Carrie

2014-01-03 14:13
 
What it's about:

Carrie White is a shy girl, raised by an overbearing ultra-religious mother who, while trying to navigate the embarrassments and cruelty that comes with being a high school outcast, has to come to terms the very powerful and very deadly telekinetic powers that she has suddenly started to develop.

What we thought:

I am probably going to get a lot of flack for this but I was never the biggest fan of the original Carrie. Stephen King, who authored the novel on which both Carrie films are based, may consider it to be one of the most successful adaptations of his many, many works but I found its dramatic, high school elements to be more than a little naff and its horrific elements entirely non-horrific. It had strong performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie and, being a Brian De Palma film, it certainly had visual style, but it's far from the best horror film of the 1970s. 

With that in mind then, I approached this remake with a touch of optimism added to my usual apathy or outright cynicism towards this never ending stream of horror remakes. While I will never understand why anyone thought "updating" stone cold classic like The Wicker Man, Psycho or Evil Dead was a good idea, the significantly more flawed Carrie could certainly be improved on. This is especially so because in the nearly-forty-years between the original Carrie and its latest and biggest remake (it was already remade as a not very well received TV movie in 2002) have seen TV shows like Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life inject some much needed realism into high school dramas, while Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show, obviously) built upon and bettered the supernatural/ teen angst combination of De Palma's film.

It is with no small amount of relief therefore that I can officially proclaim the new version of Carrie to be, by far, one of the best – if not the best – horror remakes of the last decade, if not longer. It's far from perfect, to be sure, as it still shares one major problem with the original and it certainly never matches De Palma's version in terms of visual ingenuity, but this is the very rare case where I can honestly say that you can gladly watch the remake rather than the original. Besides, in terms of its visuals, Carrie (2013) may not match the original but at least it avoids that vomitous yellow-red tinge that has made most modern horror remakes visually repulsive in a way that has little to do with the actual horror.

For the first two thirds of the film at least, director Kimberly Pierce (best known for Boys Don't Cry, which makes her a particularly inspired choice here) knocks it out of the park as she tells a compelling story about a teenage girl trying to come to terms with her own internal changes, while doing her best to fit into a peer group with which she seems to have nothing in common – all the while having all this mirrored by burgeoning supernatural powers, with both parts of her life acting as a metaphor for one another. 

By this point, we've seen Joss Whedon perfect this formula with Buffy and films such as The Craft and Ginger Snaps have done pretty good jobs with the same too so, while Carrie – probably unfairly - doesn't exactly feel original any more, Pierce does a wonderful job ensuring that her take on the genre is far closer to Whedon than to, say, Stephanie Meyer. It certainly doesn't hurt that she has a brilliant young actress like Chloe Grace Moretz easily matching, probably even surpassing, Sissy Spacek in the title role, as Moretz is both closer to the age of Carrie than Spacek was when she brought the iconic character to life and, I dare say, better at conveying the sadness, angst and confusion of her character. And while the always superb Moore doesn't quite manage to better Piper Laurie's frightening uber-Christian matriarch, Carrie's class mates feel much more like real teenagers than their 1976 counterparts. 

The problem with the film though is one that it shares with its predecessor – albeit to a slightly lesser extent. The original film's climax is infamous enough and the promotion for the film is explicit enough that I don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that the final act of the film basically transforms our hero into the story's villain, after a particularly cruel prank goes horribly, horribly wrong. 

It is this final section of the film where this perfectly paced, emotionally poignant dark fable becomes a) a flat out horror film and b) a high school revenge story, but both transformations feel cheap. This particular story point has been done by Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its sixth season and by the 80s X-Men comic book story, The Dark Phoenix Saga but while both of those stories understood that this story is fundamentally tragic and horrifying in its tragedy – even as they both ended in redemption – neither Carrie film comes closing to capturing this level of poignancy as they descend into hysterical horror and take just a bit too much pleasure in the gleeful bloodiness of their violence. 

The current version is actually quite a bit better at leaving this with the kind of emotional drama that the narrative calls for, but it still never quite lands in the way that it needed to be a truly fitting end to this particular story. In both cases ultimately, I appreciated what they were going for, it just never quite worked for me. I can't help but wonder if perhaps the best Carrie remake would be one that tries to move it out of the horror genre completely – not because of any intrinsic problem with horror as a genre but because Carrie has somehow never really comfortably fitted within it.  

Still, a superior horror remake is rare enough and Carrie's basic story is compelling enough that I can pretty easily recommend the film to genre fans – disappointing final act or no. 

Oh and one final point: one place that the original kills the remake is in its final shot. The new take on the classic scene is more congruent with Carrie's powers but it packs none of "whoa, awesome!" impact of the original.
  

A surprisingly impressive remake as the new take on Stephen King's Carrie outstrips the original in almost every way, even if both fall prey to a weirdly underwhelming final act.
Read more on:    julianne moore  |  movies  |  carrie

Clive Varejes 2014/01/06 10:03 PM
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Surely you jest. This has to be one of the most asinine movies of the past few years. 3 stars? Really? Rottentomato rules.
Ilan Preskovsky 2014/01/07 6:05 PM
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Well, if it helps any Metacritic gives it a 52 so that's pretty much a low three stars. Either way, it's funny, I normally get flack for underrating horror remakes, not underrating them! Ah well, each to their own, I guess.
Ilan Preskovsky 2014/01/07 6:08 PM
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Er, I meant "not overrating them", of course.
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