Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Carrie (Kimberly Pierce, 2013)

"They're all gonna laugh at you."

For most American teenagers, few things are possibly as frightening to consider. Take into account the number of people who routinely suffer nightmares of suddenly being stuck in their high school or college class naked, and the fact of this truth comes home in a new way. For some reason, it seems to be almost hard wired into adolescents and young adults that embarrassment and being laughed at are quite possibly the worst things a human being could experience. Carrie, the 1976 film brought the novel to the screen and turned the phrase into a maxim of terror.

Stephen King
Cover of Stephen King
Stephen King's Carrie was a novel taking that fear to its furthest logical conclusion, but was also a morality tale about the kind of bullying that's become such a hot political topic so many years after King more or less gave readers a pretty good explanation for the kinds of horrendous acts of violence we've come to know as "school shootings." Strangely, even as King's character is portrayed as the sympathetic protagonist, whom we're meant to understand and empathize with as she slaughters an entire senior class as an act of vengeance, no one has ever attempted to link Carrie, the film or novel as some kind of responsible party for a kind of violence that could very easily be characterized as being modeled after it.

King's novel is one of a relative few horror stories to focus exclusively on women as the main characters. What it says about those female characters is another question altogether, but it does do that rare thing of putting the female characters completely in control of the story as it's engine and behind the wheel, directing where it goes.
The American film director Brian De Palma at t...
Director Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma directed a film version in 1976 which is generally considered a classic by horror fans. The strength of the film comes directly from the performances by Piper Laurie as the insanely religious Margaret White, Sissy Spacek as Carrie, and from De Palma's signature visual style. It suffered from the same issues the source material does, being somewhat overly simplistic and not having the most well drawn out characters, but as a whole, its an engrossing, entertaining and occasionally disturbing film.

Now, director Kimberly Pierce, who previously helmed Boys Don't Cry and Stop Loss, is taking a shot at making Carrie White the thing of teenage nightmares again. Pierce lacks the visual flair that De Palma has been known for, but she's previously been very good at giving actors and the characters they're portraying everything they need to be full and nuanced. Unfortunately, the source material and the screenplay for Carrie lack all of that. Pierce's strongest asset as a director is stolen from her before the film ever even begins.

66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra) Julianne Moore
 Julianne Moore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There's very little different in this version, other than an update to exactly how far bullying can go to with the exclusion of cyber bullying. There's a new opening sequence as well, and it lays the groundwork for Julianne Moore's version of Margaret White. This Margaret White has a much more dangerous edge. Where Piper Laurie seemed like a kind of imbalanced zealot, Moore seems genuinely dangerous and appears to be someone who is capable of serious violence at any moment, against herself and anyone who might come into contact with her. Piper Laurie was a high tension wire full of electric anxiety, Julianne Moore comes across as having a deep reservoir of psychosis just under the surface. Moore gives her usual level of great performance. It's genuinely creepy.

Chloe Grace Moretz
Chloe Grace Moretz (Photo credit: ellasportfolio)
 Chloe Grace Moretz takes over responsibilities as Carrie    White, the budding telekinetic and object of horrific bullying. Moretz is also a very different Carrie than her predecessor. The two depictions of the character have in common that Carrie is completely unable to pull herself out of the socially inept stupor of fear and anxiety that are the majority of her waking moments. Where they differ is that there are moments when some Moretz version of Carrie shows some genuine light, some real understanding of her situation. That difference results in a character that ends up seeming very much like a caged animal and the final act being the release of that animal into the world.

The supporting cast is unfortunately wooden. Again, it's not like they have a very rich tapestry of nuanced, layered characters to work with, but none of them seem to be adding anything to the characters either. Amy Irving's Sue Snell was at least believably sympathetic. This versions Sue Snell, Gabriella Wilde, doesn't portray the level of empathy and genuine decency Irving was capable of.

There is one thing that this new version of Carrie has over the old version. It adds one small thing, making the Chris Hargensen (played by Nancy Allen in the first version) character the product of a childhood which was pampered and comforted and never faced the consequences for its actions. Portia Doubleday's Chris is a mean spirited, hate filled, borderline sociopath. This Chris doesn't even essentially acknowledge Carrie as a human being because she is from a different social and economic class than Chris and the people Chris has been surrounded by her entire life. They've done a good job of portraying the kind of kid that drives others to suicide after years of torment. That combined with the use of the internet to extend that torment beyond the school grounds are the only real updates to the story.

Really, the existence of this film ends up being completely superfluous. As with any other remake, the existence of this film doesn't take anything away from the original, it's just utterly unnecessary. There are dozens of different things that could be picked apart and blamed for the fact that the film is just bland and without any reason to see it beyond Julianne Moore's performance.

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