Stephen King is hailed as one of our current modern literary geniuses partially because he has been responsible for so many cultural understandings based around films adapted from his work but also because he does so damn much compared to most other writers, cranking out novel after novel in a seemingly endless string of successes financially and sometimes even critically. The young woman, soaked in blood, taking on her peers, its all so familiar. And therin may lie the problem…we’ve seen this before, then saw it again when there were sequels that changed none of the formula, than even one more time when the story was told again in the form of a television movie (is there any bigger travesty?). Remakes and reboots can be fun but sometimes you have to shake it up a bit.
I grew up knowing the first Carrie film by Brian De Palma well. Released in 1976 it became a smash hit almost instantly and is considered one of the best films of its era, dominating the box office and reviews and becoming a huge part of our reference culture that we live neck deep in today. It led to a love of the lovely and talented actress Sissy Spacek who took the character and created a broken, pained, abused child out of it and was hailed by all as wonderful in the role. The story hit me when I was little (I saw it at 7) because of the sheer amount of horrible people there seemed to be in high school. The way the girl was tortured by her peers and mother disturbed me, but instead of terrified I was filled with a profound sadness. The carnage took a back seat to the abuse which ended up being far more fascinating and unnerving than the blood and death layered all over the end.
2013’s remake was originally supposed to be closer to the novel than the original De Palma adaptation but instead winds up being more a tribute to it and even goes so far as to credit Lawrence Cohen with a co-credit for writing because of how much it lifted from the film he helped write. There is nothing new here, and perhaps that is its major flaw. There is simply too much similarity and those who have seen the original film will be disappointed to find nothing ventured to make this stand apart.
The performances of those starring, however, are nothing less than extraordinary in some places and at their worst remain at least interesting. In our lead role we have Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass fame for her role as the character Hit Girl, who’s foul mouth and viciously violent portrayal of her disturbed character earned her both praise and scorn (it all depended on who you asked about it). We have beautiful portrayal here of a girl who is transformed from a beaten-down girl who never allowed herself to be hopeful to someone with a potential for not just popularity and positive attention but true friendship with some kids if she can wade through the pity. The hunched, shy, scared girl we see in the beginning is unable to function, let alone interact with anyone on a normal level. She flinches at mere acknowledgement for most of the film, but by the end has found courage and strength in not just her interactions with Sue and Tommy but even further through the independence she gains with her psychic ability that is discovered with the beginning of her womanhood (she gets her period but that isn’t so bad because she also gets telekinesis so…mixed bag). What truly sold me on Moretz as Carrie wound up being her manic, deranged look as she destroyed not only the prom but the lives of so many of the other guests. There is a pristine moment after the main moments of maniacal messiness in which Carrie realizes what she has done and has a complete emotional breakdown. She scrubs pig blood off of herself and cries, splashing around in the mess of it and genuinely falling apart and its hard not to sympathize with her.
With Julianne Moore involved in this some of my initial fears were abated. I have never detested a performance from her (ok…The Forgotten was a mess) and look forward to each film she signs on to. With her role being played opposite that of Judy Greer, whom I love due to her role as the drug addicted secretary from the animated series Archer, we are given the idea of a mother and a deranged monster of a woman. Between the encouraging, loving, and kind actions of Greer’s Desjardin and Moore’s cruel, oppressive, and berating Margaret White our young heroine (victim?) Carrie is given a look at what could have been had her mother not been who she is but rather a whole person. It creates an interesting contrast that I wish director Kimberly Pierce had been able to do more with.
The themes of motherhood, adolescence, and sexual maturity run rampant in both the original story and the new film. From the first moments we are given the image of blood running as a recurring image that begins with the start of menstruation and runs right up to the moment the bucket tips and it brings with it the idea of power in the maturity of a woman and the responsibility of a mother to teach to her daughter the way she could look at it and grow into it. Margaret uses sharp objects to inflict pain on herself and fists on Carrie, but she never tells her daughter what her new monthly issue means. This, instead, comes from Carrie’s gym teacher who begins to fill the role of family for her. The overarching story of the film is a very powerful look at repression and the dangers of not only bullying in schools but also parenting when one is not stable.
In tone the film fails utterly. Too often modern horror cliches take precedence over thematic ideas and performances. Yes, I enjoy ‘Vampire Weekend’ as much as the next person, but do we really need to be berated with quirky hip songs to indicate how modern this film is compared to its predecessor while still driving home that these kids are in high school (with the basic plot it seems redundant to constantly force this on the audience). Its jump scares are well timed and well done for what they are, but it never quite makes it to the true terror of human nature during adolescence that the story is supposed to embody. Instead what it goes for is the same thing each modern remake has – references to older films. The only thing less forgivable than the constant polishing of De Palma’s film (and not much else) is the final moment, which involves Carrie’s defaced headstone and a crack sent from her soul in hell (apparently) as a jaunty, quick tempo tune plays and the credits roll. From beginning to end you can tell the director just does not have the strength to separate herself from an original classic.
The film will delight new audiences but those who saw what came before will find nothing new to look at other than a high definition glaze over pretty much the exact same thing they saw before. The director and her writers seem to have worked from either the original script or a checklist of things they felt they had to do exactly the same. Overall it will never feel like a waste of money but it will leave you feeling underwhelmed. Those who watched the 1976 film should wait for home-video release.