October 19, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Carrie”


CARRIE:  Watch It At Home – Respectable But Uninspired Rebo

The talented director Kimberley Peirce plays a losing game with her remake of Brian DePalma’s iconic 1976 CARRIE.  (In fairness to Peirce, it’s not clear how many of the creative shots she was calling; she signed on as a director-for-hire after struggling for years to finance a more personal follow-up to her Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss.)  Carrie isn’t DePalma’s biggest hit (The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible sold substantially more tickets), but it’s the one that established his brand, that mix of wicked hypereroticism, almost hallucinatory violence, seductive camera movement, fantasy, trash and outsized, operatic emotion that many filmmakers–not least of them DePalma himself–have tried with less success to reproduce over the decades.  It is, along with its polar opposite The Shining, the only masterpiece to be produced from the writing of Stephen King, a sickeningly beautiful, hilarious, terrifying and heartbreaking ride through the horror show of adolescence.  Even outside its given genre, Carrie has influenced everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Breakfast Club to Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life, and while remaking it is not, per se, a sin–God knows DePalma has done more than his share of digging through the bones of Hitchcock and other masters throughout his career–doing it so wrongheadedly is an embarrassment.

Peirce’s approach to the material is clear enough:  while preserving the beats of DePalma’s film (the screenplay is so close to the original that screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen retains the lead credit, with new writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa in second position), she aims to present it in a more naturalistic, socially conscious way.  But the result loses the kick of DePalma’s version without providing the goods that a genuine reinterpretation might bring.  It’s timid, and that’s the last thing a movie of Carrie should be.

The significant changes by Peirce and Aguirre-Sacasa are so few as to be instructive.  Some are merely updating:  this time, when Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is terrified after she has first period in the shower at gym class, never having been told by her religious fanatic single mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) about menstruation, the other girls don’t just chant “Plug it up!” and jeer at her, one of them whips out a phone and posts the video online.  More to the point, though, Peirce has sanitized the sequence of its queasy sexual edge–all the girls are at least partially clothed, and while one can certainly argue about DePalma’s desire to have naked adolescent girls in his scene, removing them inserts social responsibility into a sequence that’s meant to be fueled by primal awfulness.  Elsewhere, the character of chief villainness Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), while not sympathetic, is made a more passive participant in Carrie’s torture, coaxed and even threatened by her boyfriend Billy Nolan (Alex Russell) to pull the string that controls the bucket of pig’s blood at the prom (she’s also now the daughter of a sleazy attorney played by Hart Bochner, which makes her seem even more like the victim of controlling men).

The most damaging alterations are to Carrie herself.  Probably no one could come close to duplicating the uniquely otherworldly power of Sissy Spacek’s Oscar-nominated performance, somehow both emotionally grounded and believably supernatural, a passion play of agony and id.  (Dakota Fanning’s weird quality on screen may be closest, but there’s something distant about her acting.)  Moretz, though, is miscast.  She’s very skilled young actress with a wide range (from Let Me In to 30 Rock), but she’s not a wallflower–she’s about as believably unattractive as Audrey Hepburn in the early scenes of My Fair Lady–and cringing down the school hallways in the early sections of this Carrie, she’s putting on a show; she might be playing a Kristen Wiig character from SNL.  The Carrie that she and Peirce have crafted is stronger than Spacek’s, more determined (when she realizes her telekinetic powers, she checks out appropriate videos on YouTube) and angry.  Her destruction of the prom is less about emotional desolation and bottomless despair pure than revenge; Peirce has omitted the beat of Carrie’s imagining the crowd in the gym laughing at her, just as her mother foretold, and now Carrie orchestrates the frenzy like a conductor instead of being overtaken by her own rage, allowing some of the innocent to survive.  This Carrie is more of an Everygirl, a role model–she’s like one of those X-Men characters who chose to side with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto in First Class–and you just don’t feel for her in the way you did for DePalma’s protagonist.

Moore fares better with her more soft-spoken Margaret White, a reasonable alternative to Piper Laurie’s booming monster, but she would have benefited from a rewrite; lines like  “I can see your dirty pillows” and “Go to your closet and pray” are just silly when they’re not delivered in sensurround.  Judy Greer also does a solid job as Carrie’s gym teacher, the role played by Betty Buckley in the original.  But none of Doubleday, Russell, or Gabriella Wilde and Ansel Elgort as relatively nice teens Sue Snell and Tommy Ross are remotely as vivid as Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Amy Irving or William Katt in the original.

There are other problems.  Peirce simply isn’t the demonic technician that DePalma was in 1976, and when she tries to ape his signature sequences, especially the build-up to the blood being poured and the prom scene itself, they’re woefully limp by comparison.  The CG special effects are more plentiful than an older generation of effects allowed, but they’re also more clearly phony.  Marco Beltrami’s score can’t hold a candle to Pino Donaggio’s sinuous, witty original.  The epilogue, perhaps the single most influential sequence in the horror genre over the past four decades, is revised so ineffectively that instead of ending the movie with a scream, it provokes only a groan.

Overall, Peirce’s low-key take on Carrie does the near-impossible: despite roughly the same running time as the original, the remake, sapped of its dirty vigor, feels slow and uninvolving, so concerned with doing the right thing that it does far too much wrong.  It’s as though Sue Snell were behind the camera.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."