By Ezra Stead
Carrie, USA, 2013
Directed by Kimberly Peirce
To justify its own existence, a remake of a classic film doesn’t necessarily have to be better than the original, but it is crucial that it be different in some substantial way. For example, though I prefer the original French film Love Crime in many ways, Brian De Palma’s Passion more than justifies its existence by adding a third-act fever dream to the original source material, as well as being strikingly unique in several other ways. Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear is another good example of a filmmaker taking a markedly different approach to an already great film, in this case by adding psychological and moral complexity to what was originally a very cut-and-dried good versus evil story. In the horror genre, John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly update classic B-movies to horrifying effect, to my mind managing to surpass the original films in quality and memorability.
Though I would like to evaluate Kimberly Peirce’s new film version of Carrie on its own merits, without comparing it to De Palm’s 1976 adaptation, it is just too similar, and everything good the new Carrie does with the material, De Palma’s film already did better. This is evident from the very beginning, in the famous shower scene in which Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets her first menstrual period and, not knowing what is happening and believing that she is bleeding to death, is mercilessly taunted and humiliated by her classmates. In De Palma’s film, the horror of this moment is forefronted, with the performances and shooting style heightened to a surreal, nightmarish pitch. The vulnerability of Sissy Spacek’s performance in particular sells the moment, and it is a truly disturbing scene to watch. Peirce, conversely, shoots the sequence in a relatively flat, ordinary way, and though the content is still rather shocking, it lacks the emotional power of the original.
A big part of this emotional lack, which continues throughout the film, is the terribly wrongheaded casting of Moretz in the lead role. It’s not that her performance is bad, just unconvincing. As a very pretty, presumably well-adjusted young woman who has been appearing in major films since she was eight years old, it is difficult to believe Moretz has ever been bullied with the severity experienced by Carrie White. She is the right age for the role, but that’s about it, while Sissy Spacek (who was 27 when the original film was released) made Carrie utterly haunting and believable. She had a weirdness, an otherworldliness, about her that made it easy to believe she could be the product of an abusive home life with a crazy religious zealot for a mother. Julianne Moore fares better in that role, though she too lacks the borderline campy but still terrifying zest brought to it by Piper Laurie in the original film.
Of course, there is another original source to which it is impossible not to compare this film – Stephen King’s 1974 novel – and this comparison makes Peirce’s film even more frustrating due to the squandered opportunity to do something really new with the adaptation. The book is structured as a traditional novel intercut with fictional journalism from sources such as a fake nonfiction book about the Prom Night incident, testimony from the “White Commission,” and interviews with the survivors. A much more interesting approach to the material that could have really set this film apart from De Palma’s would have been to adapt this faithfully, making the film a sort of mock docudrama, or perhaps even adapting it as a found footage film like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. Peirce updates the story to include modern cyberbullying techniques (the shower incident is recorded on one of the bullies’ iPhones and uploaded to Vimeo), so why not go this extra mile and do something new?
Another thing that neither film has captured from the original novel is the sheer breadth of Carrie’s destructive power. In both films, the impression is that Carrie’s rage extends only to her high school and her own home, which leaves a still impressive body count of at least a hundred people in its path. However, in the book, Carrie wrecks the entire downtown area, leaving nearly 500 dead. There is also a pervasive theme of survivors and victims alike just knowing, on an almost subconscious level, that it is Carrie White perpetrating the destruction. Her name simply appears in their heads, and this is Carrie’s way of getting true revenge which, as Poe would attest, doesn’t count unless the victims know who is exacting the revenge. Adding these elements could have also made Peirce’s film stand apart from the long shadow of De Palma’s and left a really distinct, haunting impression. Instead, we are left with a reasonably entertaining but ultimately forgettable teen horror movie, which pales in comparison to De Palma’s stylish, harrowing original adaptation, as well as King’s excellent, at times overwhelmingly sad novel.
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and aspiring stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com.