– Summary –
Director : Kimberly Peirce
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Chloe Grace-Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Alex Russell, Portia Doubleday, Judy Greer, Barry Henley.
Approx Running Time : 99 Minutes
Synopsis: A girl with telekinetic abilities, bullied by her high-school classmates and victimized as a freak, unleashes upon her tormentors when a cruel prank goes horribly wrong.
What we think : Flaccid remake of the Stephen King novel has style and production value, but no heart. Moretz is miscast, Portia Doubleday’s key antagonist character is overdone, and Julianne Moore spends most of her time inside the family home, acting all religiously freaky. The iconic Prom Night sequence is well mounted but lacks any sense of impact due to ineffective character development, and the grab-ya closing sequence tries (unsuccessfully) to outdo Brian DePalma’s work in the original film. Something of a waste.
You will know her name. If you can be bothered remembering it.
Growing up as a child of the 80’s, Brian DePalma’s film version of Stephen King’s early literary horror classic, Carrie, remains definitive. Sissy Spacek’s creepy, withered portrayal of the bullied schoolgirl who isn’t gonna take no shit no mo’, coupled with an R-rated, anything-goes tone (who can forget the infamous opening sequence involving a bunch of nude teenage girls in the school shower block?) made Carrie not only memorable, but near perfect as a work of genre film-making. Skip forward to the 2013 remake, and the worry was always going to be whether the story could handle being stripped down to a more mild (read “modern”) version, starring Chloe Grace-Moretz (Hitgirl from the Kick-Ass franchise) and Julianne Moore. Kimberly Peirce, who made Boys Don’t Cry (which won Hilary Swank an Oscar) and Stop-Loss, signed on to direct what is a fairly effective female empowerment story, about a girl with unique abilities who takes revenge on everyone she percieves as guilty of bullying her. King’s scary, chilling novel probably wasn’t crying out for another version, although with modern effects and production design, and considering the prevalance of bullying and intimidation in schools these days, could certainly make its mark if done well. So is 2013’s Carrie remake worth the effort? Or is it simply another vapid, hollow attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on the glory of an already terrific original?
Carrie White (Chloe Grace-Moretz) lives in fear. Her mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), is a religious nutcase who believed her daughter to be either the spawn of, or at least possessed by, the Devil. Carrie’s school life is hell, with constant bullying, intimidation and embarrassment a part of her daily routine. A comfort, however, is that Carrie has powerful telekinetic abilities, able to move and manipulate objects with her mind. One day, when Carrie is showering after a PE class, she gets her first period. Not realizing what is happening, thanks largely to her mother refusing to explain that kind of thing “because it’s of the devil”, Carrie is teased an emotionally abused mercilessly by her classmates, one of whom, Chris (Portia Doubleday) films the incident and uploads it to the internet. One of Carrie’s tormentors, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), feels remorse for the situation, and instructs her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Engort) to ask Carrie to the school prom, as a way of trying to make up for the abuse Carrie suffered. Carrie, initially fearful of yet another prank being played, eventually agrees to attend the prom, however her joy is short lived when a horrible trick is played by the recently suspended Chris and her hoodlum boyfriend Billy (Alex Russell), and she unleashes the full force of her power upon a captive school audience.
Well, that sucked. 2013’s Carrie isn’t that great. And that’s not even by comparison to the original; the millennial Carrie is a one-trick pony of inelegant “moments” that never go anywhere, characters with development based on nothing, and only the barest sense that anybody behind this film actually got what made the original so impactful. Firstly – casting somebody as attractive as the supposedly unlikeable, unattractive Carrie White is a major misstep, and let’s face it, Chloe Grace-Moretz isn’t ugly. Moretz lacks the Everygirl quality needed to play Carrie – Sissy Spacek wasn’t the most attractive girl in the world, making it at least believable that her Carrie would be marginalized by her school, and yet somebody seemed to think that all you had to do was cast a recognizable face and let them sell it in order to make this movie a hit. Sorry, but Moretz lacks the ability to act bullied with any conviction at all. Rather, she just looks out of place. No amount of scraggly red hair can mask that face. And she also lacks the wounded fragility of Spacek’s version, which gave Carrie a truly vulnerable empathy; here, Carrie’s just three steps from the catwalk, and Moretz can’t make her feel believable. Don’t the filmmakers know, you only pick on the fat kids, the handicapped kids, or the disfigured kids. Doh. That’s how bullying works.
It’s probably not Moretz’s fault entirely, though. The film’s tone and internal logic is all over the place. Key antagonist, Chris (played with overarching screechiness by Portia Doubleday) goes from relatively benign Mean Girls-esque Queen Bee to murderous Bonnie Parker-type criminal within the space of an hour; Chris is designed to be the focal point of Carrie’s rage, and ours, but the character is badly developed and poorly written. There’s no visible motivation for Chris to hate Carrie, other than the script simply demands it. Chris becomes just a cankerous blight on the story, a directionless and vindictive bitch who serves no purpose than simply moving the story along with clunky, ham-fisted laboriousness. Sue Snell, played by Gabriella Wilde, is also underwritten, as one of those who feels guilt for her role in the constant torment of Carrie. Wilde delivers the role as best she can, but there’s no real turning point for her character’s change of heart, making the transition from bully to friend with no grace whatsoever.
The tone of the film is lacking in focus as well. Julianne Moore’s mother character, Margaret, is depicted as a complete psychopath, demented and utterly fervent in her religious beliefs, to the point where I was distracted in wondering just how Carrie even survived her mother into her teenage years. Considering Margaret nearly slaughters Carrie with scissors almost immediately upon birth, one wonders just what stopped her, and how she didn’t return to that mindset when Carrie hit tantrum stage at aged three? I guess it merely served the purpose of creating the dynamic needed for Carrie to throw-down with her mom upon learning about the whole sinful “prom” idea. The film shifts from this horror dynamic, into an approximated Young Adult-styled “I have powers!” mode, when Carrie starts exploring and experimenting with her telekinesis; even throughout this, there’s never the sense that Carrie feels anything for those powers, or even that she comes to the understanding that she can settle a few scores with it if she so desires – made all the more obvious today because that’s the first thing I’d do if I had the gift. Yep, I’m a psycho.
Considering how much Carrie puts up with, and what she endures not only during the film but off-screen prior to it, there’s little denying the infamous Prom night sequence was going to have to deliver. As much as modern visual effects and higher production values can deliver some terrific gore, death scenes and visceral horror, Carrie skimps on achieving any kind of emotional content as the girl in question unleashes her tidal-wave of pent up rage onto her captive schoolmates. I think it was more Moretz’s doe-eyed zombie performance, when she goes on her telekinetic bender, that ruined it for me – the girl looked like a weird, blood-soaked cartoon character with powers, instead of an angry, rage-fueled teenager hell bent on rectifying the wrongs she’s been done. Kinda like X-Men’s Storm, only white and without a cool costume. The various belligerent characters in the film all meet gruesome deaths, especially Chris, who doesn’t even try for redemption when she realizes just how f@cked she is as Carrie stands around murdering people. But none of the comeuppance deaths mean much, since the emotional connection to them is absent, thanks to derivative scripting.
Carrie is the kind of film where the audience wants to cheer for the central character as she gets her revenge on the bullies. While it’s a cathartic experience, revenge, the film can’t quite manage to make us care enough about anyone within it – Carrie included – to find any joy or sorrow in the eventual tragic outcome. It’s testament to the DePalma’s film that this remake works as well as it does, because 2013’s Carrie never really becomes its own thing; the shadow of DePalma’s version looms large, and Peirce’s remake can’t escape it. No doubt they tried, and in a DePalma-free universe, no doubt this film would be something of a minor success, but drab characterization and bland, generic horror film tropes do not a great film make. Carrie is spirited in effort, but uneven and enormously disappointing in result.