Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In Theaters: CARRIE (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Kimberly Peirce.  Written by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.  Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Gabriella Wilde, Alex Russell, Ansel Elgort, Barry Shabaka Henley, Hart Bochner, Zoe Belkin, Samantha Weinstein. (R, 98 mins)


The latest Hollywood horror remake is as unnecessary as you'd expect, despite the involvement of BOYS DON'T CRY and STOP-LOSS director Kimberly Peirce, helming just her third film in 14 years.  Considering how little she brings to the table here, one must be forced to assume that she simply needed the money.  This "re-imagining" of the 1974 Stephen King novel and 1976 Brian De Palma film (there was also a 2002 made-for-TV remake, and the less said about 1999's THE RAGE: CARRIE 2, the better) is about as perfunctory and go-through-the-motions as it gets, remaining watchable and never dull but also never justifying its existence.  It utilizes enough of the 1976 film that its screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen shares a presumably WGA-mandated credit with playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who must share the blame with Peirce for its complete collapse in the home stretch.

The now-familiar story of bullied, telekinetic Carrie White (played here by Chloe Grace Moretz), her religious-fanatic mother Margaret (Julianne Moore), and a prom prank that goes horribly awry was turned into such an iconic classic by De Palma that Peirce seems to throw in the towel from the start.  CARRIE '13 seems to be sprinting past the details, glossing over dramatic and character developments as if to say "Well, you've seen the original enough times, so you know what happens here."  It's almost like it's Cliffs Notes-ing its way through the proceedings.  As a result, there's no tension.  There's no suspense.  When bitchy Chris Hargenson (Portia Doubleday) and dirtbag boyfriend Billy Nolan (Alex Russell) dump the bucket of pig's blood on Carrie at the prom, De Palma's depiction was a stylish, elaborately-choreographed masterwork of stomach-knotting anticipation and dread.  Here...it just gets dumped.  It's a lose-lose for Peirce:  she can't mimic De Palma's split diopters and split-screens without getting shit for it, and his work was so good that it can't be topped, so she's forced to just dump it in the blandest way possible.  She tries to gussy it up by replaying it three times but it serves no purpose.  There's not even the "They're all gonna laugh at you!" refrain. This problem occurs time and again throughout CARRIE '13.  Everything effective under De Palma is neutered or outright absent here.  But could it have turned out any other way?

Peirce and Aguirre-Sacasa do include a few elements from King's novel that didn't make it into De Palma's version:  there's a brief shot of a court inquiry where Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) is being questioned, Chris' big-shot lawyer dad (Hart Bochner sighting!) unsuccessfully tries to throw his weight around with the principal (Barry Shabaka Henley) after his daughter is suspended from school, and gym teacher Miss Desjardin (Judy Greer) gets her original name back and survives Carrie's prom rampage (Betty Buckley played her as "Miss Collins" and got killed), but they also make the curious decision to tone down the character of Margaret.  This could be because Piper Laurie played it just crazy enough without going over-the-top that Moore saw no way to improve on it from that angle.  Moore is fine in the role, but Margaret is really less of a menace here than she is in the 1976 film and in the book.  In King and De Palma, Margaret fears her daughter but also despises her and her burgeoning womanhood, "the blood," and "the boys who come sniffing like dogs, grinning and slobbering to find out where that smell is."  Laurie's interpretation of the character was intimidating and terrifying, where Moore plays Margaret as more overprotective and demonstrates far more affection than she shows in the book or in Laurie's Oscar-nominated performance.

There's no problems with Moretz in terms of her performance, but at the risk of simplifying things, she's too attractive to play Carrie, and slouching her shoulders, hiding behind her hair, and wearing frumpy garments isn't going to disguise that.  She's a terrific young actress, but she's just not right for this role.  Even Sissy Spacek--also Oscar-nominated--didn't fit King's description of a "chunky" Carrie, and while De Palma didn't cast someone overweight in the role, she was one of those actresses who thrived in the 1970s when unconventional looks were acceptable.  Spacek is not someone who's conventionally "hot" by a standard textbook Hollywood definition, either in the 1970s or now.  She has an unconventional beauty to her but she also had a plain, "odd" quality that was well-utilized by De Palma and other directors like Terrence Malick in 1973's BADLANDS and Robert Altman in 1977's 3 WOMEN (even MAY star and horror/cult figure Angela Bettis, in the 2002 version, has an unusual look to her to that made her a believable Carrie).  Moretz looks gorgeous even when she's trying not to be.  By the time we get to the prom rampage, Moretz's Carrie starts behaving like someone who's seen CARRIE.  Instead of slowly walking through the gym and wreaking her vengeance, Moretz has been directed to wildly contort and symphonically gesticulate with wild-eyed abandon, looking more like a villain in the climax of an X-MEN movie than Carrie.

It's the prom where the film really starts to fall apart, despite newcomer Elgort's surprisingly sensitive interpretation of Tommy Ross, though he may not have William Katt's legendary locks (perhaps one improvement this film makes is ensuring the audience knows Tommy has been killed by the bucket hitting his head; Tommy's fate always seemed vague in De Palma's film until it's mentioned in passing near the end).  In the book, nearly everyone was killed, and De Palma even killed off the sympathetic gym teacher after Carrie imagined her laughing at her.  Here, Carrie kills a few people and most seem to escape.  But Peirce and Aguirre-Sacasa save the worst for last, as they inexplicably have Sue show up at the White home after Carrie kills her mother.  They have a conversation and Carrie sees Sue wasn't involved in the prank, and tells her "You're going to have a girl."  Yes, Sue is now pregnant with Tommy's child (hinted at but never overtly stated by King, as Sue either gets her period or miscarries near the end of the novel) and Carrie has somehow developed psychic abilities.  Does this have anything to do with Carrie's ability to move things?  If so, then why wasn't she able to see the prank that was about to happen? 

CARRIE '13 is competently-made and there's nothing wrong with the actors.  The biggest issue is the same as with most other horror remakes:  it just doesn't need to exist.  With one exception (Tommy's death scene), it doesn't improve on anything, it isn't better-directed, the ending can't be anything but lame compared to De Palma's, the CGI visual effects are less convincing than the practical ones from 37 years ago, and the usually reliable Marco Beltrami offers a snoozer of a score in place of the unforgettable Pino Donaggio cues in the 1976 version. All it really adds are newer fashions, cell phones, Chris posting a video of the shower incident on YouTube, and one already-dated mention of Tim Tebow.  De Palma's film is one that's been talked about and revered for nearly 40 years.  Will anyone remember this remake 40 days from now?

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