'Carrie' remake follows mostly faithfully in its predecessor's footsteps . . . which is kind of the problem
Carrie Screen Gems
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Screenplay: Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Stephen King
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Ansel Elgort, Alex Russell and Judy Greer
Rated R / 1 hour, 40 minutes
October 18, 2013
(out of four)
For remakes, the question - at least for me - is always one of necessity. No matter whether the film being remade is a stone-cold classic or a failure long forgotten, what matters is whether the new version justifies its own existence. Does it have its own purpose? Is there some reason - any reason - why it should be watched either in place of or in addition to the original? Does it have its own identity?
On that scale, Kimberly Peirce's Carrie - a remake of Brian DePalma's 1976 film, both based on the Stephen King novel - comes out with a failing grade. It's not that it's an especially bad movie; it's that it's almost entirely unnecessary. There's not much a movie can be that's worse than irrelevance, but that's where this Carrie finds itself despite a reasonably passable attempt at "updating" a well-known story.
Peirce and writers Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa don't follow DePalma's template in lockstep . . . but it's close. Most of the changes are of the superficial variety that all "modern updates" go through. So the infamous shower scene - as the hopelessly sheltered Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) shrieks as she gets, without understanding what is happening, her first period - is enhanced by the other girls taking cell-phone video of the event and uploading it on YouTube. Those are the kinds of changes one can expect - but they're also basically inevitable. Of course social media plays a role in a story (any story) taking place in present day. But does it fundamentally alter what the story is really about? Not really. What's disappointing is the lack of desire to tell this story in a noticeably different way.
And the thing is, there are occasional things that this film actually does better than the original did - not many, but a few - in particular, the introduction of Carrie's burgeoning telekinetic abilities. DePalma showed a general disinterest in that aspect except as a function of the plot - which is actually one of the reasons I think the first half of his version is so frustrating; it's so half-hearted, both in its depiction of Carrie's coming-of-age experience (her powers not coincidentally coming into form after she first menstruates) and in the characterizations of the teen bullies who make life so hellish for her. (The gym class scene in the 1976 film is embarrassingly bad.)
Peirce improves upon at least the telekinesis angle, but if she can't deliver the payoff of the film's climactic half-hour, it's all for naught. Which it is. The entire prom sequence is what really sets the original apart. It is absolutely virtuoso filmmaking, from the slow, gliding camerawork that reveals the layout from the dance floor to the stage to the rafters in preparation for Carrie's crowning moment, to the reaction shots (before and after) of her snickering, and then horrified, classmates. Coupled with Jack Fisk and William Kenney's glowing, romantic production design, the entire sequence plays like a barely-tangible dream, before it finally erupts the way it must.
The details in Peirce's version are the same, but they leave little visceral impact. As a director, she has a feel for character, but she's not an accomplished visual artist. And the modern-day staple of blurry CGI blood and bodies doesn't help matters, either.
Peirce also focuses a bit more on the genuine goodness inherent in the guilt-stricken Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), who agrees to accompany Carrie to prom against the wishes of Carrie White's self-hating, ultra-religious mother (Julianne Moore). Sue and Tommy feel genuinely sorry for Carrie - whose locker-room episode turned her into even more of a laughingstock than she already was - and even some real affection as well. They're better developed than the original incarnations were.
But those improvements are ultimately few and far between.
What I find most interesting in looking at the two versions of the story is the very different casting choices for the lead role. When Sissy Spacek played Carrie, she was 27, playing (quite well, of course) an innocent, emotionally stunted teenage girl. This time around, the same role, 18-year-old Carrie, goes to Moretz, who just turned 16 earlier this year and was 15 during filming. It's exceptionally rare for a teenage character to be played by someone significantly younger than their role. It makes for an interesting dynamic - Moretz more naturally embodies the awkwardness of one's mid-teens, while simultaneously seeming wise beyond her years.