By Simon Miraudo
November 25, 2013
I never thought I’d say this about a high school massacre movie, but Kimberly Peirce‘s remake of Brian De Palma‘s Carrie has way too many survivors. (Warning: Incoming spoilers for arguably the most famous film climax ever; one that’s already been given away by decades of pop cultural spoofery, not to mention the very trailer and poster of this new incarnation. I mean, you’re obviously a somewhat-worldly person who knows how to access and then browse the internet, You must have – at minimum – a passing interest in cinema, otherwise why would you be reading this review? You’ve surely seen The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live or those episodes of Glee and 30 Rock where they explicitly reference the ending. Must I bend to your insane demands and attempt to discuss Carrie without mentioning its infamous dénouement?! Do you seriously still want your hand held, nearly 40 years after Stephen King first published the source material? Will you take any responsibility for your actions?)
Anyway, when Sissy Spacek found herself doused with pig’s blood in the 1976 original, she let loose on her peers without discrimination; her expression practically deadened as she laid waste to cackling bullies and giggling sympathisers alike. This time around, Chloë Grace Moretz takes on the title role, and though her fiery vengeance is indeed of biblical proportions, a bunch of students escape the prom with their lives. The one and only scary set-piece from King’s novel is, as a result, muted. Without that feeling of apocalyptic abandon, Carrie‘s big finale lands like an empty bucket dropped onto a gymnasium’s floor: with a thud.
It doesn’t help that De Palma’s original is pretty much a masterpiece, both as a horror film, and, perhaps even more significantly, an essential teen flick. In telling the tale of a telekinetic adolescent’s awkward sexual awakening, he also delivered the best ever case for teaching sex ed in schools. Let poor Carrie White be a lesson in ignorance! Her ultra-religious mother, Margaret (Julianne Moore), believes the feminine form is dirty and sinful, meaning that Carrie is caught totally off guard when she gets her first period in the locker room. Screaming in panic, cruel Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), and the rest of the student body start hurling tampons at her and chanting “Plug it up!” (You see, this is why we delight in that horrific ending.)
Thoughtful teacher Ms. Desjardin (yet another redhead hall-of-famer, Judy Greer) steps in, banning Chris from the impending dance. Sue, feeling remorse, sits it out on her own volition, and asks nice guy boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to show Carrie a good time instead. Carrie reluctantly accepts the invitation, fearing further ridicule, but wanting the date all the same. It’s a mistake. The bitter Chris has recruited her deadbeat partner, Billy (Alex Russell), to arrange a public shaming of Carrie on her dream night, orchestrating a prank that will evoke the traumatic, bloody experience that set all of this in motion. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it’ll incite Carrie to test out her new found super-powers in ultra-violent fashion.
Pierce’s redo, from a screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, has a couple of new inventions. An opening sequence in which a howling Margaret births her demon spawn and then considers stabbing it with a pair of scissors certainly makes for an unsettling icebreaker. The technological advancements of the past three decades also make this new take at least feel slightly less unnecessary. (Carrie’s embarrassing moment is captured on videophone and shared across the internet; an entire generation’s greatest fear.)
But, for the most part, unnecessary is what this thing is. In the place of Pino Donaggio’s dreamlike score is a selection of hip tracks seemingly torn from an O.C. soundtrack compilation. (Just because bands like Vampire Weekend and Cults have spooky names doesn’t mean their music is spooky in the slightest.) The always appealing Greer gives the only performance comparable to their predecessor (Betty Buckley). Moretz too often puts on a knowingly-evil grimace, and frankly, just isn’t as odd or sympathetic as Spacek was in the role (making her incessant mockery, in this instance, somewhat unlikely). Moore is a screeching delight, but no one will ever snatch the crown of insanity from Piper Laurie‘s head.
Even the last shot – in De Palma’s, an iconic screamer – has been awkwardly detuned and defanged. Carrie was once the girl who struggled to relate to the world around her, and whose burgeoning sexuality burst forth in a metaphorical inferno. The way De Palma made it, she lived in a movie as uncommon and unusual as she was. In Peirce’s take – caught somewhere between Twilight and The Faculty - Carrie is the prettiest girl in class, with the best taste in music, and the most boring taste in cinema.
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Carrie arrives in Australian cinemas November 28, 2013.