Director: Kimberley Peirce
Writer: Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Producer: Kevin Misher
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Julianne Moore, Ansel Elgort, Barry Shabaka Henley
Social outcast Carrie White unleashes frightening telekinetic powers against the teenage classmates who bully her.
In preparation for reviewing the Kimberley Peirce directed 2013 version of “Carrie,” I planned on revisiting the celebrated 1976 Brian De Palma film in order to better reference the movies with each other. The book has mostly faded from memory and I was probably Carrie’s age when I last saw the Sissy Spacek starrer, which is to say at least 20 years ago.
Looking over what others had to say online and in print about the latest take on Stephen King’s novel, it was clear that the pro/con comparison perspective was already well-traveled ground. Those expressing the most disappointment were people who had beefs with what 2013’s “Carrie” chose to do differently than the 1976 adaptation, and moreover what it decided to duplicate, with some adding variations of the adverb “inferiorly.”
Wanting a remake/reboot/refresh, whatever one wants to call it, to be more or even less original than its predecessor instead of taking it as a unique entity seems an unfair expectation if its ultimate worth is based on perceptions of a previous film. Dissecting whether or not something has value mainly in light of how it weighs against an alternative presentation is no enjoyable way to experience a film.
In this case a fuzzy recollection might be a boon enabling fresher eyes more in line with the target audience, which is presumably anyone not overly familiar with the 1976 version of “Carrie.” Free from a mental checklist notched by standards self-imposed from the first film, enjoying “Carrie” purely as a horrific tale of a teenage misfit facing incomprehensible struggles is an easier prospect.
“Carrie” is at its strongest thematically when yanking heartstrings for the plight of its misunderstood and mistreated centerpiece. Born to a religious fanatic with poisoned perspectives on biblical passages, this is a girl dealt an unfair hand in life from day one. Watching excited flashes spark briefly on her face during moments when she glimpses a possible shot at normalcy, one cannot help but frown sympathetically knowing that a bucket of blood is waiting to tip over on her homemade prom dress.
Few know what it is like to have Carrie’s home life and upbringing. No one knows what it is like to discover frightening abilities of telekinesis. But many can empathize with an awkward outsider whose greatest wish is to go through high school unnoticed, or at least noticed for reasons other than being socially distant. Real sympathy beams into the screen watching a teen girl desperately hope for one memorable night away from the harsh reality of her everyday life.
Where “Carrie” falters is in a litany of missed opportunities. For a movie updating a nearly 40-year-old book and screenplay, its timeliness is limited to one humiliating cell phone video uploaded to YouTube and a Tim Tebow reference. In a release year when devastating reports of teen suicides and abuse from cyberbullying too often dominate the nightly news, “Carrie” almost has a responsibility to speak more towards a contemporary audience in ways other than peppering up CGI-enhanced imagery.
Keeping Kimberley Peirce’s version from knocking De Palma’s out of the top spot are filmmaking choices that lack personality and make “Carrie” too typical in its cinematic presentation. Chloe Grace Moretz’s performance is terrific, but there is a physicality strictly imposed on her movements that reads as overly staged. Arms clutched tightly to her body meant to showcase meekness and insecurity are used so often that the effect feels forced. Alternatively, the outstretched arms ending in open palms when Carrie uses her psychic powers look foolish.
Much of “Carrie” is similarly too on the nose. As Carrie’s abilities begin manifesting, there is an almost imperceptible moment when a water cooler bubbles in the principal’s office. Then the entire thing explodes suddenly, as if the audience would not “get it” without shattered glass and raging water. There could have been a subtle ramp up of the girl’s power displays, but “Carrie” goes big from the get go.
And the movie is not without an ability to be subtle. There are effective moments such as a brief expression on bad girl Chris’ face when she first lays eyes on the school gym decorated for the prom she cannot attend. That look tells everything there is to say about her disappointment. Judy Greer puts the same emotional story behind brow twitches when she listens to the story of Carrie’s prom invitation.
Out of possible fear for not being direct enough however, “Carrie” returns to the obvious route with rote scenes like an unneeded dress-up montage set to music and an over-the-top climax focused on theatrics instead of on emotion. Here is an auditorium full of unsuspecting teenagers having their minds blown first by the horror of Chris’ prank and then by the terror of Carrie’s unleashed fury. But the finale is disappointingly skewed towards the sparks, fire, and mayhem than it is towards panicked reactions and human tragedy.
As heavy handed as the delivery is, the bulk of the weaknesses in “Carrie” are rescued by performances from a cast where every actor and actress knows how to pull the most from each characterization. “Carrie” plays it far too safe to ever have a shot at standing out for audiences en masse, but it finds more than one way to work as big budget entertainment telling a relatable story to a modern audience.
Review Score: 70