Carrie (2013)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/17/13 17:23:24
Made on a low budget by a cult filmmaker who had yet to break through into the mainstream and a cast of relative unknowns, "Carrie," the 1976 adaptation of the debut novel by future literary icon Stephen King, was one of those rare instances in Hollywood history in which everything somehow went right. Having already proven himself to be a visual stylist of the highest order and one with a flair for the macabre to boot, director Brian De Palma showed that he could also tell a strong story that actually transcended the source material by giving it an emotional heft that the book simply didn't possess. He also lucked out by managing to cast a group of fresh faces that happened to be on the cusp of stardom--Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, William Katt, PJ Soles and John Travolta among them--to support the transcendent lead performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.Thanks to their contributions, not to mention arguably the greatest "BOO!" moment in the annals of genre filmmaking as its sucker-punch conclusion, "Carrie" became an enormous commercial and critical success that would earn Oscar nominations for both Spacek and Laurie (a feat almost unheard of for performances in a genre film), supercharged the careers of De Palma, King and the cast and go down as one of the best and most influential horror films of the past few decades. Since then, others have tried to follow in the film's bloody footsteps with variations that were oddly conceived and poorly executes, including a forgettable in-name-only 1999 sequel "The Rage: Carrie 2," a 2002 TV movie that squandered a good performance by Angela Bettis in the title role on a weird reboot that seemed like a busted pilot for a weekly series in which she would drive around the country in a van solving mysteries and stuff and, perhaps most infinitely, a 1988 stage musical adaptation that has gone down in history as one of the biggest flops in the annals of Broadway history.
Now we have a new remake of "Carrie" and if it does nothing else, it should serve to raise the stature of all the previous variations of the story. Granted, there was probably no way that this version could have come close to equalling De Palma's but this is just a embarrassment. It isn't even so much that it is a bad movie--though it is a very bad movie--as it is a supremely unnecessary and unambitious one. A contemporary version of "Carrie"--one that had the nerve to tackle such contemporary issues as bullying and school violence--could have actually been a smart and worthwhile endeavor but this film never even tries anything nearly that ambitious. Instead, what we have is an absolutely pointless retread that takes one of the most poignant, powerful and lyrical horror tales of our time and transforms it into something that feels like the longest and goriest Taylor Swift movie ever made--the kind of film that will win a week or two at the box-office because of its familiar title before slinking into well-deserved obscurity.
For those who have somehow never been exposed to it in any of its previous forms, "Carrie" tells the story of Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz), a painfully shy and withdrawn high school senior who has been the butt of countless jokes and taunts from her more popular classmates, including campus mean girl Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), for as long as anyone can remember. Her home life is scarcely better as she lives with her mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), a deranged religious fanatic who uses her own peculiar interpretation of the Bible (including passages that don't actually appear in it) as a justification for physically and abusing her child, whom she regards as little more than an unwanted reminder of a long-ago bit of sin, while also trying to shelter her from the outside world. As the film opens, all of this comes together in one horrible incident when Carrie, after another embarrassing gym class, suddenly has her first, long-delayed menstrual period and, not knowing what it is, understandably freaks out while her classmates taunt her by chanting "Plug it up" while throwing tampons at her.
Carrie's sympathetic gym teacher (Judy Greer) busts the girls for their abuse and Chris, who filmed the incident on her phone and posted it online, gets suspended from school and banned from the upcoming prom as a result. Another one of the popular girls, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), feels guilty about her part in what happened and as a way of making amends, she convinces her sensitive jock boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom instead. Naturally, Carrie suspects a joke but once she is finally convinced that Tommy is sincere, she happily prepares for the gala and even stands up to her mother when she tries to force Carrie to stay home. What she doesn't realize is that Chris is hellbent for revenge and plots with her boyfriend to humiliate Carrie at the prom via a rigged prom queen vote and a strategically placed bucket of pigs blood. What Chris doesn't realize, however, is that the onset of Carrie's period has also brought with it baffling telekinetic powers that she is just beginning to control and understand. When the gruesome prank goes off, it proves to be the last straw and Carrie unleashes her powers on all of her tormentors with terrifying results.
Although I consider De Palma's version to be a masterpiece--perhaps the best film adaptation of a King novel not directed by Stanley Kubrick--I have to admit to being somewhat intrigued about this version when I heard that it was being directed by Kimberly Peirce, the woman whose 1999 debut "Boys Don't Cry" told another story about an outsider being brutalized by others for the crime of being different (though one without the final reel of revenge, of course). Considering that De Palma's version posited a vision of high school as an especially harsh matriarchy in which the women held all the power, at least from a social standpoint, and would brutally swat down anyone who dared to rise above their station while the boys were little more than appendages on a level with prom corsages, a take on the material as seen from a female perspective had the potential to yield some promising results.
Peirce has removed the dark humor and teasing eroticism that De Palma brought to the project but has failed to replace it with anything resembling a distinct vision of her own. The screenplay follows the original film so closely that the author of that version, Lawrence D. Cohen, actually shares the writing credit on this one as well with Roberto Aguirre-Secasa--even the infamous tuxedo-fitting montage is revived here. However, other than a reprieve for the one character whose death in the original seemed especially gratuitous, Peirce hasn't really added anything other to the proceedings other than Youtube and underwear during the opening locker room sequence and areas that would seem to be fertile for exploration, such as the video of Carrie's menstrual humiliation going viral, are strangely ignored. For the most part, Peirce just seems to be marking time until the climax but while the resulting carnage seems to go on twice as long as before, it hardly has a sliver of the impact because she doesn't really have the kind of keen visual style needed to put the orgy of elaborate visual effects over (although she does toss in one inspired joke involving a split-screen effect as a presumable shout-out to De Palma) and, more significantly, because she has failed to make us care much about what is unfolding before our eyes.
I was also initially intrigued by the presence of two of the best American actresses around, Moretz and Moore, stepping into the roles of Carrie and Margaret but they don't really help matter much either. Moretz is a brilliant young actress but she is all wrong for the part of Carrie--she seems too composed and self-assured and, if I may be superficial for a moment, I really don't think that any properly staged version of "Carrie" should feature someone in the title role who is empirically more attractive than the rest of the women in the cast even before her initial prom transformation. Sure, Sissy Spacek was hardly the fat and dumpy Carrie that King described (and was at least a decade older than the character to boot) but her ability to make that transformation was an integral part of the first film's success. Moretz tries but I couldn't help but think that she gave a much more nuanced depiction of a high school out cast in this summer's "Kick-Ass 2" and "Kick-Ass 2" was one of the weakest entries in a season not exactly suffused with instant classics. Moore is a little better but her work is undone by the fact that it never quite emerges from Piper Laurie's considerable shadow. As for the remainder of the cast, I will simply note that if any of them happen to break out in the way that people like Travolta and Irving did back in the day, I, for one, will be extremely surprised."Carrie" may not be the worst remake of a horror classic to come along in recent years but it is probably one of the most frustrating in the sense that it wastes seemingly foolproof material. When all is said and done, the real reason that the first "Carrie" succeeded so much is that Brian De Palma recognized that there is a touch of Carrie White inside almost all of us--both her vulnerability and her wild desire for revenge when pushed too far--and told a story that was perfectly in tune with those feelings. This version, on the other hand, seems to have been made for the Chris Hargensens of the world--the kind of self-absorbed twerps who will spend the entire movie texting away while waiting for the next bit of bloodshed to occur without betraying any interest in the story being told. In other words, to steal a phrase from the film itself, this "Carrie" eats shit.
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