"These are godless times Mrs. Snell."
While it is very much a product of the time in which is was made- check out this video to see how horribly dated it is- Brian DePalma's 1977 film version of Stephen King's Carrie remains the definitive film version of the story some 37 years later. It's so good, it even made Quentin Tarantino's list of the 12 greatest films ever made. Nevertheless, movie studios that lack imagination feel the need to constantly remake the film or give it unnecessary sequels and since kids these days just won't watch anything that wasn't made in the last eighteen months, the time is right to trot out another remake. So, on a scale from one to Footloose, how unnecessary is the new adaptation of Carrie? Read on to find out...
Opening with the most ridiculous birth scene this side of Apocalypto, Kimberly Peirce's Carrie more or less proceeds to follow the plot of King's book beat for beat. Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a wildly unpopular high school senior whose religious fanatic mother (Julianne Moore) has raised her in such a manner that when she gets her first period during gym class, she thinks she's bleeding to death. A band of popular girls led by Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) pelt her with tampons, chanting "plug it up" and because this is the internet age, take a video of the incident which they upload for maximum embarrassment. This results in Hargensen getting suspended and banned from attending prom by the gym teacher Mrs. Desjardin (Judy Greer).
Another popular girl Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) immediately regrets her part in the incident and convinces her popular jock boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom. Carrie rebuffs the offer at first thinking it's a trap, but soon relents and agrees to attend. Hargensen & her boyfriend Billy Nolan (Alex Russell from the excellent film Chronicle) plot their revenge which involved dousing poor Carrie with pig's blood at the prom. Little do they know that Carrie has discovered that she has telekinetic powers that she has been harnessing and, to paraphrase Ron Burgundy, may make them immediately regret their decision to further embarrass her.
The biggest issue with this particular adaptation is that it can't decide exactly what kind of film it wants to be. It vacillates wildly between teen angst drama and supernatural thriller, and can't settle on a tone for even five minutes. As a matter of fact, Julianne Moore is basically the only one acting as if she's in a horror film at all. Everyone else is striking a tone that somewhere between Dawson's Creek & Twilight, and it doesn't help one bit that the film is shot in such a pedestrian manner that it services neither side of the equation. DePalma's original was, despite its dated qualities, flush with style and you never doubted for a moment that it was a genre picture. This is shot with all the gauzy melodrama of an after school special, and when the bodies do begin piling up in the third act, the death scenes are often slowed down for maximum gore, making the tonal shift all the more jarring and ridiculous.
There are also superhuman leaps of logic required by the script-- and potentially the source material, though it's been years since I read the book-- that ultimately sink whatever semblance of quasi-realism the filmmakers may have been trying to achieve. For example, we're shown an early scene where a janitor is scrubbing anti-Carrie graffiti off of a locker, but a mirror Carrie smashes with her mind in the girl's bathroom is left in shards for days. Later on, in the film's climax, a wide shot shows that the school is engulfed in flames, yet the fire is totally extinguished in the next cutaway to the school, presumably moments later. Also, Carrie has time to go home, take a bath and have a lengthy confrontation with her mother with nary a police officer being dispatched to her home despite the fact that hundreds of witnesses saw her murder people at the prom.
Again, these may be issues with King's book, but they had no problem fixing other inconsistencies and updating the book to the 21st century, so why leave these absurd contradictions intact? Another thought I had while watching the film (I had to do something to occupy my wandering mind) was how much better of a film could have been made of watching Moore's psychopathic Christian mother trying to raise a toddler. Moore's character abuses her teenage daughter, and is shown cutting herself several times, that it makes me wonder how great a film it would have been to see her navigate the challenges of raising a three year old. Somebody please make that film.
As for Moore's performance, she booked a one-way ticket to crazy town, and it's almost refreshing to see a respected actress go balls to the wall crazy in a film. Her performance starts at 11 and only goes up from there. It's a downright rococo piece of acting that should be studied for years to come for its sheer insanity. As for Moretz, she manages to ably infuse Carrie with a proper amount of empathy, such as in the scene when she goes shopping for her prom dress, but I never really bought her as an outcast. In the original film, Sissy Spacek brought an otherworldly appearance and manner to the role that made you instantly believe that she could be such a pariah, but Moretz unfortunately looks like a very pretty girl playing dress up. It's the equivalent of putting glasses and a bad wig on Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries and expecting the audience to be bowled over by her transformation into a gorgeous young woman. It feels like a cheat.
The rest of the young cast is a mixed bag at best with Elgort & Russell faring the best, making their polar opposite characters more than just caricatures. It's the females that don't acquit themselves as much, with Doubleday thinking that pouting equals acting and Wilde being nothing more than a blank vessel in which, I'm assuming, she hopes the audience will fill in the blanks with a complete character. Judy Greer manages the most even-handed performance of the film, managing to play a much more convincing version of this character than Betty Buckley in the original (heresy from a huge fan of her work on stage, I know). Greer makes for a believably sympathetic character, one with whom you can see a true connection to Carrie's plight, and she's easily the most realistic character in the entire film.
Kimberly Peirce, now on her third feature film as a director, is miles away from where she started. If you were to show this back to back with Boys Don't Cry, you could never convince me, were I not already privy to such information, that the same person directed both films. This film lacks both the intense love of character shown in Boys Don't Cry, as well as a sure hand behind the camera that doesn't feel like the work of a hired gun. Carrie has its moments, but none of them approach what's already been done before, and I just can't bring myself to find much of anything here, outside of a few performances, worth recommending.
GO Rating: 2/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]