Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Copy + Paste

Surprisingly, Kimberly Peirce's Carrie is the ONLY horror film this year to get a wide release during the month of October. Considering the year we're having in the horror genre, that's really quite a surprise, as 2013 has seen a number of solid-to-great releases thus far, between The Conjuring, Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw, and even some horror offshoots in World War Z and Warm Bodies. Sure, Paranormal Activity decided to sit the year out (and after seeing a trailer for the upcoming sequel The Marked Ones, I can't say I'm disappointed), but that's still no excuse to leave the traditionally scariest month of the year without the type of fare that exemplifies its reputation.

And is that one film a keeper? The original Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma and released in 1976, is a horror classic, often regarded as the best Stephen King adaptation of all time. Is a remake - even one featuring the casting of the uber-talented pair of Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz - really all that necessary? Pierce certainly has the female perspective that should give an edge to this particular remake, and her experience exploring gender identity and growth (just look at Boys Don't Cry, if you can), Carrie ought to have been a slam dunk. Add on top the claim that it skews closer to the themes of King's original novel, plus the added focus on bullying in today's society, and this could have been a remake to eclipse the original.
Detention didn't want her...
And in some ways, it does. De Palma's interpretation of the the classic novel - while still beloved today - was certainly a product of its time, and the campiness and outdated fashion and technology clash terribly with today's norms. If nothing else, Peirce does an excellent job modernizing the environment, even if she doesn't go far enough; one student films the infamous "tampon" scene on her phone and even uploads it onto the internet, but that new plot line doesn't really go anywhere significant. Certainly the bullying aspects of the original Carrie are more prevalent today than ever before, and Peirce highlights that fact well, not to mention the apparent inaction of those supposedly in charge (from unassuming principals to teachers who are just as bad as the bullies). As a modern adaptation, Carrie works because Peirce manages to take a 40-year-old novel and make it feel current and relevant.
Just for the record; this amazing actress is 16!
Carrie also features an excellent cast, with Pierce succeeding with not only her two leads, but a number of the younger actors whom you may or may not recognize. In the lead, Moretz is simply the best young actress working today. Her versatility has led to scene-stealing roles in multiple films, and this is just the latest example of an up-and-comer taking it to the next level. Moore is similarly well cast, the veteran putting in one of her best performances in years as Margaret White, Carrie's religious fanatic mother. She's always been at least a solid actress, but Carrie sees her take it up a notch, and with a lesser actress it might have been too much. Moore engages the audience with every scene however, becoming one of the film's stronger parts. Judy Greer takes a break from comedies to take on a more serious tone, proving she's suited for these types roles as well. And thankfully, the younger performers do their share as well, as talents like Portia Doubleday (Youth in Revolt), Gabriella Wilde (The Three Musketeers), Alex Russell (Chronicle) and Ansel Elgort (soon to be seen in Divergent) do wonders on the big screen.
Mother and daughter have never been so scary.
Unfortunately, Carrie just doesn't do enough to sufficiently separate itself from the original movie. While claiming that the film hearkens back more to the King novel, what we get is essentially a scene-for-scene (though not shot-for-shot) remake of the original, with updated dialogue being the only significant enhancement. Yes, the ending is slightly altered, but not in a way that makes the film any better or more distinctive. Peirce even rips off the multiple-angle blood spill shot of De Palma's exactly; it's a move that was surely meant as an homage, but merely draws attention to the remake's derivative nature. Worse, the special effects in that iconic scene are blatant CGI effects, taking you out of the moment you've been waiting for the entire film. Evil Dead surprised and pleased many by using more practical effects in their more gratuitous blood-letting, and Peirce can't be bothered to use a real bucket of (fake) blood for one climactic scene?
Because you begged to see it.
Carrie had all the makings of a great horror flick, and if it had been the first of its kind, I doubt I'd be so harsh on it now. But Peirce owes far too much to Brian De Palma's original to accept this new Carrie White as anything original, no matter how good the acting or how modernized the production values. Instead, Carrie exists as a testament against remakes, or at least ham-fisted ones that bring little new to the table. It should have been a modern classic, especially with no major horror titles coming out to challenge its dominance. Unfortunately, this new Carrie mainly makes one want to go back and see a true classic from 1976.

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