Chloe Grace Moretz - Carrie White
Julianne Moore - Margaret White
Judy Greer - Miss Desjardin
Portia Doubleday - Chris Hargensen
Alex Russell - Billy Nolan
Gabriella Wilde - Sue Snell
Ansel Elgort - Tommy Ross
Zoe Belkin - Tina
Genre - Horror/Drama/Supernatural
Running Time - 99 Minutes
So it's finally here - the long anticipated second remake [or third film adaptation, however one wants to see it as] based on Stephen King's first novel from 1974 - CARRIE. I've already established how much I love the 1976 Brian De Palma adaptation starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie - one of those rare horror films that got some love from the Academy Awards, even if it didn't win anything. It's one of those horror movies that's still as powerful today than it was almost 40 years ago.
As I've done for the past several weeks, I've been looking back at other films related to CARRIE. In 1999, there was a sequel called THE RAGE: CARRIE 2. While intended to continue from the first film, this sequel was also somewhat of a remake for the 90s generation. While I don't think it's completely terrible, the fact that it wasn't needed probably ruined its chances at the box office. In 2002, NBC decided to make a series out of CARRIE by producing a television remake starring Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson. Even though it was extremely faithful to the novel, while taking moments from the De Palma adaptation, the first remake was a ratings disaster - ruining any chances for a television series.
Now in 2013, we've gotten our second remake with heavy hitters Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in the main roles, while BOYS DON'T CRY director Kimberly Peirce handles things behind the camera. All these elements had gotten people excited about this project, whether people believed that Moretz was too pretty and/or young to play Carrie White, or whether people thought another remake was necessary. Even Stephen King himself felt that there wasn't any need, feeling the original film did a great job on its own. However, we heard that more elements from the novel would be implemented into the narrative, as well as Peirce wanting to give the narrative a modern twist that would bring in a new generation of viewers who may have never seen the original. Plus, the topic of bullying and acceptance has never been as relevant as it has been now. So why not remake CARRIE? It couldn't hurt if all the right players and all the right elements are aligned, right?
Unfortunately, I felt really disappointed in this remake. While I groan anytime a remake is announced, especially one that doesn't need to be made, I'm not a remake hater. A lot of the Universal films were remakes, or different adaptations, of theater plays or novels. Some of the modern remakes are actually quite good, if done in a way that sets them apart from the original. I was hoping this CARRIE remake would be one of those. The original adaptation is pretty outdated, so adding modern touches and different sort of character twists while maintaining the essence of the novel would have worked for me. But when a remake is 80% the original adaptation word-for-word [and sometimes shot-for-shot], while the rest of the new material is interesting, yet meaningless since the film doesn't take its time to develop it, then you have a pointless remake that leaves you underwhelmed.
I won't get into the plot summary since everyone knows the story by now. You get the familiar scenes - Carrie's shower scene with her first period, Margaret White slamming Carrie for becoming a woman and locking her in that closet, the gym teacher punishing the girls, Sue Snell asking Tommy Ross to ask Carrie to the prom, the dirty pillows bit, the pig's blood at the prom, the massacre, and then the end battle between Carrie and Margaret. It's all here, which it has to be, but I wish a lot of these moments were treated differently.
The modern touches were nice, especially Chris Hargensen actually filming Carrie's fright about her menstrual period on her cell phone [which she eventually uploads on YouTube]. We even get the footage playing at the prom to humiliate Carrie, which was taken from THE RAGE: CARRIE 2. But I liked that the use of social media and the internet played in humiliating Carrie. Unfortunately, there's not enough of it - at least in this cut of the film [I'll get to this more later]. We also get more CGI in this film to explore Carrie's powers. Carrie has more in control of her powers in this version, which is fine, and the CGI really makes the viewer aware of that. Carrie can levitate things and people. She can make the ground break just by stomping on it. She can even hover this time around. Some of it may sound silly, but at least it was different. So I won't harp too much on it. I can harp on that pig's blood being CGI though when it's pouring on Carrie. That was just lazy.
We also get a new beginning, with Margaret giving birth to Carrie all alone at her home. We watch her struggle with killing this "sin" of having a child, wanting to either murder Carrie or love her as a mother. The dynamic between Carrie and Margaret was a bit different here, although I couldn't really buy that Carrie was scared of Margaret. Still, you felt more here that Margaret really did love Carrie and wanted to protect her - unlike in other adaptations where it seemed Margaret wanted to control her and torture her. It was somewhat refreshing. I also liked that they put Margaret's self-mutilation in this adaptation, which was taken from the novel. I wish more was done with it though.
We also get moments that spotlight Chris Hargensen. In the other adaptations, she comes across as just pure evil, with this undeserved hatred towards Carrie White. In this version, we see that she's an upper class teenager who uses her lawyer father to get out of things [just like in the novel]. But there are moments where you see her conflicted over her actions towards Carrie. While Chris wants to hurt Carrie, she wonders if these actions are a bit too extreme. In one of the things that I didn't like, it seemed her boyfriend, Billy Nolan, was the one really instigating all the actions against Carrie White [the pig's blood in particular]. Chris and Billy's relationship seemed more abusive than I had remembered, with Billy threatening Chris to carry out with her revenge on Carrie with warnings of death. In this version, it seemed Chris had second thoughts about pouring the blood on Carrie, while Billy was all for it. Strangely enough, Chris wants to hit Carrie with Billy's car to kill her, making the sudden change strange. But at least this remake fleshed out Chris a bit, which was interesting.
We also get more scenes between Sue Snell and Tommy Ross, focusing somewhat on their relationship and their feelings towards Carrie. Sue is guilt-ridden throughout the film, moments after she throws tampons at Carrie during the shower scene. Tommy even admonishes Sue for it, asking her what did Carrie ever do to her for Sue to even participate. But then he tells Sue a story about a similar situation he was involved with, which brings the couple closer. In fact, I really liked Tommy Ross in this film. He was sweet to everyone around him. While he didn't want to go to prom with Carrie, he does it for Sue. And while Tommy treats Carrie like a friend and makes sure she has fun, he's still thinking about Sue when he texts her about how the night is going. Honestly, I wish there was more of the guy, because I could see why so many people were drawn to him [besides his looks and popular status, of course]. Tommy is the really the only genuine person in Carrie's life besides gym teacher, Miss Desjardin. And it's Tommy's exit via the bucket falling on him that sets Carrie off during the prom. Also, Tommy is a big deal in Sue's new subplot [I won't spoil it], which wasn't really explored enough for me.
Other than that, we get the same film that we've seen in other adaptations - sometimes word for word, and even shot for shot. What was the point? Hell, the screenwriter of the original 1976 adaptation, Lawrence D. Cohen, gets first billing over new screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. If you've seen the original as many times as I have, you could recite the dialogue for this remake pretty much line by line. I was let down that CARRIE played things way too safe, not bothering to change certain dialogue for this version to accommodate the actors better and making the story feel fresh. I was expecting a remake that was closer to the novel, but what I got was the De Palma film with different actors and director. No Carrie destroying the town. No meteors. We get one testimony at the end about Carrie White and her powers, and it barely registers. What makes it worse is that most of the narrative feels rushed, just to get to what studios feel the audience wants to see - the prom massacre. There's not enough time for things to simmer, making us care about the relationships or the situation at hand. Even though some of the character portrayals were interesting, they still seemed a bit one-note due to the pacing. It's a shame, because the story is so good that it deserved to be paced better.
As for the prom scene, a total let down. It flies by really quick, and while Carrie does some damage [as if she's Jean Grey from the X-Men], the amount of casualities may surprise you. Chris' and Billy's exits are done well, but seemed to take a bit too long. I don't want to compare it to the De Palma adaptation, but De Palma really infused that moment with style to make it so memorable. It falls flat here.
The direction by Kimberly Peirce is fine, but I would really love to see a Director's Cut of this film. There were times where I could sense Peirce's voice through her visuals, but they would be undermined by the way the film was edited. There were moments I found interesting and clever, but the post-production really did things that took away from it. It's a real shame because I'm sure Peirce wanted to make this film as different from the more popular adaptation as possible. Still, the film looked great and the CGI was handled a lot better than I was expecting, with some good moments coming from it. I also liked the approaches to familiar characters that she made different for her version of the story to shine through. Peirce is a very good director who I feel was under the influence from the studio, who I believe interfered somewhat with this project. I think if the studio had let Peirce handle this adaptation on her own, this review would have been a lot different - and probably more positive.
The acting in CARRIE is probably the highlight. Chloe Grace Moretz doesn't outdo Sissy Spacek, but she's very good as Carrie White. I do think her youth takes away some of the understanding of the Carrie character, but Moretz does her best to make the role her own. She carried this film very well and I loved her body language and facial expressions throughout the film. This girl is a star. I thought Portia Doubleday was a surprise as Chris Hargensen. While being beautiful, she also presented a lot of attitude and viciousness in the villain role. But I thought Doubleday also made some nice character choices, showing that Chris doubted herself a lot of the time when it came to hurting Carrie. I don't think any of the other actresses in the same role have played Chris that way until now. I liked Doubleday a lot. Judy Greer was great, as usual, as Miss Desjardin. I wish she had more screentime. Gabriella Wilde was pretty decent as Sue, but not given enough to do really. And Ansel Elgort was really good as Tommy Ross. I could believe any high school girl would have a crush on this guy.
As for Julianne Moore, she was good but I felt miscast as Margaret White. She played the role in a quieter, more passive aggressive way - similar to Patricia Clarkson's subtle version in the 2002 adaptation, mixed with a bit of Piper Laurie's loopiness in the 1976 film. But something about Moore's performance was off for me. It may have been that Moore had to recite a lot of the dialogue that Piper made so famous in the earlier version. The dialogue is made for a character that's a bit more over-the-top than Moore had played it. It just felt off.
THE FINAL HOWL
CARRIE (2013) is an average flick that's pretty much a lesser version of a better adaptation. The cast is decent, and some of the changes done are interesting. But Kimberly Peirce's voice seems to have been tampered by studio interference. And since this adaptation is 80% the same in terms of dialogue and even some shot-for-shot moments from the 1976 Brian De Palma adaptation, it just makes this version of CARRIE seem inferior and pointless. And man, I thought that ending sucked. It's not terrible, but I was expecting more out of this adaptation. Good if you've never seen any of the CARRIE films, but only worth a rental if you have. Pretty much a let down, as far as I'm concerned.