Keep On Playing Those Mind Games Forever
The latest version of Carrie may be pointless and personality-free, but it may also settle the "It's Not Fair to Compare a Remake to the Original" argument. When first announced, it was rumored that director Kimberly Peirce would revisit the source material--Stephen King's first novel--and leave Brian De Palma's 1976 classic film adaptation alone. She'd also snagged Chloë Grace Moretz for the lead, a hot, young actress accustomed to both remakes and darkly challenging material.
Now that the film is out, we're free to see how completely full of garbage the execs at Sony Pictures are: were you to set both films side by side and press "Play", the amount of original material would barely surpass movie-trailer length. And the changes made by Peirce and screenwriters Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lawrence D. Cohen (who, coincidentally, wrote the 1976 screenplay) are so antithetical to King and De Palma's vision as to be unforgivable in their short-sightedness.
Honestly, the film should have been called Missed Opportunities: The Movie. What better way to (hopefully) close out the "Found Footage" era of horror than with an impactful adaptation of the original "Found Footage Novel"? Rather than offer up a straight narrative, King painted a complete picture of high school outcast Carrie White's tragic life via newspaper clippings, police interviews, and other non-traditional means of piecing together facts following a natural disaster. In the midst of severe bullying by both her peers and religious-fanatic mother, Carrie discovers telekinetic gifts that ultimately spiral out of control; by the end of the book, most of her town lay in ruin and she beneath it.
Peirce, apparently unaware that we're living in an increasingly cruel age of social media-assisted bullying, religious fanaticism, and ubiquitous documentation, fails to service King's forty-year-old prescience. True, Carrie's chief tormentor, Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), uploads a damning video to YouTube, but that and the actors' modern wardrobe are the only two elements that distinguish Carrie from Carrie. Even the dialogue is weirdly anachronistic: empathetic gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) refers to star athlete Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) as "dreamy".
As I plan to write about the bulk of this movie during a forthcoming review of the real version, let's Cliff's Notes our way through the first hour, shall we? Julianne Moore steps into Piper Laurie's oversized shoes and stumbles about the living room as Carrie's crazy mom. Gabriella Wilde is empathetic but ultimately sidelined as Carrie's tormentor-turned-friend, Sue Snell; indeed, the only remarkable thing about her is how closely she resembles a blonde Amy Irving from the 1976 film. Elgort does very well as Tommy, but doesn't add or subtract anything from William Katt, who defined the role (curly blonde afro aside).
Despite what you may have heard Peirce say in promotional interviews, audiences not only want to see Carrie go to the prom, it's the only reason we sit through things like this, The Rage: Carrie 2 and the 2002 TV miniseries. We wonder how modern gore-effects technology will enhance the carnage of high schoolers trapped in a burning gym on "the best night of their lives". Peirce's movie makes it clear that neither filmmakers nor the studios that fund them care about these characters beyond using them to take unimaginative jabs at religious people and texting-obsessed teens. To say otherwise is akin to claiming people watch Friday the 13th sequels for the camp counselor banter.
So what of Carrie 2.0's prom?
I re-watched the scene from De Palma's film shortly before writing this, in order to convince myself that I hadn't gone crazy. Yes, the nearly forty-year-old film has the leg up on its 2013 heir apparent in every possible way. In the moments after Sissy Spacek's character is doused with pig's blood after being crowned prom queen in a rigged election, her pale, alien features become truly terrifying. She goes stiff and wide-eyed, moving in slow motion, as if the rage inside of her has become something she can only watch and not control. She shoots sharp looks around the room, locking doors and unspooling shower hoses before the crowd around her can even react to the prank.
As her powers kick into high gear, the stage and walls erupt in flames, people are electrocuted, tossed over tables and drowned; Ms. Desjardin, Carrie's only real friend at school, takes the cruelest brunt of her madness--getting crushed between swinging bleachers. In the end, Carrie stiffly, dazedly strides out of the school, now completely ablaze, and psychically seals the doors behind her to ensure no one will get out alive.
It's chilling stuff.
Contrest that with Moretz, who waves her arms about like Tom Cruise scanning for pre-cogs in Minority Report. Thanks to wire work and CGI, all manner of people and furniture are flung about, and Carrie levitates out of the building. Oh, and she leaves the door open, allowing most everyone to escape into the school's courtyard. Only the "bad kids" get punished in Peirce's version, and Ms. Desjardin lives to see another day.
Of course, I don't advocate killing teenagers and innocents, but the whole point of Carrie--the novel and the original film--is that, when pushed past her limits, the main character becomes an indiscriminate, supernatural typhoon of negative emotions. Her bullied, paranoid brain (perhaps in concert with the sinister voice of whatever granted her these powers) makes her believe that everyone really is laughing at her, and that they deserve to die horribly. By adopting a bizarre PG-13 attitude for her allegedly R-rated film, Peirce lets Carrie's target audience off the hook: youth's inherent invincibility remains intact here, and I'm sure the kids at Carrie's high school will be back to tweeting awful things about "that weerd, craZ ded b!tch" Monday morning, while being driven to parent-mandated grief counseling.
It's easy to pin Carrie's problems on Moretz, who some claim is "too pretty" to play the role. Her looks aren't the problem; it's the fact that she clearly acts the hell of the part. Her Carrie comes across as an exercise, a third-party performance that we're welcome to marvel at. In comparison, Spacek was genuinely uncomfortable to watch. She came off as awkward, real, and so trampled by life that we felt almost complicit in the torment by virtue of simply watching a movie about her character.
But the real problem is the new film's overall lack of purpose. Peirce's flat direction commits the cardinal sin of bad horror movies by not even attempting to be scary (hell, even "disturbing" is out of the question). And with no messages that weren't derived more effectively and coherently from the novel or '76 movie, the piece itself can only be seen as a brand-recognition cash-grab, a ploy to lure in fans with promises of big stars and edgy content, as well as kids who would rather shutter their Facebook accounts than watch anything released before Independence Day.
I recommend this Carrie strictly as a curiosity, preferably as the subject of a drinking game--or at least in a fashion that permits fast-forwarding through the considerable blocks of bullshit. Otherwise, you may end up like me: praying for Carrie White to reach out from the screen and kill you with her mind.