Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Movie Review: Carrie

Directed by: Kimberly Peirce.
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa based on the novel by Stephen King.
Starring: Chloƫ Grace Moretz (Carrie White), Julianne Moore (Margaret White), Gabriella Wilde (Sue Snell), Portia Doubleday (Chris Hargensen), Judy Greer (Ms. Desjardin), Ansel Elgort (Tommy Ross), Alex Russell (Billy Nolan).

Stephen King’s first novel Carrie established pretty much immediately what King would excel at for the next 40 years as a novelist – taking a realistic situation and adding supernatural and horror elements to it. The power of Carrie is that not much needed to be added in the book’s first half – that details Carrie’s torment at school at the hands of the popular girls who pick on her because she’s weird, and at home, where her religious nut of a mother punishes her for sins that she has no control over – like getting her period, or growing breasts. While King pulled one of the novels he wrote as Richard Bachman – Rage – after Columbine, fearing that it’s portrait of an articulate school shooter would inspire others (unlikely – the shooter in that book bares almost no resemblance to any school shooter I’ve ever heard of) – Carrie is almost the prototypical school shooter story – the story of a loner, tormented everywhere, who is finally pushed too far, snaps, and kills everyone. Just because Carrie uses telekinesis and not a gun doesn’t change that. Perhaps its portrait of teenage angst is the reason it remains one of King’s most famous novels, even if it is among his simplest. In 1976 Brian DePalma made an excellent film version of King’s novel – it ranks among the best films DePalma has ever made, the best King adaptations, and among the best performances of Sissy Spacek’s career, who was excellent in the title role. Since then, we’ve seen a needless sequel and a needless TV remake that changed the ending to allow for a TV series that never materialized. No, we really didn’t need another screen version of the story.

And yet, I’m glad that one was made. Brian DePalma has always been a gifted visual stylist, and his Carrie is a magnificently well-made film. DePalma also fully embraced the horror movie elements of the story, making the film into the story of a victim who becomes a monster, while at the same time relishing the revenge that she gets on all of her tormenters. This new screen version has been directed by Kimberly Peirce – director of the Oscar winning Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and the unjustly ignored Stop-Loss (2008). While I’m not sure I would have immediately identified Peirce as the director of this Carrie – I do believe I would have immediately known that this was a film directed by a woman. This film is much more attuned to the uniquely female way her tormenters abuse Carrie, gets deeper into the strange mother-daughter relationship than DePalma’s version does. And while you left the original Carrie scared, but thrilled – on an adrenaline high – the overwhelming emotion I felt while walking out of this version of Carrie is sadness. DePalma wanted to scare you; Peirce wants to make you feel something deeper. I’m not saying that this version is better than DePalma’s version – it really doesn’t even come close if I’m being honest. But to me, this Carrie represents the way, in which remakes should be done – not to simply repeat what worked before, but to find a different perspective on it.

I heard some internet sniping before Carrie opened that they could never believe Chloe Grace Mortez in the lead role because she was too good looking to be picked on, and that she was too much of a badass to be believably passive like Carrie is for most of the movie. But I found Mortez’s performance to be excellent here – yes, she’s more conventionally good looking that Spacek is (who is hardly ugly by the way), but Mortez plays Carrie as a confused teenage girl completely lacking in confidence. She’s hunched over, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, even herself in the mirror. It doesn’t matter how good looking you are if you feel ugly – and Mortez plays Carrie as a girl who feels ugly. She excels in the early scenes – especially the disturbing shower sequence – and she excels later as she gradually opens up and starts to gain confidence – slowly but surely, as a previous unseen glint in the eyes materializes. She is heartbreaking in a scene in the locker room, where she confides in a kindly gym teacher (Judy Greer – once again doing excellent character work) that’s scared of being tricked again. As her mother, Julianne Moore has the difficult task of following Piper Laurie’s batshit crazy performance in the original. The movie tries to give her character a little more depth this time and Moore tries to not go as far over the top as Laurie did so brilliantly, and for the most part she succeeds. Laurie played the role as insane, Moore plays it as more disturbed, which fits in better in this version.

It must be said that the movie is flawed – deeply at times. The other characters aside from Carrie, her mother and Greer’s teacher are never quite given any real depth. I think the movie tries to make kindly Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) and the ruthless ringleader Chris (Portia Doubleday) into more than just archetypes, but it never really comes across as such. And while the prom night massacre is the highlight of DePalma’s film, it is fairly clumsily handled by Peirce in this movie – although she does give it a few nice touches. There are a few touches that seem to be directly referencing the DePalma film that don’t fit in with the rest of the movie at all (the ending is a perfect example) – they feel as if they were teleported in from another movie, because in essence that is what happened. I have to wonder if the studio mandated some of those references, and forced them on Peirce, because they don’t feel right alongside the rest of her movie.

To many, these flaws will be fatal – I know I’m in the minority in liking this Carrie – but they didn’t ruin the movie for me, even as I wished that Peirce had been able to pull off the version of the story she clearly wanted to make. This is a film whose ambitions exceed its grasp. But how many remakes – or horror films in general – even have those ambitions in the first place? And how many remakes actually succeed in making you look at a film you know so well in a different light? No, Peirce’s Carrie does not supplant DePalma’s as the “ultimate” screen version of the novel. DePalma’s film is great, this one is merely good. But it’s an ambitious, interesting, deeply felt movie, that flaws and all, is worth seeing for fans of the source material. You may end up surprised by how moved you are by the film – I know I was.

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