Kimberly Peirce’s “Carrie’ Re-Imagines A Classic But with Some Revealing Updates
By Sandra Olmsted
Say Sissy Spacek and the image of her in Brian De Palma’s Carrie will probably come to mind, and that incredible performance is as hard an act to follow as the De Palma’s classic horror masterpiece. In fact, tackling a remake of an iconic film like De Palma’s horror masterpiece seems an odd choice for director Kimberly Peirce, whose acclaimed first feature, Boys Don’t Cry, was followed by only one other feature until now.
With De Palma and Spacek’s blessings, Peirce makes Steven King’s story of Carrie White her own by emphasizing the realism of a teen outcast bullied by her peers. Without de-emphasizing the supernatural elements of the story, Peirce focuses on Carrie as an outcast, which isn’t a surprise since her Boys Don’t Cry reveals the the true story of Brandon Teena, the gay girl who dresses and lives as a boy until her secret is discovered.
Peirce’s version opens with the scene of Carrie’s birth, which is in King’s book but in not De Palma’s film. This scene reveals the psyche of Carrie’s damaged mother, Margaret White (Julianne Moore), and puts their creepy, love/hate relationship at the center of the movie. Peirce also skips the jump-out-and-get-ya scares to focus on the response of Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) to growing up an outcast, to dealing with the modern world at school and a nearly-medieval, circumscribed, religious fanaticism at home, and to understanding and using a burgeoning telekinetic power.
By bends the original story towards character-driven drama, Peirce makes the relationship between Carrie and Margaret vacillate between tenderness and torture as the insane, increasingly hysterical Margaret tries to protect Carrie from growing up. Carrie parries for power, options, and understanding first with an incredible command of scripture and later with her improving control of her telekinetic powers. Moore’s subtle portrayal of Margaret as a mumbling, self-mutilating frump adds to the psychological thrills in different ways than Piper Laurie’s did in the original, but Moretz can’t outdo or improve upon Spacek’s performance as a lost little girl push to become a vengeful teen in De Palma’s Carrie.
Without preaching about the evils of internet bullying, Peirce also adds the modern component of a vicious classmate posting a humiliating video of Carrie freaking out when she has her first period in the locker room. This humiliation on grand scale sends Carrie over the edge even though Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), the good girl, tries to help Carrie by pursuing her hunky boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), to take Carrie to the prom.
Unfortunately, the prom is where the secret plan of Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and Billy Nolan (Alex Russell) to further humiliate Carrie will go horribly wrong. While the plotline of the film is virtually unchanged from De Palma’s, some of the characters get interesting updates. This includes Chris being the spoiled daddy’s girl of a slick, bullying lawyer (Hart Bochner), the gym teacher (Judy Greer) being warm and concerned towards Carrie, and Margaret being a self cutter. Otherwise, the high school characters function as little more than a faceless mob following the most sensational humiliation for fun.
While Peirce’s remake takes itself too serious at times, it also does better at updating previous films than most remakes because it avoids being silly or boring. Since blood and bleeding play a huge part in this film’s story, production designer Carol Spier and art director Nigel Churcher exaggerate blood red in the film’s look, and Lee Percy’s editing gives it a slick pace. Although Marco Beltrami’s score is opulent, it is overused and mismatched to director of photographer Steve Yedlin’s dark, mundane look for the film.
Like most slasher and horror films today, Peirce’s Carrie relies too heavily on special and digital effects to wrap up the story and portray emotional events. Because both Peirce and De Palma’s version share a screenwriter, Lawrence D. Cohen, who works with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa for the Peirce version, the dialogue being almost exactly like in both isn’t a surprise. Peirce’s version also lacks De Palma’s dark sense of humor, but her realism should connect better with the intended teen audience. However, where De Palma’s Carrie left the audience thinking about the deep meanings, Peirce’s cautionary tale about bullying will probably get lost in the many similar messages.
Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie, a Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, runs 99 minutes and is rated R for bloody violence, disturbing images, language and some sexual content. Carrie is in theaters now, and just in time for an early Halloween thrill. More of Olmsted’s reviews are available at <www.thecinematicskiny.com>.
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