I’m going to go on faith that a good many of you are well familiar with the original De Palma film from 1976 and the place it holds in horror history. Sissy Spacek is so perfect in that role that it is near-impossible to picture anyone else playing Carrie White. So it was with some reservation that one ventures into the theatre to see a new telling of this classic story with new WB-faced actors, modern technologies (smart phones, the internet etc) and a very different style director helming the film. I am absolutely not one of those people that decries every remake (unless you’re talking about the Night Of the Demons remake, in which case I’ll decry that all damned day) and I feel like the best course of action is to try to come in with as little expectation as possible. Not an easy feat, that. I know.
So what do you get from this film once you’ve made peace with your reservations, frustrations about remakes and tried to not obsess about your expectations? A pretty decent, sometimes great, sometimes frustrating retelling of Carrie White’s story crafted with care for the audience and care for the core meaning of the story.
Because when it all comes down to it, Carrie is really about abuse in multiple forms. Abuse and bullying from peers, abuse from a cruel and thoughtless mother and abuse from a tattered and useless security net of a school system. Carrie isn’t only about the central character and her telekinetic powers as much as it is about the ugly and sad result of layer upon layer of abuse heaped on her. There are no innocent bystanders in Stephen King’s story and director Kimberly Peirce seems to understand that concept in her version. The execution of that understanding, though, is sometimes choppy and frustrating and doesn’t pay off in a devastating way for the people it should devastate. It is as if they are led to that edge but wander alongside it versus toppling over. If you don’t sense that they feel that punch of guilt in the stomach, the sense of fault, then even dying doesn’t really resonate in some cases.
That said, there is a more intimate nature to Carrie’s innocence falling apart in this film that is handled in a measured way. She doesn’t go from zero to sixty in the snap of a finger and by the time we get to the fateful prom, we understand the depth of isolation she has tried to crawl out from. The human drama of that path is executed in small, seemingly insignificant scenes that really draw you into her as a human character and not only as a monster in waiting. A sincere compliment about her dress at the prom, the disarming way in which the dream-boat boy courts her, things like that. If all you’re trying to do is barrel towards the big payoff, these little human moments don’t matter so I was glad to see them as part of the story.
However, one of most frustrating things about the film is the way in which these well crafted scenes and humanity are interrupted by repetitive throw-ins as she discovers the depth of her powers. There are only so many times you can see her testing the limits and/or playing with her surroundings before it doesn’t elicit much of a response from the viewer. On the one hand, it was smart to show her trying to gain an understanding of what she can do and taking some degree of pleasure in it but it also didn’t have to be done over and over. Further, the parallel between Carrie owning her supernatural abilities and Carrie as a girl owning her transition to becoming a woman could have been more natural and less gimmicky and would’ve resonated a lot more. It doesn’t take a genius to draw that line between the two things and I really wished the film didn’t muddle those realizations and that humanity with one more ‘moving stuff with your mind’ scene done more for awe that substantive discourse.
This starts to really become an issue as we head toward the bloody final act. You want to be afraid of her and be afraid for her but that only comes when you feel like it is all happening naturally. The near-constant interjection of her using her powers in pretty meaningless ways is not unlike Samantha on Bewitched. It’s cute, not scary. It robs weight from what we know or what we sense (if you don’t know the original story) is going to happen. Cut those scenes in half (or more) and the boiling over at prom gets a bigger impact. Because while a lot of that fateful prom sequence is pretty grisly, you never get totally lost in it because you’re reminded pretty regularly that computers are doing a lot of the work. This is a damned shame because you can drag a lot more out of the audience by not showing this card in obvious ways. In this version of Carrie’s prom, however, that suspension of disbelief doesn’t ever kick into high gear and I blame the shimmery distraction of misplaced CGI for that fault.
I give a lot of credit to director Kimberly Peirce for getting solid performances out of Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie, Julianne Moore as her crazed mother Margaret, Ansel Elgort as heart-throb Tommy and Judy Greer as gym teacher Ms. Desjardin. These four really carry their respective branches of the film and each get their own intimate moments to shine. One scene with Moore as Margaret, for example, in the dry cleaner where she works made me squirm like crazy and wouldn’t have meant much had it been rushed or handled any other way.
I guess what I’m getting down to is that the film isn’t going to make you forget the original but it isn’t going to make you angry for existing either. There are some solid bits of drama and horror at work in the film that exist only for the unique way in which the director views the story and handles her actors. But for all those good parts, there are a lot of issues with the connective tissue of the film that make it a stop and start affair when the viewers nerves and heart demand more fluidity. You don’t get lost in the 2013 version of Carrie as much as you wait for it to gain its footing back from scenes of wasted opportunity brought on by too much reliance of CGI and not enough trusting the audience to fill in the gaps if they aren’t shown everything all at once.