Director: Kimberly Peirce
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Ansel Elgort, Alex Russell
MPAA Rating: (for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content)
Running Time: 1:39
Release Date: 10/18/13
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 17, 2013
There is not an especially "good" reason for this version of Carrie, particularly after director Brian De Palma's 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's first novel (at least the first one to be published)—a film that has become something more than one of the few really successful adaptations of King's horror-driven works. It's iconic: the dreamy opening in which a young woman explores her body and finds an unknown terror there, the domestic tension between a daughter and her ultra-religious mother that could be campy if not for the genuine torment playing out underneath, the dance that is portrayed as a dizzying joining of unabashed joy and inevitable ruin, and the split-screen chaos of a teenager whose suffering and anger gets a supernatural output for those emotions.
There is no "good" reason to revisit the story, except for the most important one: It's a really damn fine story. Watching director Kimberly Peirce's bare-bones adaptation, that fact becomes even clearer. Carrie may not have the technical inventiveness of the De Palma film, but it does get the basics right. In that regard, the film is a surprising success. Aside from some modern touches, we don't find anything new here, but we are reminded of the raw power of King's story. That is all in the basics.
One may recall that the story is first and foremost a study of an isolated, socially awkward teenage girl. We first see Carrie (Chloë Grace Moretz) standing alone, watching her classmates interact in friendly and romantic ways. From her stares, it's clear she is not envious of her peers; she simply observes with the knowledge that such relationships are likely never to be a part of her life. After she accidentally hits a girl in the head with the ball while playing volleyball, everyone begins laughing until Carrie works up the courage to laugh along with them. At that point, no one finds it funny.
How sad the life of Carrie White is. Before the story proper commences, the film introduces us to the reason for this with a prologue that shows her troublesome birth. The camera sneaks up on the White home and sneaks through it, winding up the stairs and noting a wet and bloody footprint along the way. Carrie's mother Margaret (Julianne Moore) is in the process of giving birth but doesn't realize it. When she does, she almost immediately reaches for a pair of scissors to end her newborn daughter's life. With every fiber of her being, she believes the child is a curse.
Carrie has lived in a protective, repressive bubble her entire life until now. Her mother—"mama," always "mama"—has pushed a warped version of Christianity down her throat. When she gets her first period while in the shower after gym class, she's terrified, thinking she is dying—just as her mother thought when she was giving birth to her. Her classmates laugh and begin throwing feminine products at her. Chris (Portia Doubleday), the girl who started it all, records the incident on her phone and posts it online.
Sue (Gabriella Wilde), another of the girls who participated in the teasing, feels guilty and, later, comes up with a plan to have her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) take Carrie to prom to, in some small way, make up for her mistake. When the gym teacher (Judy Greer) suspends Chris and prohibits her from going to prom, the bully, like any of those kinds of people, blames Carrie for her own cruelty—much like Margaret does to her daughter (The mother goes so far as to damage her own body to prove the point)—and plots revenge.
Note the absence of the elements one typically associates with King's writing. The fundamental story is simply one of a girl who desperately wants a normal life but has been taught to see the ways of the world as inherently evil. The key is establishing sympathy for Carrie, not only as a victim of cruelty but also for the potential she could have if only given the opportunity. Moretz' performance is intriguing for the way the actress nearly bypasses our view of the character as vulnerable ingénue; it's more of a reluctant strength that's on display once the initial humiliation of the story's opening scenes fades. Carrie is a rebel, but she is simply ill-equipped for her rebellion. That is until she realizes she has telekinetic powers.
There's a little twist to this element. Carrie first fears but quickly grows to enjoy her preternatural abilities. The revelation comes as she looks at herself in pity in a bathroom mirror, which shatters just from the gaze. Upon realizing she can move the shards of glass with mind, a sly smile creeps on to her face. Peirce makes Carrie far more active in unleashing her power, particularly when it matters most. There's a serpentine quality to her motions in the bloody culmination of it all, as if she is conducting a fantasia of death and destruction.Just as before, the plot relies entirely on dramatic irony. Carrie sets up the climactic event, involving a bucket of blood hanging above a stage, and the probability of how Carrie will react in pieces. We know what's coming well before it happens (and, given the existence of the original film, doubly so here), which forces us to wait in dread for inevitable doom. We can only wonder with regret what could have been if only they had let Carrie have her perfect moment—if only.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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