Carrie (2013) (United States, 2013)

October 18, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Carrie (2013) Poster

Welcome to "Spoilerville."

Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie trod a precarious line between exploitative horror and serious social commentary. On the one hand, the movie represented the ultimate revenge fantasy for bullied and abused children: a way to strike back lethally at those who torment and marginalize them. On the other hand, by not dwelling on the carnage, it asked questions about the role society plays when one of its own snaps and turns into a twisted killing machine. There are problems with De Palma's version, especially in its portrayal of the key relationship between Carrie and her mother, but it's a more engaging and insightful portrayal than Kimberly Peirce's too-slick remake. Rather than fixing some of the problems with De Palma's approach and trying something fresh, Peirce compounds them. Especially in the wake of a made-for-TV iteration and a retread sequel, this defines "unnecessary."

For those unaware of the trajectory of the narrative, it tells of the events leading up to a catastrophic prom night for the seniors at Ewen High, a public school in Maine. The title character, Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz), is about as shy and withdrawn as a girl can be. She has no friends and, when she experiences her first menstrual period after gym class and believes she's bleeding to death, she earns the derision of the girls who witness her panic attack in the locker room. Her most ardent detractor is the cruel Queen Bee, Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday). Another girl, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), suffers a change of heart in the wake of the incident. In conjunction with a twisted home life, where she is dominated by her fanatically religious mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), this event triggers the awakening of strong telekinetic powers within Carrie and, as events propel her toward the fateful night, she begins to learn how to control them to manipulate items.

The biggest loss in the 2013 Carrie is ambiguity. In De Palma's interpretation, Carrie is a tragic figure, but the film's attitude toward her is nebulous. The film doesn't glory in Carrie's revenge. In fact, the death of the antagonist occurs in a brief, brutal burst that denies the audience the momentary satisfaction that can result from a sustained confrontation. Peirce, working from a screenplay co-credited to Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, wants the viewer to identify with Carrie. She spends more time than De Palma making the character sympathetic (including a prologue in which Carrie's mother nearly murders the newborn with a pair of scissors) and, when it comes to the infamous prom sequence, she makes us complicit in Carrie's violence. The demise of the villain that was presented in such a matter-of-fact fashion in the 1976 film is instead depicted in long, grotesque detail.

Technically, Peirce's production is superior but, considering the increase in budget and advances in special effects during the nearly 40 years since De Palma visited Carrie's twisted world, that's unsurprising. There are also some odd choices in shot selection. The most obvious occurs early in the film during the gym shower scene when Carrie experiences her first period. In the De Palma version, this was as uncomfortable a movie moment as a viewer is likely to encounter, with a naked and bloody Sissy Spacek pleading for help from her scornful classmates. Peirce, out of deference to her star's modesty, elides the nudity. Instead, we have a panic-stricken girl trying to keep a towel wrapped around her as she freaks out. The scene is oddly filmed and, not only is it less effective, but it borders on camp.

Chloe Grace Moretz's performance is, for the most part, credible. The young actress, who has turned in stand-out work in the likes of Let Me In and Hugo, has nothing to be ashamed of here. She presents Carrie as a deeply troubled individual, unhealthily attached to her mother and with no self-esteem. It's a fascinating portrayal that is matched by Julianne Moore. As Margaret, Moore's representation of a soul tortured by a warped theology is infinitely more credible than Piper Laurie's over-the-top interpretation in the earlier movie. The supporting actors playing the teens in Carrie's immediate orbit - Gabriella Wilde as Sue, Portia Doubleday as Chris, and Ansel Elgort as the dreamy Tommy Ross - are instantly forgettable.

Perhaps the biggest thing working against Carrie is that, since De Palma tackled this story, there has been a marked uptick in school violence. Events like Columbine and Sandy Hill have put a greater weight of responsibility on a director who wants to be taken seriously when working with this kind of narrative. There's nothing of the sort evident here and, because the film glories in Carrie's orgy of supernatural terror (which, at least according to King's book, resulted in greater than 400 deaths, including more than 50% of the graduating class), the result feels exploitative and ugly. Carrie isn't much fun but neither does it exist as a serious piece of filmmaking. It's just another inferior remake.

Carrie (2013) (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2013-10-18
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Disturbing Images)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1