October 31, 2013

Do you like this?

But Julianne Moore super-scary as maniac mom

THE KIMBERLY PEIRCE RE-IMAGINING OF “CARRIE” might have been better without the influence of the Brian De Palma original. Given how much the films have in common, the studio should have issued a re-release of the original rather than reshooting nearly note-for-note the same scenes as the 1976 version. 

Peirce’s version isn’t bad—in fact, due to the progress made in special effects, the climax of the film looks better than ever. But Peirce is missing the breakneck pacing and disconcerting “otherness” of the De Palma film, and the new version doesn’t ever establish a personality of its own, instead relying on most of the same choices made by De Palma to tell the story. Because of this, anything new in the film seems extraneous. 

The opening scene, the updated inclusion of cyber bullying, the overreliance on Carrie’s telekinetic powers to sell her strangeness, all serve to slow down what works better as a unblinking ride towards a deadly and powerful conclusion. What’s unfortunate for the 2013 version of “Carrie” is that it can’t be viewed without being compared to such a classic horror film, and couldn’t have been made without owing so much to it. Without Brian De Palma, who knows what we might have seen?

Putting comparisons aside for a moment, the film works well because of the strength of the source material.  “Carrie” was Stephen King’s first novel, written before he became famous and oh-so-long-winded. King is always at his best when writing for brevity, which is why stories like “Carrie” and “Salem’s Lot” are so memorable. The plot is simple and relatable, the horror more rooted in the actions of normal human beings than in the supernatural. Most adults realize that people can be far more evil than any creature that goes bump in the night, and the best horror stories use the worst of humanity as a catalyst for the tragedy that unfolds onscreen. Zombies are nothing compared to the racists outside the farmhouse, and a malicious high school bully is much more of a menace than a shy, backward girl with mind powers. The film does a good job of telling the story and the story is a good one to tell, so by that measure the film is worth seeing, especially if you are dead set on seeing a decent horror movie in a theater on a Halloween night.

Unfortunately, comparisons are unavoidable. Chloe Grace Moretz is a fine actress and a very pretty girl, but the role of Carrie calls for someone a little more homely. Putting an attractive actress in homemade clothes and giving her frizzy hair is only an effective characterization if the film also stars Freddie Prinze Jr.  Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of an abused and frightened young woman was nearly flawless. 

Perhaps Moretz’s unbridled confidence as Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass” is coloring my perception, but she comes across as too in control of herself. This is even more evident in the climax of the film, as the prom scenes seem too angry and vengeful.  Carrie’s reaction to the cruel practical joke planned by her classmates works better as the defensive lashing out of a cornered animal.  Carrie is broken and distraught at the end of the story, not enraged and violent. While the effects are top-notch, the tone feels off.

If there is an improvement over the original, it comes from Julianne Moore’s unhinged performance as Carrie’s mother Margaret White. Piper Laurie did an excellent job with the role in the 1976 film, but Moore is the better actress and transforms the frequently lampooned character into something more sinister and manic. Actually, the strength of Moore’s performance only amplifies the problems with Moretz in the role. Anyone raised by Margaret White would live in inescapable fear of her, telekinetic powers or not. 

Moore really delves into the abhorrence and disgust of human sexuality that pervades Margaret’s persona, making it all the more real and frightening. It’s unfortunate that the film didn’t explore the character of the mother in more detail.

A real re-imagining of “Carrie” would have really been something. It’s likely that studio interference kept that from happening—the original film is good and popular, so any experimentation with the formula might have affected ticket sales. Instead, what we got was a “Carrie” that is simply a carbon copy of the original film. It’s a shame too, given the talented cast. 

I would have enjoyed two vastly different films interpreting the same material nearly 40 years apart. The possibilities were endless.  For now, Brian De Palma’s version is available on Netflix for $7.99 a month (along with access to many, many more horror movies of various quality) and Kimberly Peirce’s version is available at your local multiplex for a $10 per ticket.  The choice is up to you.  


October 31, 2013

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