by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
Opens October 18
Carrie was author Stephen King's first published novel, hitting store shelves in 1974 and quickly becoming an instant bestseller. Two years later, director Brian De Palma had his first bona fide smash with the adaptation, his two stars, Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, both garnering Academy Award nominations. In 1999 a rather ill-conceived sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2, was brought to the screen with actress Amy Irving reprising her role as prom-night survivor Sue Snell, while a 2002 TV miniseries attempted to reinvent the character for a new millennium.
For a novel almost four decades old, that's an awful lot of fuss, and in many ways it's deserved. King's book, a work of fiction from the prolific writer some still consider his best (I'm personally partial to The Shining and to It), is genius in its look at adolescence and high school, his insight into the outcast's mind one of a kind. He manages to understand, empathize, humanize, and, ultimately, pity protagonist Carrie White, getting into her mind in a way that brings the horror home in ways that stick with the reader long after the last page has been turned.
Now comes a new, updated take on homely telekinetic firebrand Carrie. Boys Don't Cry and Stop-Loss director Kimberly Peirce and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa ('Big Love,' 'Glee') taking their shot at the character and her sordid, tragic tale. They are joined by teenage actress Chloë Grace Moretz in the title role and four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore as her fundamentalist Christian mother Margaret, all of them teaming to make Carrie come alive for a generation reared on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
On paper this sounds just about perfect. In practice, however, the result is less than stellar. While Peirce and company don't embarrass themselves in any way, and while certain facets of the film can't help but intimately resonate as they rightly should, overall this new version doesn't quite come alive. It remains emotionally distant, never fully embracing the inherent tragedy at the heart of the tale. The movie doesn't offer much that's new, and while I respected much of this remake I can't say my feelings were anything to make note of.
Even if you've never read King's book or seen De Palma's take on it, chances are you know what's going on, as much of what transpires has entered the cultural lexicon to stay but, just in case, here's a quick synopsis. Carrie White is a small-town high-school senior who lives with her reclusive, deeply religious mother, Margaret. She is constantly bullied at school, the local girls, most notably queen bee Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), belittling her in every way, including taking a cell-phone video of a particularly unfortunate moment in the gym shower.
But Carrie isn't altogether normal. The more emotional she gets, the more she is suddenly able to do things with her mind. It's a power she's only just learning how to control, and something she knows to keep secret from her mother. Yet just as she's getting the hang of these abilities Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), the sexiest boy in school, asks her to prom, his cheerleader girlfriend Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) wanting to do something she thinks would be nice for Carrie after the way Chris, herself, and the rest of the popular girls treated her in the shower.
If you don't know what happens next, I'm not going to spoil it. Rest assured, prom night, much like Margaret predicts, doesn't go well for Carrie, and the kids at school rue the day they decided to pick on someone they wrongly perceived as harmless. In the process, Peirce and Aguirre-Sacasa, staying relatively close to King's prose, attempt to analyze teenage life, high-school hierarchies, and religious-fueled paranoia, all of it packaged in an emotionally charged firestorm of revenge and retribution where simple kindness can be transformed into unthinkable tragedy in the blink of the proverbial eye.
FEW NEW INSIGHTS
Problem is, as handsome as the production is, as good as many individual scenes might prove to be, on the whole I never felt like Peirce or Aguirre-Sacasa were bringing anything new to the conversation. The themes they are dissecting have been analyzed before with more depth and greater nuance, and as far as shock and awe are concerned they don't come close to achieving anything near what De Palma did 27 years ago. So much of the film is rudimentary to the point of tedium, making caring about much of what's transpiring exceedingly difficult.
At the same time, I admire Peirce's restraint, her attempts to put character development first and terror-filled imagery a decided second. When the prom erupts she keeps the focus on Carrie, just as it should be, allowing her monstrous devolution to hit home in ways it never would have otherwise. Additionally, early scenes between Moretz and Moore, especially immediately after the shower-room bullying, are very good, bordering on great, hinting at complexities to come that are frustratingly never as fully explored as I hoped they would be.
Would I feel different about this Carrie had I not read King's book, if I weren't familiar with De Palma's classic take? Sorry to say, I just don't think so. Sue's character remains annoyingly one-dimensional, while Chris's evil intentions are more nondescript than they are repugnant. Worst of all, the climactic showdown between Carrie and Margaret falls frustratingly flat, the emotional catastrophe born out of the prom's fiery chaos not delivered upon when true evil and its repercussions finally gets its chance to be explored. The scares just never materialize, making our title character's journey nowhere near as powerful or as impacting as it regrettably should have been.
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