There is a downside to not quite being a full-time film critic and it goes way beyond having to work a "real job" so that I can continue to support this job of my dreams. It also means that, on occasion, a new release must be put on the backburner while I handle that thing called life. Such is the case with director Kimberly Peirce's remake of Brian De Palma's classic Carrie.
So, the sad truth is that while I've avoided catching any other reviews of the film I've already become privvy to the fact that the film is proving to be an underwhelming presence at the box-office that will likely be lucky to snag a $20 million payday on opening weekend, a disappointment given the presence of the acclaimed Peirce as director and the relative familiarity of co-stars Chloe Grace Moretz (the Kick-Ass films) and Julianne Moore and the film's remain just as relevant if not quite as powerful as De Palma's 1976 original.
There is a moment in Kimberly Peirce's update, it occurs fairly early in the film and will be somewhat familiar to fans of the original, as it is a contemporary telling of the original's traumatizing shower scene. In 1976, that scene was disturbing but I'd dare say not what I'd consider to be truly personal. In this version, constructed by Peirce in the very real world of modern teenagers and social media, the scene is psychologically horrifying and heartbreaking and jarring and just plain devastating.
There are moments like this throughout Carrie, brought sympathetically to life by Chloe Grace Moretz in yet another film that makes us realize how truly gifted young actress she really is in tackling such challenging material. Her approach to the character feels appropriate as one must remember she is a teenager playing a teenager, while the original film's Sissy Spacek was 26-years-old when she tackled the role of bullied high school student who ultimately becomes the bully or the hero of some weird mixture of the two.
Bullying is front and center in our lives now, with hardly a week going by without some unfathomable case being brought forth in the news where a teenager has been killed or committed suicide as a response to the growing epidemic. It is happening in small towns and it is happening in large cities and, as such, a film like Carrie really isn't dated at all.
Peirce has called the film a "superhero origin story," a clear indicator that she is approaching this story as much for its dramatic impact as for its presence as a horror flick. While De Palma's original has always had a reputation as a horror icon of cinema, truthfully I've never quite seen it myself through that lens of horror. Oh sure, it's certainly a horrifying story and both the original and this film certainly contain within themselves a tremendous crescendo of jarring violence. Yet, even in De Palma's film it was abundantly clear that there was significantly more going on than a simple high school vengeance story.
This film doesn't have quite all the weird edginess that did De Palma's film. Peirce has smoothed out the story a bit, while also giving it a universality that wasn't really present in the original film. There is also an intimacy to this film that makes the lingering effect of everything that unfolds here even more haunting. It starts with the way that Peirce twists Carrie's mom, Margaret, into less of a religious nut and more of a truly mentally ill woman whose obviously disturbed mental status sets the tone for Carrie's psychological development. In this film, Carrie is less the "outcast ugly duckling" and more someone who has become ugly through the regular training of her mother and her increasingly negative self-perception and negative body image. There is something tremendously sad about watching Moretz, an attractive young teen, wilting under the weight of the world around her. Peirce's perception of the film as a "superhero origin" story is a reasonable assessment of the film, because Carrie often feels like it could so easily exist on the pages of a graphic novel and especially comes to life as the telekinesis becomes an even more dominant presence.
The film's secondary characters are largely consistent with De Palma's original film, though once again, they have been at least modestly updated to reflect a more contemporary reality. Judy Greer is perhaps even more sympathetic than her 1976 predecessor as a sympathetic gym coach who, in a remarkably telling moment, has a tremendously touching and unforgettable scene with Carrie towards film's end. Ansel Elgort portrays the handsome jock whom Carrie is humiliatingly convinced to believe is really interested in here, while Gabriella Wilde is his real girlfriend and Portia Doubleday is that high school princess whose cruelty seems to know no limits.
We've all known at least one. Right?
Carrie wasn't exactly begging to be remade, and there's a realistic argument that the film is yet another example of Hollywood's being devoid of anything resembling a fresh idea. Yet, to her credit, Kimberly Peirce takes a classic film and manages to be both faithful to the original while breathing new life into it. If anything, Peirce reminds Hollywood that she remains one of Hollywood's truly creative voices and certainly a filmmaker from whom we need to be hearing much, much more.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic