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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2013-Day 23: CARRIE (2013)

In the current age of needless remakes, it was inevitable that Hollywood would return to the horror well that is Stephen King’s CARRIE (which was already done back in 2002 as a made-for-TV move and possible series pilot, but the less said of that the better) and as remakes go, the 2013 iteration is not bad at all. That said, it doesn’t hold the same primal gravitas and miserable power that Brian DePalma’s 1976 classic version possesses, and that’s partly due to the original’s plot particulars having crossed over into the shared pop cultural consciousness, so it’s pretty much impossible to approach this story without already knowing exactly what it’s about and where it’s going sight unseen. It’s also a story that requires no embellishment in order to make it relatable to a contemporary audience of the twenty-teens. The true power and indelibly resonant aspect of the heart-wrenching tragedy of Carrie White lies in it being one of the handful of classic horror stories that explores a specifically female part of the human experience — a young girl’s traumatic first experience with her menstrual cycle, coupled with the crueler-than-cruel actions of some of her peers, plus the abuses she suffers at the hands of her mentally ill religious fanatic of a mother — and the honesty with which it builds to its apocalyptic climax simultaneously touches and deeply saddens its audience. No amount of flashy special effects and Karo syrup blood can augment what is already very strong meat, so why bother trying to one-up perfection?

I’ve previously written at length on the original CARRIE, so all I really need to say about the plot of the 2013 version is that it tells basically the same story, only with a couple of bits thrown in that were of minor importance in the novel and a couple of changes in the fates of some of the characters. Carrie’s still a shy, tormented outcast (well-played by Chloe Grace Moretz) who was not informed of the facts about female adolescence and suffers her first period in her high school’s girls’ locker room, much to the sadistic amusement of a gaggle of her "mean girl" peers — one of the all-time most abusive and humiliating sequences in all of fiction, now made worse with the addition of cell phone video and internet sharing — and that incident unleashes her latent telekinetic powers, which are displayed to full apocalyptic effect during the narrative’s famous senior prom climax, so if you’ve seen the 1976 version, the same can pretty much be said for the new one.

The major draw this time around is Moretz as Carrie, and I’m glad to say that she delivers the tortured girl’s timidity and loneliness in spades. When word of this remake first got out and her name was attached to the project, I balked because Moretz is simply far too pretty for the role. (The same can be said of Sissy Spacek in the original, but she was also kind of weirdly spooky-looking, an aspect that Moretz does not exude.) But Moretz overcomes the possible stumbling block of her appealing features with a performance that brings the character’s emotional frailty and isolation to the fore, with her eyes perpetually downcast, save for when she makes direct eye contact, at which point she’s like a terrified deer caught in the headlights. Julianne Moore is also quite good as Carrie’s batshit-insane religious fanatic mom, playing the role in a distinctly de-glammed manner that belies her considerable ginger beauty.

One element that works in the film’s favor is that all of the high school-aged characters look the right age, as opposed to the original, where the youngest of the high school kids looked to be somewhere in their early-to-mid-twenties. That helps sell the mishegoss on a level believable of hormonally driven teens, but not half as plausible when enacted by people like the 1976 version’s William Katt. (Nancy Allen and John Travolta were exceptions by virtue of both being outstanding, utterly hateful bad guys.) The current version’s Chris Hargensen works quite well as played by Portia Doubleday, largely because she looks the character’s age, and is therefore totally believable as a spoiled, sadistic cunt of the worst order, which only makes us long to witness her fate on the receiving end of Carrie’s vengeful wrath.

And while we’re on the subject of Carrie’s powers and completely understandable wrath, the way her telekinetic abilities are depicted in the new film seems to be influenced by the wave of popular superhero movies of the past fifteen years or so. This time around, Carrie puts in a bit of practice with her power once she’s aware of it, and when she finally reaches her breaking point at the prom, her control of her TK is nothing short of masterful. It’s very impressive, but that level of Jean Grey-style mastery detracts from the from-the-gut primal anger witnessed in both the source novel and DePalma’s classic version. It’s akin to a kung fu movie in which a novice has just begun to understand and be able to implement some serious martial techniques, and then suddenly engages in combat with the acumen of a master. In short, it was cool to look at but that instinct-driven punch was gone in favor of Yoda-esque hand gestures and concentration.

Carrie’s explosive meltdown after the infamous prom night anointing with a bucket of pig’s blood is indeed spectacular, but it’s also marred by the aforementioned Yoda-style flourishes, along with Carrie levitating herself so that she looks like a spectre covered in the red goop one uses to make candy apples. In the previous tellings of the story, Carrie’s fury was such that not even the gym teacher who came to her aid throughout the story survived her rampage, but the new version allows Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) to live to tell the tale. I’m of a divided mind on that one; no, Desjardin did not deserve to be bulldozed by the bludgeon of Carrie’s TK retribution, but her death served to point up just how broken and out of control Carrie was when she finally snapped, so Desjardin being spared further dilutes the narrative’s vitriol.

Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), the repentant girl who convinces her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom, turns up pregnant at the end and finds Carrie after the devastation of the school, cradling her now-dead loony mom in her arms. Carrie senses Sue’s pregnancy and informs her previously unaware classmate that she’s carrying a girl. Carrie spares Sue’s life, telekinetically booting her from the house as she collapses it on top of herself and her dead mom, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why the pregnancy angle was included. It was only after the credits rolled that I considered it might be a way of setting up a possible sequel, with Carrie maybe having somehow transferred her spirit and power into Sue’s gestating daughter. It’s a stretch, but I’ve seen far more ludicrous springboards from which sequels have been generated.

The bottom line on the 2013 CARRIE is that while it’s not a bad movie by any means, it’s done in by its very superfluousness, and it reads as exactly what I expected from a remake of this particular story, namely CARRIE for the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL generation. It’s worth a look when it hits cable or Netflix, but I say why go with a lesser imitation when the superb original can still be had with ease?

(Oh, and they wisely didn't copy DePalma's famous shock ending, which the first FRIDAY THE 13th already ripped off anyway.)

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