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I’m a big Carrie fan. The novel is one of my favorites and in my opinion the finest thing Stephen King has ever written. The 1976 Brian De Palma film is also a favorite and a classic of the genre. When it was announced that a new incarnation was in the works, I was excited. One can hardly take umbrage with a remake considering Carrie has already been redone in the filmatic realm as a lackluster 2002 TV movie scripted by the usually reliable Bryan Fuller – and even King himself discussed the possibility of another reboot (indicating he would choose Lindsay Lohan to play the title character). With Kimberely Peirce attached to direct my interest went into overdrive – her debut film, Boys Don’t Cry, was an a chillingly powerful, disturbing bow. She seemed an inspired choice and I’d always felt Carrie was ripe for a retelling more faithful to King’s novel.
As much as I love the De Palma film, the book is infinitely superior and many of my favorite subplots and scenes were discarded in the ’76 adaptation. There is a bounty of material that didn’t make it into De Palma’s rendition that could be mined to tell a very interesting variation on the well known tale.
My first doubts about the project began to creep in when it was revealed that Chloë Grace Moretz had been cast in the title role. Not only was she a few years younger than the character is written, none of Chloë’s work that I had seen gave me any indication that she would be capable of pulling off this iconic role and I was worried she had been hired more for audience recognition than talent. (As an aside let me say that I was never concerned about her physical appearance in relation to the role – any arguments that Chloë is too pretty for the part not only fail to take into account that Spacek herself was in reality prom queen of her class and a strikingly unique beauty, but also the fact that in King’s novel he himself describes Carrie as beautiful. The main source of Carrie’s outsider status and the contempt she provokes in her classmates is for the most part the result of her upbringing and has little to do with how she looks.)
I was even more worried when the full length trailer for Carrie ’13 premiered. There appeared to be an over reliance on CGI and it seemed Peirce was recycling visual motifs from De Palma’s version without coming up with any of her own – the design of the White house, Carrie’s gown, the theme of the prom, even Billy’s car.
As soon as the film began all of my reservations evaporated and I was fully transported into the world Stephen King had created and Peirce was now recreating. Chloë won me over at her first appearance – thirty seconds and I was sold. Sissy Spacek is still the reigning queen but Moretz is more than a worthy runner up and brings surprising pathos and vulnerability to the role – if anything her age is much more an asset than a hindrance. She is heartbreaking and I felt for her in a way that I never felt for Spacek.
It can almost go without saying that Julianne Moore is flawless and it was her casting as Carrie’s mother that more than anything else made me most want to see this film. There isn’t an actress working today that would have been better for this role. In contrast to Piper Laurie’s hysteria, Moore provides an even more chilling, quietly luminous insanity. Alfred Hitchcock once described Grace Kelly as a snow covered volcano, and the same could be said about Moore’s Margaret.
My skepticism about the CGI turned out to be unwarranted as well – yes, these are updated, modern effects but they are utilized seamlessly, without being obnoxious or obvious. Even Peirce’s repurposing of De Palma’s key imagery works and never feels redundant or unoriginal but more of a respectful homage – to paraphrase Sidney in Scream 4 – not fucking with the original.
While the new Carrie lacks the excess and over the top choreographed terror that lent De Palma’s version the feel of a timeless tragedy, in many ways this revision is more rewarding because of its minimalism. The more “realistic” approach brings a richer definition to certain scenes, allowing them to cut deeper. This is a more intimate Carrie, which reaches further into the story for emotional emphasis and provides more relatablility and nuance. It is subtle and sensitive where De Palma’s was sheer stylistic excess and bombast.
I do wish the new Carrie had deviated further from the original film and included more extensive content from the novel. It does incorporate minor threads from the book that were not in the original but it also replicates exact shots and dialogue from De Palma’s incarnation, although most of these touches, again, come off more as respectful homage than reeking of a ripoff. However, it is the instances where the new Carrie hews too closely to De Palma’s version that the movie falters – as swatches of conversation are reproduced, the current line readings almost always ring hollow and bring about unfortunate comparisons. The only actors who are able to avoid falling into this trap are Moore and Judy Greer.
The scenes that most lack are those of Tommy and Carrie at the prom, leading up to the blood bath. Moretz beams like a movie star and you forget that she is Carrie and you see Chloë. It was only during this time that my belief was broken. In the original film you are lead to believe that Tommy is actually falling for Carrie – which adds a further harrowing layer to the proceedings. There are glimpses of that here but nothing that equals the camera spinning woozily around Spacek and William Katt as they share a first dance and a first kiss.
The music also comes up short. Marco Beltrami’s score is bland and insubstantial and almost entirely forgettable. Nothing could have compared to Pino Donaggio’s soundtrack for the ’76 film and it almost seems like the Carrie ‘13 filmmakers recognized this and decided not to even try. The fact that the movie is still so powerful with such a lackluster score is testament to the strength of the performances and Peirce’s talent.
Portia Doubleday’s formidable foe Chris Hargensen is now more of a conflicted, layered character. When she breaks into the school with Billy to rig the blood and gazes out at the darkened gymnasium, seeing the decorations and all that she will be missing, her reaction registers with a searing resonance. Peirce’s strength is that she portrays no one as a villain but renders each character, no matter how deeply flawed, as human. Chris’s death in this version provides a much more gratifying closure than the original – indeed this scene and the way Peirce has shot and edited it is one of the highlights of the film. Peirce also innately understand the catharsis of active involvement and her Carrie enjoys the carnage and destruction she wrecks, whereas De Palma’s operated in an almost catatonic state of removal.
In this Carrie you also really feel that Sue Snell is giving up something when she asks Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. Amy Irving was marvelous as the ’76 Sue but it never truly seemed like she was making a sacrifice. Peirce gives us a very good scene in which Chris challenges Sue’s good deed and throws all of her hidden fears and insecurities in her face.
Nothing will ever top the look on Spacek’s face after the blood was dumped or the dizzying opera of terror that De Palma created with Donaggio’s music and the slow motion sequence of Irving glimpsing the bucket and ultimately being thrown out of the prom – a buildup of almost orgasmic assault. Yet Peirce does a remarkable job putting her own spin on it and bringing things to a level that almost meets De Palma in terms of exhilaration. The addition of having the students play the video of Carrie in the shower and echoing Carrie’s POV of her bloody hands lends an even acuter sadistic bite (and a fuller understanding of what King was going for).
Needless to say I’m very impressed – this could have been a train-wreck but is instead one of the rarest of cinema creatures: an immensely entertaining and satisfying remake. Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie won’t ever replace the original, but that it even comes close to rivaling it is a remarkable achievement, even if it never quite equals De Palma’s cinematic transcendence. B+
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
During Beyond the Black Rainbow, I found myself more than once thinking of The Tree of Life. It could be that both are incredibly non-linear tours de force. Or it could be that Beyond the Black Rainbow features a segment that one could say recalls Terence Malick’s creation scenes more than just a little. However, instead of what is essentially an epic revamp of Fantasia‘s The Rite of Spring passage, here we get a total mind melt sci-fi acid trip that provokes an unholy nightmarish wonder. This much I am certain of: Both are films sprung from the minds of fiercely unique and uncommon talents.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is not a film for those who seek a plot that progresses logically, scenes that sensibly lead from point A to point B or any type of concise conclusion. A cute, mute and psychically inclined young woman named Elena (Eva Allan) is kept imprisoned in a retro futuristic institution. Once a day Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), drops by under the guise of what appears to be a counseling session but actually seems much more like some endurance test in which they both have an equal stake. Everything is very sterile Kubrick, very THX 1138 and Cronenberg dire, very Argento lighted. And lest I forget, there’s a huge pulsating white triangle. Is it a metaphor? Is it something physically at the institution? Is it something that exists only in the mind of one of the characters or is it something that is used for mind control and manipulates the characters? What does it mean? Don’t ask me. More than anything, even passing similarities to The Tree of Life, I was reminded of a bad dream I had as a child while under anesthesia. The film is not dialogue heavy. What is spoken is not especially important: “You’re looking more and more like your mother every day”; “If you’re hungry there is some brown rice and steamed asparagus in the refrigerator”; “I looked into the eye of God” (well, OK, maybe that one is a little significant). The director, Panos Cosmatos, has said that as a child he was never allowed to watch horror films (incidentally, his father directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, Leviathan and Of Unknown Origin) but was fascinated by their VHS covers at the video store. Denied the opportunity to partake of such delicacies and inspired by the cassette sleeve artwork, he dreamt up his own stories, some of which come into play here. You can definitely see how the seeds of this tale could be planted and germinate in such a scenario and it is a great service to the film (and a great favor to the audience) if you watch the movie with that bit of background information in mind.
This film is fascinating. It will definitely reward multiple viewings. Each scene builds upon the next, each feeling like a delicious portent, each an essential piece to the puzzle. That the film was able to spread such tension over the course of the entire runtime and that the unrelenting unease never flags is a remarkable achievement – especially considering this is the director’s first film. You can feel the difference between a director (or writer) who doesn’t have anything significant to say and tries to mask that absence by obscurification and a director (or writer) who has a sure voice but doles out only certain details and deliberately denies us in aid of furthering a mystery and fulfilling his own vision. Cosmatos seems to be quite firmly in the later category. Always you feel you are in the hands of a master craftsman. And what wonders he surely has in store to dazzle us with. When his narrative muscles are as mature as his eye for visual detail and his ear for sonic delight – well, that is something I eagerly look forward to. (If Dimension Films had any sense they would immediately hire Cosmatos to direct the long gestating Hellraiser remake project.)
For what really makes the film are the hypnotic, hallucinogenic images and the out of this world score by Jeremy Schmidt (though Cosmatos demonstrates he knows how to use silence to equally disquieting effect). The compositions are lush, beautifully framed and exceptionally shot with colors that ooze off the screen. The soundtrack is a force unto itself, a moody synth score that has been rightfully compared to the work of John Carpenter. It is the music, perhaps more than anything, that is the beating heart of the film and supplies it with soul – a sinister, part robotic, drug degraded soul.
The performances are all top-notch. Michael Rogers is exemplary. Sinister and pathetic, often at the same time, he never tips over into caricature, which is important in a film where notions of good and evil, right and wrong, human and non, are so mercurial. We are never quite certain of his alliances or motivations, even as he is clasping a blade christened “the devil’s teardrop” and closing in on a very exposed and vulnerable Elena. I was unable to hate his character, which is a major testament to Roger’s ability.
Eva Allan should also be commended for her subtlety and depth, especially when you consider her character utters only one line. Allan humanizes a role that could have easily been a reductive cipher. She allows a range of life and experience, heartbreak and bravery to illuminate her face and ignite her eyes.
I really don’t think there is anything else out there like Beyond the Black Rainbow, even if, despite all that has led up to it, the ending does prove to be a bit structurally conventional and some of the concluding scenes bear more than a few similarities to Rob Zombie’s oeuvre. The final image that closes out the film and the implications it leaves us with are haunting. I can’t stop thinking about this film and I can’t wait to see it again. Now I got to get that soundtrack. B+
Rosewood Lane (2011)
Rosewood Lane is creatively bankrupt. There’s potential here for an absorbing dark side of suburbia tale, but director Victor Salva isn’t capable of any sort of Blue Velvet depth or even the shallow insight of American Beauty. This film feels very Lifetime movie, and has a flat and uninspired look that meshes perfectly with the flat and uninspired script and directing. Released straight to DVD, it is all too evident why this was never given a theatrical release.
The setup is intriguing but mostly too ludicrous to be taken sincerely. Rose McGowan plays Dr. Sonny Blake, a psychiatrist with a call-in show on the radio – think Frasier Crane or Laura Schlessinger, but not as pompous as the former or as crazily conservative as the latter. After her father dies, Sonny decides to move back to her small hometown of Stillwater, into the very house where daddy was found at the bottom of the basement stairs. And this means facing demons she thought she’d left behind… and a psychotic paperboy who seems not to be entirely human… and may have had a hand in her father’s death… and may make her his next victim.
The incorporation of past trauma being revisited is not just tired, it is exhausted. And elements of abuse and alcoholism seem to have been added for no real reason other than half-ass attempts at “realism” and probably to help pad out the flimsy premise.
None of the elements introduced ever tie together into one unifying theme, nor do they resonant or make any impact. Nothing that happens in the story is surprising. Of course the cops don’t believe Sonny’s story. Of course the neighbor’s won’t talk about the paperboy (who, by the way, can leap from lawn to roof in a single bound). Of course Sonny’s love life is complicated and she has a tell-it-like-it-is best friend.
As it is, the film only gets the most minimal of mileage out of the psycho demonic paperboy angle and even when McGowan’s plight seems to have dead-ended and become absolutely hopeless, it never feels like anything is at stake – Sonny is never really that boxed in or that at the end of her rope and we never doubt for a minute that she will come out on top.
When the paperboy offers McGowan a special introductory rate, bemoans the amount of Americans who still read and later warns her that her offer is about to expire, it is so spot on creepy exactly for being so ordinary and playing up the vague yet undeniable underlying threat. If the film didn’t take itself so seriously and had really been about a devilish paperboy who won’t take no for an answer and is murderously disappointed that no one reads anymore, it could have been quite enjoyable. Instead we get McGowan Nancy Drew-ing and setting out to bring the little twerp to justice.
I have been a fan of McGowan since I first noticed her in Scream. Even though most of the rough edges that she so fascinatingly exhibited in her earlier days have been buffed away and even though she barely resembles the actress she was at the beginning of her career, her work is something I always try to keep up with and make an effort to see.
She ably carries this film, and considering what a unintentional joke the whole endeavor is, that is quite an achievement. She is obviously giving her best here, which is more than most actresses would have done, but the lousy script hobbles her.
Lesley-Anne Down shows up briefly as Sonny’s own doctor and brings to the proceedings an effortless gravity that temporarily elevates the film – it plummets from that height as soon as she is off-screen. Her two scenes are the best in the film.
The usually reliable Lin Shaye also makes an appearance, but her part is unbelievably trivial and she is totally wasted.
It is made very clear that the paperboy is underage, but the actor portraying him, Daniel Ross, is obviously not. This most likely owes to Salva’s history with minors, which would prevent him from casting an actor who was age appropriate. But I’m reviewing a film, not passing moral judgments so I have nothing more to add about that.
There is, however, one more thing I do want to mention and that is the continued use of children’s rhymes and lullabies as creepy and sinister singsong slogans. This has become incredibly overdone in the horror genre and was never particularly frightening in the first place. At this point we’re down to “Hickory Dickory Dock” being utilized as a menacing form of intimidation. C-
How cool is this? I came across it on Tumblr and have watched it about five times now. It is a snippet of audience reaction audio that was recorded during a screening of Halloween in 1979 and edited together with the corresponding film footage. It is a little out of sync but that hardly detracts from how enjoyable it is. Now, normally, I hate when people talking during movies, but had I been part of this group, I think I just might have loved it.
Silent House (2012)
Last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene (which it could be argued is very much a horror film itself) introduced us to the immensely talented youngest Olsen sister, Elizabeth. A marvelous actress of beauty, depth and subtlety, she was remarkable in the role of a cult member on the lam and unfairly neglected when the Oscar nominations were announced. Here she proves that performance was no fluke.
This is the second feature from Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, their follow up to very good Open Water. Open Water was released roughly around the same time as 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, an abysmal remake I had the misfortune of seeing on opening weekend. When I later had the opportunity to view Open Water, I remember thinking how much better the Texas Chainsaw reboot would have been if filmmakers of Kentis and Lau’s caliber had been involved.
The story in Silent House is simple, but the scariest usually are, aren’t they? Once upon a time… there was a young girl in the dark woods… Sarah (Olsen) is helping her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) renovate the family summer home after squatters have trashed the place – because of the damage that has been caused all of the windows are boarded up and the doors are always kept locked. Adding further inconvenience, rats have chewed through the electrical wires so that even when the sun is shining outside, lanterns are required to navigate the interior of the house. As should come as no surprise, cellphones don’t work here.
After a disagreement with Sarah’s father when a wall is punched through and toxic mold is discovered, Sarah’s uncle steps out. Almost immediately Sarah hears a noise upstairs and to assuage her worries, her father goes to investigate. Finding nothing amiss, he instructs Sarah to get to work packing up her old childhood bedroom. But this is a horror film, not Hoarders, and it isn’t long before Sarah’s father is mysteriously attacked and Sarah is left frantically trying to escape an escalating nightmare.
A classic setup, distilled to the essentials. But there is a twist – Silent House is filmed and assembled to appear as if one continuous shot occurring in real time with no obvious cuts. Previously, Alfred Hitchcock used this technique with Rope and an episode of The X-Files entitled “Triangle” was also done in the same manner. Although there have been quite a few directors who employ long takes, it is usually only for an interlude and not the entire length of a feature. Silent House is a remake of a 2010 Uruguayan film, The Silent House, which was similarly filmed. There are drawbacks and benefits to this method, especially for a horror film. This approach works to make the proceedings feel fresh and inventive, and even though the plot is assembled from entirely familiar horror elements, it helps to give the impression that we are seeing something new that feels very in the moment. Also, because the camera is constantly on Sarah (following her from an opening crane shot all the way until the end) it forces an immediate and intimate bond with the character, which Olsen’s nuanced and masterful performance only further reinforces. Yet this also strips the directors of quite a lot of artistic opportunities – the raw product they film is the raw product they put on screen, and they are not able to rely on edits to reshape a scene and do not have numerous alternate takes to fall back on and pick and choose from. The fact that they are able to create two distinctive jump scares working this way really impressed me – and I usually detest jump scares. They more often than not are the sign of a filmmaker who does not understand what is really frightening and is not capable of creating moments that are startling without loud musical cues and characters entering suddenly from out of frame. It’s a lazy ploy that distracts more than delights or disturbs, but here they are played almost sarcastically and subvert expectations – as with the rest of the film this is an example of the directors taking a worked over horror cliche and utilising it in a way that is completely different from what anyone else is doing with it. We need more filmmakers like these two in horror.
Their nimble touch transforms the very story itself. I did see the original Silent House – for a film that was shot in such a formidible way it is remarkably stale and slight. Kentis and Lau are able to wrestle the thornier, awkward issues of that film’s climax into a more lucid and aware conclusion. And so we come to… the ending…
Audiences seem to unanimously hate the ending, although this kind of “twist” is hardly unprecedented and has been done so many times now it can hardly even be classified as a twist any longer. Indeed it is the only film I’ve ever attended where there was (unenthusiastic) booing as the end credits rolled. I had no problem with the ending myself. Keep in mind that I did have some reasonable expectations of how it was going to go down having seen the original film. The bottom line is that the ending works, it makes sense, it is sharp and shrewd – it just simply isn’t the ending audiences wanted nor is it what you could classify as a satisfying resolution – but it doesn’t cheat us. Most likely the reason it has met with such aversion is because of the character of Sarah herself and how much we sympathize with her and become invested in her plight – which is just more testament to Olsen’s acting and the talent of the filmmakers. It is during the final denouncement that Olsen is really given a chance to shine and shine she does. Without her multifaceted portrayal there is no way of knowing how effective this film would be. Watching a terrified young woman run around a mostly empty house for nearly an hour and a half can be incredibly dull (see the original if you don’t believe me) but Olsen is continually stepping up her performance and exhibits an exquisite range of fear. She is deserving of every bit of praise she receives.
This is not a horror film for when you’re in the mood for fun, cheap scares. This is one of those films that burrows into your system and you will find yourself thinking about for days afterwards, whether you liked it or not. It gestates within you. From the very beginning there is a strong, troubling undercurrent that cannot be attributed simply to the genre. The directors are working at something deeper and altogether more disturbing here, but even when their endgame is revealed it never feels sleazy or exploitative.
There were so many scenes I enjoyed, with an almost unbearable sequence in the basement as Sarah hides from something that looks to be not entirely human and a later bit involving her use of a Polaroid camera to illuminate and navigate a pitch black room, being highlights. I also relished the portion of the film after Sarah has managed to escape and encounters her uncle – their dialogue outside and when they return to the house is especially entertaining. There is a moment in which Sarah hides under a table as her pursuer circles, in which Olsen lets out a soundless scream – it is brief and inconsequential to the story but I found it brilliant, and wondered if it was a choice the actress made or something the filmmakers instructed her to do.
Silent House is not without its flaws, but the filmmakers really did their homework and have created a slippery, scary final product that is a major improvement over the original – don’t be surprised if it goes on to eventually be considered a minor classic. B
Before I rush off to carve Jack O’Lanterns I wanted to recommend a film for you all to track down and enjoy. The Collingswood Story is massively creepy and worth your time. I was hesitant to watch it at first because I am SO over the whole found footage film craze, but I am glad I gave in and queued this one up. It is a low budget affair without major studio polish and recognizable actors (though if you do your research you will discover that Stephanie Dees who portrays our protagonist did appear in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers) but why should that bother you? The major studios have proven over and over again just how little they truly understand horror. If you’re looking for a seasonal scare that will resonate with you long after the credits roll and may even become a new Halloween favorite… here is your film.
Well, not my first award EVER… that was when I was in elementary school and won a coloring contest. But my first blog award! I am honored and I shall always cherish it. It is from the fabulous James who runs the equally fabulous Behind The Couch. You really should be reading him if you are not. He wrote such nice things that I am very inspired to dive back into reviewing. Per the rules of the award I shall now share three interesting facts about myself:
1. I have never seen any of the Star Wars films and it is a personal goal of mine to make it through life with this remaining true.
2. Someone once told me that I reminded them of Hannibal Lecter. Of course I took it as a compliment.
3. It is claimed by some that I dance like Elaine from Seinfeld.