no way he knows where Laurie lives presently. But Dr. Sartain does, Michael’s psychologist, and he’s the reason why Laurie and Michael clash in the final act; Dr. Sartain brings Michael to Laurie’s front door. Obsession – on the doctor’s part and the true crime podcasters – sets the stage. It was Laurie’s obsession, too, that walled herself in a prison of her own making, that put a gun in her daughter’s hands, in grave anticipation for one night out of the year. The Strode family reunion isn’t one of celebration, but of survival.

Michael Myers comes after Laurie Strode once again and this time it’s by her rules, in her fortress Gerry-rigged for this confrontation. A complete role reversal. It’s Laurie who suddenly disappears from view like a mysterious creature of the night. It’s Laurie who lurks in the shadows — who isn’t alone this time.

Michael’s fatal flaw is that he’s stuck in the same cycle of terror. He’s full of tropes himself as a hunter, setting up traps and striking when he thinks he has the upper hand. When he comes after Karen, it’s a different story than the one that played out for her mother all those years ago. She’s prepared. She makes him believe he’s won, that his shape has eclipsed their ability to fight back and thus open for the kill. But they’re not the prey. Michael is.

If before, Laurie walking into the house meant she was doomed, then Michael coming into Laurie’s house means he’s trapped forever. The Strodes have each other, whereas Michael is just one man who killed his sister with a knife. The same kitchen knife that Michael used to upend Laurie’s existence is now wielded against him. “Happy Halloween, Michael,” Laurie says. Finally, after 40 years, there’s a chance that Halloween can be something else other than a stark reminder of what she survived. This time, fate converges on Michael Myers.

Dr. Loomis didn’t have it quite right. Michael Myers needs to die. He also needs to burn. Michael eviscerated Laurie’s sense of security in the home. Nowhere is safe as long as the boogeyman is alive. He could be at your front door, in the closet, or waiting in the darkest corner. Setting the entire house ablaze, then, presents Laurie with an opportunity to rebuild properly this time, the boogeyman no longer in existence to manifest in those spaces. It’s wishful thinking; the hard part has yet to begin for Laurie and her family on the road to reconciliation. But the burning of the house is damn cathartic for Laurie Strode, like a slasher horror version of a symbolic Western sunset.

Halloween Kills may have continued the story with a finale due to cap off the trilogy, but in many ways David Gordon Green’s Halloween is the perfect ending to John Carpenter’s Halloween and the character of Laurie Strode. The other sequels and reboots tried to center Laurie by tying her to Michael Myers’ mythology. Green’s Halloween does away with all of that and mythologizes Laurie as a Western hero given her poetic sendoff.

The final shot sees Laurie and her family riding off into the night, the kitchen knife in Allyson’s hand like a new trajectory to be carved out on their own terms. It’s an ending that validates, yet subverts and ultimately transcends, the final girl trope: Laurie Strode survives, and – together with her daughter and granddaughter in tow – she is not the final girl after all.

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