We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Late by a couple of years I finally caught up with the Kimberly Pierce version of “Carrie” (2013), the remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 masterpiece, one of my most memorable cinematic experiences and one on which I wrote for Roger in 2012 (amazingly, a TV Movie and a sequel were also made in the meantime). The first thing to say about the finished product is that by itself it’s probably not relevant enough to deserve the special attention (especially two years after its release) but I think it does provide a great understanding on the little things that make for a great movie, if only by (unfortunately) lacking most of them. Here’s a feature that’s not terrible by any means, nor are any of its individual scenes particularly bad, thus it would make sense that when you string them together the final impact would be similar to that of the original, but this is was simply not the case.
Both versions deal with Carrie White, the odd high school girl tormented at home by her crazed, fanatical mother Margaret and detested by her classmates. By entering adolescence in the worst of times and places, she provides them with an excuse to make her life even more miserable when a supernatural force is awakened in her (Telekinesis-the ability to move objects with the mind), as they often do with Stephen King characters. The bullies are banned from attending their senior prom, the site where they'll plan the most repugnant of revenges on the now powerful Carrie and something will have to give, to say the least.
The movie starts with Carrie’s mother (Julianne Moore) alone in a room giving birth to the protagonist and pondering whether to end her brief life with a pair of gigantic clippers. A case could be made that the images of a baby and scissors should never appear in the same frame, but at least the movie starts with a scene that would seem to suggest that all bets are off and this will be an original rendering of the Stephen King story (or a re-imagining, as they like to call it). From that point on, the new “Carrie” uses most of the same dialogue as its 1976 predecessor and replicates most of its scenes with other techniques. The main variations to the plot being that it is now the popular boy who comments on Carrie’s poem in class (as opposed to the other way around) as well as some updates to make things more contemporary, like a father threatening to sue the school if her daughter isn’t allowed to go to the prom (how times have changed!) and Carrie’s enemies now using iPhones to communicate among themselves and YouTube to post their shenanigans. This is basically the extent of the changes to the 1976 script, even though they required the services of two new screenwriters.
The role that turns out best here is the one played by Julianne Moore’s, but she is a little bit too good-looking for the part and not someone you’d make sure to cross the street to avoid. This Margaret White just doesn’t feel as damaged a character, nor one with the kind of baggage that Piper Laurie once suggested. In regard to the title role, what once made Sissy Spaceck’s take on Carrie so memorable was how she was able to evolve seamlessly from a creepy outsider to a beautiful duckling and then to an unforgiving Movie Monster. In contrast, Chloë Grace Moretz looks much too normal and remains more or less the same throughout the newer film. Her Carrie is neither someone we can’t imagine being asked to the prom nor one who’d be able to scare the hell out of an audience. Her acting approach in the “shy” stages consists mainly of slouching, and, when applying revenge to her tormentors, instead of the sudden close-ups of Spacek’s face accompanied by the fantastic sound of "Psycho"-like cords, we get a lot of hand and arm twitching in a fashion that brings to mind Yoda when using the Force to handle heavy objects.
The new version of “Carrie” wisely avoids its predecessor’s tendency to cast adults to play the roles of teenagers, but unlike the characters in the De Palma flick, the group of students isn’t particularly nasty. Seeing Carrie’s 1976 classmates acting like a pack of hounds in the shower was just about as unsettling as listening to Linda Blair cursing in ”The Exorcist” (there’s something particularly wrong about evil coming from such unlikely sources). For the 2013 version we get a set of twins who get to look odd and not much else; the Sue Snell character (Gabriella Wilde) is now much more sympathetic towards Carrie and totally oblivious to her classmates' evil plan (why then go through all the fuss of seducing her boyfriend so he’ll invite Carrie to the prom?); the one truly evil girl (Portia Doubleday’s Chris) comes out more like a spoiled brat than anything else; and Carrie’s date to the prom looks just like the love interest in a “Hunger Games” or “Divergent” movie. This new cast lacks any kind of edge and makes the movie a “Carrie” for the “Twilight” generation.
Director Pierce avoids imitating De Palma’s fancy camera movements, and understandably so; this could have been turned into a shot-by-shot remake like the one done by Gus Van Sant’s on “Psycho”. The real problem is that she doesn’t substitute them with anything that may provide a similar effect. Her locker room scene is much milder and it just doesn’t unnerve the viewer from the get-go like the original once did. Additionally, not much time is dedicated this time around to the theatrics involved in dropping the bucket of blood during the senior prom so this pivotal moment doesn’t have much resonance. As a result, once it occurs and Carrie responds, I got the feeling she may have been overreacting a bit. The fact that she is hit three separate times (via replays) with what seems like a half dozen buckets of blood didn’t really help all that much either. Also, the physics involved in the car crash that kills Chris and her boyfriend don’t make any kind of sense, even in a movie this preposterous. When Carrie suddenly releases the vehicle she’s gripping with her mind while the accelerator is being pressed, it is projected forward and crashes violently against a gas station which would have been fine if not for the fact that it was being held in mid-air where it’s hard to imagine the tires getting any kind of traction.
In regard to the film’s final scene, I do believe the filmmakers were right in not copying the same unforgettable ending from the original version (too many other entries have used it throughout the years) but the shot that’s used instead is not very powerful and compares terribly with the original, not unlike that in Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” once did with the Charlton Heston version. Other deliberate changes provide a lighter mood but never for the best. One of the harshest moments in the 1976 original came when the school’s counselor and Carrie’s only true friend (played by Betty Buckley) was unfairly killed by her in a most gruesome way, but I was astounded to see that Pierce allowed her Judy Greer counterpart to survive in a film where any sense of a happy ending should have no business existing. The new version in general lacks any kind of atmosphere or the sense of doom that prevailed in the 1976 movie, making this the politically correct version of “Carrie” and an item of curiosity that’s mostly forgettable.
If there is a moral to this story it might just be that any movie can be remade, but it is best to avoid messing with the works of a real heavyweight like De Palma, especially an original film where he was at his best. It would have been just as well for the producers to save themselves some money by instead showing the cast of the new version sitting in a couch and popping the original version into the DVD machine. When someone asks me why many prestigious filmmakers sometimes allow themselves to get involved with such unfortunate, commercial projects, my answer is always that they too have a house with a swimming-pool to pay for (Liam Neeson must own a lake by now). The latest version of “Carrie” is nothing more than the result of a business decision, and not the best one at that.
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