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Why 2018’s ‘Halloween’ is the slasher movie made for the #MeToo era

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This article contains spoilers for the original Halloween and its 2018 sequel.

The trope of the final girl — you know, the last one standing in horror movies, who either simply survives or also kills the villain that murdered all her friends — didn’t just define the slasher formula for decades. 

The archetype was more than a staple of the great classics, from Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The final girl trope was also the key to understanding the entire genre’s psychology, and how horror movies capture our social anxieties about sex and gender.

Now, with 2018’s Halloween and the return of the prototypical final girl, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode has ushered in a new kind of slasher flick for the #MeToo era.

Coined by feminist film scholar Carol J. Clover in 1992, the trope was at first narrowly defined by a very specific set of characteristics in 70s-80s slashers: The classic final girl was virginal, virtuous, and innocent, especially when compared to her sexually promiscuous friends, who inevitably die. While conventionally feminine and attractive, her final confrontation with the villain also challenged on-screen gender norms, giving her a masculine autonomy that emasculated the male villain.

Above all, the final girl phenomenon forced audiences to identify with female victims (a true rarity in those days), by sharing in her triumph over trauma. 

Though the archetype evolved, critics, scholars, and filmmakers still see the final girl as a window into horror as a culmination of our most Freudian fears. 2012′s beloved Cabin in the Woods even used the final girl as the entire basis of its plot, pointing to how the horror trope is a return to ancient ritual and sacrifice. 

Through the ritual of horror movies, we highlight some of our culture’s modern anxieties. John Carpenter’s original Halloween was somewhat unfairly maligned as a moral backlash to women’s liberation and the sexual revolution of the ’60s.

Meanwhile, 2018’s Halloween tackles our collective anxiety over the seemingly unstoppable epidemic of male predators. In the original, the responsible Laurie survives the Michael Meyers’ rampage that kills all her party-obsessed friends; in 1978, the final girl’s survival or rescue was focused on her victimization. Now, after 40 years, the final girl has grown into a woman. And 2018’s Laurie reverses what the “finality” of being the last surviving female means. 

The final girl of the #MeToo era is defined by her determination to stop male predators from ever hurting people again.

The final girl of the #MeToo era is defined by her determination to stop male predators from ever hurting people again.

Even more important: Her survival is no longer defined by her being alone in her survival.

The timeliness of the new Halloween lies in how it speaks to a real-world moment of women coming together for a reckoning. As survivors everywhere seek to end decades of victimization, Laurie finally confronts her own predator, drawing strength from the solidarity and shared experience of trauma with other women in her life.

The brilliance of Halloween‘s update to the final girl trope goes well beyond the topicality of the #MeToo movement, though.

2018’s Halloween was written before the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017. And it leans into other modern trends: Recent hits like The Babadook and Hereditary, for example, are slowly replacing the final girl trope with the “dysfunctional mother,” or mothers who are demonized after suffering a monstrous trauma.

Happy Halloween, Michael

Happy Halloween, Michael

Certainly, gun-toting Grandma Laurie fits that perfectly, as a woman who society deemed unfit to fulfill her traditional role as a mother due to the trauma of surviving Meyers. This ostracization is apparently what becomes of a final girl after she endures what Clover called a process of “masculinization.”

But ultimately, it’s not just the victims of slashers that reveal a film’s subtextual gender politics. 

Michael Meyers is coded as a very masculine evil, this symbol of what we might call “toxic masculinity” today.

The villain of Michael Meyers is coded as a very masculine evil, too — this symbol of what we might today call “toxic masculinity.” I mean, his origin story of murdering his own sister with a knife as a kid while she was having sex sounds like some serious Incel shit.

And, at the risk of sounding a bit Feminism 101, Michael Meyers can also be seen as an embodiment of patriarchy itself, especially in the most recent Halloween.

Think of what makes Meyers so terrifying. We very pointedly never see his face, the blank mask making him not an individual man (#NotAllMenAreMikeMeyers), but instead a symbol of the inhuman, all-powerful, deathless social conceit of masculine dominance. 

Meyers is never given any human motivation for why he does what he does. He does not want or desire, like a normal man. He is simply a force, punishing anything it cannot control. The horror of Mike Meyers is a lot like that of an unfeeling social system, an unstoppable entity who indiscriminately dehumanizes his victims.

Like the stoner boyfriend in the new movie points out, Michael Meyers is also a monster strangely grounded in reality, especially when compared to his more supernatural counterparts, like the dream-hopping Freddy Krueger. We call him the Boogie Man because there is something so commonplace about his MO. He could be any male predator from your favorite true-crime show.

Still unconvinced of Meyers as an embodiment of patriarchy? Look at his preferred weapon. You can’t get more phallic than a knife, this fatal form of symbolic penetration.

2018's 'Halloween' is still a terrible movie for babysitters, though.

2018’s ‘Halloween’ is still a terrible movie for babysitters, though.

So if the final girl archetype in 1978’s Halloween was in some ways a response to how patriarchy was handling women’s sexual liberation, 2018’s Halloween responds to the feminism of today.

It’s only fitting, then, that Meyers (as a symbol of patriarchy) is hell bent on silencing three generations of Strode women (Laurie, Karen, and Allyson), who band together to end his tyrannical predation. It’s even more fitting that every institution, from the police to Meyers’ doctor, prove completely inept at stopping him or helping the Strode women.

The horror of Mike Meyers is like that of an unfeeling social system, this unstoppable entity indiscriminately dehumanizing his victims.

But some have already expressed their disappointment at the subtle, post-credits scene that indicates that the three women in Halloween were unsuccessful in defeating Meyers. He could still be alive and well for a sequel.

And at first, it does feel like a slap in the face. After all Laurie’s been through — whether as the final girl or the dysfunctional mother — she still couldn’t conquer this symbol of patriarchal trauma.

But of course, that’s an apt metaphor for what it feels like right now to be waging war against social structures that uphold misogyny. 

As the hearing and appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh showed, traumatized women continue to be  put through a hell akin to slasher movies. Real-world final girls like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford continue to show strength and courage in the face of the terrors they’ve survived. And audiences couldn’t help but identify and empathize with her for that.

As we've seen with #MeToo, it's solidarity among all women that will bring down the patriarchy

As we’ve seen with #MeToo, it’s solidarity among all women that will bring down the patriarchy

Just when we think we’ve dealt the final death blow, patriarchal bullshit rises from the ashes. It waves away women’s pleas to be heard, believed, and taken seriously as they demand an end to widespread acceptance and sympathy toward male predators. 

No matter how hard survivors fight, maddeningly, the men who abuse and mistreat them continue to draw ragged breaths. But 2018’s Halloween does leave us with some hope: We final women and girls have been preparing, learning, and are now ready for a battle to the death. 

We final women and girls have been preparing, learning, and are now ready for a battle to the death.

Sure, generations of female survivors haven’t been able to end the real-world monstrosity of misogyny … yet. But we won’t stop trying. Because now, the hunted have become the hunters

Laurie’s chase through her house for Meyers in the final scenes of the new Halloween is an almost exact reversal of the first time she was a final girl. And like the new Laurie, final girls of today are no longer fearful victims turned into accidental warriors.

The battle is happening on our terms, and on our territory. We’ve used the horrifying experiences of being women at the end of patriarchy’s knife as an opportunity to learn about our enemy. We’ve turned the prison of our own trauma into the cage that will entrap our predators.

We do not necessarily continue our fight because we see an end in sight. We fight precisely because we cannot see the end. So all that’s left for us to do is fight like hell.

Because if final girls are known for one thing, it’s overcoming evil even after all hope feels lost.

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