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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+