Film Review – Carrie (2013)
Sure, some could say that the old Brian De Palma version of Carrie (1976) needed a little dusting off—it feels a bit dated, what with the abrupt editing style, the gauzy cinematography, the low budget effects—but it also showcases bravura performances from both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. The original Carrie is a classic, warts and all, and so the fresh remake from Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce seemed unnecessary (I guess I should use the present tense here, as it still seems unnecessary). The new Carrie (2013) does a good job of updating the story to the present day and fleshing out the background characters and details, but this film follows the original film so closely—many times verbatim—that it feels too much like a beat for beat retread, an exercise in redundancy almost akin to the Gus Van Sant Psycho debacle.
The biggest change to the current Carrie comes front and center: in the very first scene we see Carrie’s mother, Margaret, screaming desperately alone in her bedroom, afraid she’s dying of cancer. Ms. White soon finds out that the intense and painful convulsions are actually the contractions of childbirth when a softly mewling baby appears between her legs. Convinced this is a child of sin, of the devil, she grabs a pair of scissors to rid the world of the evil, but the pure innocent gaze of the baby engages mama’s motherly instincts, and she spares the child. This sets up the new film’s predominant focus on the mother-daughter bond between Carrie and Margaret White, which is unfortunate, because these two characters are the film’s weakest links.
It’s tough living in the shadow of a legend, and both Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore find themselves in this predicament. The performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are iconic. Spacek was able to pull off the odd, mousy, and emotionally and intellectually stunted Carrie perfectly, but Moretz is unfortunately glaringly miscast here. She has an amazing screen presence, yes, but it is because there is an underlying power, beauty, and charisma to her that is the complete antithesis to everything Carrie should be. Moretz does the best she can to hunch her shoulders in protection and to hide her face behind her hair, but she’s much too beautiful and sharply intelligent. I didn’t believe her as a social outcast for a second. Piper Laurie’s Margaret White was fiery, manic, and crazed, fervently devout to a religion of her own making, whereas Julianne Moore plays Ms. White as a timid and wary woman with an underlying and quiet menace that is a bit too subtle. This might have worked if the film had gone in a completely new direction, but the script is nearly an exact replica of the earlier film, and so lines that were delivered with such perfection by the previous performers simply fall flat here.
What this film does do better is to fully flesh out Carrie’s world. We see more of Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer), the kindly gym teacher, and the well-meaning but oblivious principal is played much more realistically. The plot and the supporting cast have more room to breathe here, and so there is a much more logical chain of events that leads Carrie to the disastrous prom. That’s when this film really kicks into high gear. The carnage on display here is much more visceral and brutal. The original film’s climax consisted of the gym’s sprinkler system spraying water on frightened high schoolers pounding on doors telekinetically kept shut, the only grand effect being the falling structure that cuts Ms. Desjardin in half. The new film utilizes modern technology to its advantage to create a truly gripping catastrophe. Objects and people fly across the gym, bleachers crash open and shut on people to gruesome effect, electrical wires are ripped apart, and people are trampled. This is the spectacle we came to see, even if it does go a little over the top. But, then, this is a horror movie, for Christ’s sake.
I almost wish there were a way to splice the two films together. This film has some good things going for it: a fully fleshed-out world, nuanced supporting characters, a more thoroughly complete plot, a climactic prom that really is tragic and calamitous. But, by sticking largely to the same script and the same dialogue, Moore and Moretz are overshadowed by the powerhouse performances of Laurie and Spacek. A movie must stand on its own, however—especially a remake—and as it is, this Carrie is a pale imitation of its earlier incarnation.