Halloween (2018) and the Evolution of the Final Girl Part 1
The soft reboot of Halloween, directed by David Gordon Green, is a film very much in conversation with John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. There are several scenes, especially in the second half, that mirror shots from the first film while also swapping places between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the predator and the prey. By now, it’s unlikely that any director or screenwriter would make a slasher film without an awareness of the Final Girl tropes, a term first coined by Carol J. Clover. For the most part, Halloween 2018 flips and challenges those tropes, turning the Final Girl into the predator instead of the prey. In doing so, it explores the trauma Strode has endured after her encounter with Michael 40 years earlier, and though it is not the first film to feature this type of story, it does make the reboot feel relevant and refreshing after a string of subpar sequels throughout the years.
Final Girl an Origin Story
Clover’s definition of the Final Girl was first presented in her seminal work Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. She studied slasher films from the 1970s and 1980s and came to a few conclusions. Sexual transgressors of both genders are punished and killed. Think of Lynda (P.J. Soles) in the original Halloween, who is killed soon after having sex with her boyfriend, Bob (John Michael Graham). Any of the sex-crazed teens in the Friday the 13th series serve as another example. Clover adds that the male killers, including Michael Myers, have an oedipal psychosis, thus a majority of their victims are female. She notes that Michael’s sexual anger towards his sister, Judith, drives him to kill her and a string of sister surrogates. Furthermore, the camera lingers on the deaths of the female victims much longer than that of the males.
The Final Girl, Clover argues, stares death in the face, and she is either rescued or kills the slasher herself. What made a film like Halloween especially unique was the way it disrupted traditional narrative structure. In analyzing structure and point of view, Clover references Laura Mulvey’s definition of the male gaze and cinematic narrative structure, specifically that the male drives the story’s action and the point of view is associated with him. Films like Halloween were different because the spectator identified with the Final Girl and eventually saw everything through her point of view. She was also the most developed psychologically. To underscore this point, Clover analyzes the closet scene in Halloween. She writes,
As the killer slashes and stabs the closet door—we see this from her inside perspective—she bends a hanger into a weapon, and, when he breaks the door down, stabs him in the eye. Given the drift in just the four years between Texas Chain Saw and Halloween –from passive to active defense—it is no surprise that the films following Halloween present Final Girls who not only fight back but do so with ferocity and even kill the killer on their own, without help from the outside (37).
Lastly, Clover theorizes that the Final Girls adapt masculine characteristics to defeat the killer and to fulfill a traditional Western narrative of the hero. The Final Girl is boyish, and she has a general competence with practical matters. She seizes the killer’s phallic weapon, such as Michael’s kitchen knife, to defeat him. Of this narrative trope, Clover writes,
It is no surprise, in light of these developments, that the Final Girl should show signs of boyishness. Her symbolic phallicization, in the last scenes, may or may not proceed at root from the horror of lack on the part of the audience and maker. But it certainly proceeds from the need to bring her in line with epic laws of Western narrative tradition—the very unanimity of which bears witness to the historical importance, in popular culture, of the literal representation of heroism in male form—and it proceeds no less from the need to render the relocated gaze intelligible to an audience conditioned by the dominant cinematic apparatus (60-61).
Final Girl 2.0
Halloween 2018 stands apart from its predecessor and other slasher films from that period because unlike its predecessors, our association does not eventually shift to the Final Girl. Unlike the original Halloween, which opens with a young Michael Myers’ gaze, about to murder his sister, the latest film is essentially Laurie’s story from the outset. The opening scene focuses on Michael at the state prison, unmasked and shackled in a prison yard, but it is Laurie who carries the film. She is immediately depicted as the hunter and predator, and in some of the first scenes, we see her wooded house, complete with a hideout shelter, cameras, and dozens of guns.
Even through her dialogue, Laurie makes clear that she will hunt and stalk him this time, saying at one point, “He is a killer, but he will be killed tonight.” This idea is reinforced when we see Laurie firing rounds of ammo outside of her home, shooting mannequins in the head. She is armed and ready to confront Myers.
In that regard, and unlike earlier slasher films, there is no symbolic phallicization that needs to occur later in the film. Laurie is in possession of a stockpile of traditionally masculine weapons before Myers ever touches a knife after he crashes a transport bus and escapes to Haddonfield.
The reversal of the predator/prey dichotomy is underscored even more by the scenes that Green and writer Danny McBride chose to mirror from the original film. When Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak) is in class, Laurie waits outside of the school, and Allyson meets her gaze, watching her. In the original film, when Laurie is in the classroom, Michael stands outside, stalking her before suddenly vanishing. The roles here are reversed. It is also likely that if the franchise moves forward (and we know it will given the announcement last week at ComicCon), Allyson will take on the role of Final Girl from Laurie, especially if Jamie Lee Curtis does not want to return for several more sequels.
Near the conclusion of the film, Laurie hunts Michael through her house, and she searches for him in closets very similar to the closet where he tormented her in the original film before she stabbed him with a hanger. In the new film, Laurie is the one stalking him, not the other way around. Lastly, when Michael pushes Laurie off a balcony, nearly killing her, the scene echoes the ending of the original film. When he looks down at her, she is gone, determined to get back up and kill him.
It is no coincidence then that mirrors are a reoccurring symbol in the film. Most importantly, when Laurie first sees Michael after his escape, it is while she stands outside of a house in Haddonfield and catches a glimpse of him through a bedroom window. His face is reflected in a mirror. The mirror motif returns throughout several scenes and highlights the change of roles and the similarities between Michael and Laurie, how they were both predator and prey between both films….
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his fiancé, or curling up on the couch and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.