Sunday, November 10, 2013

Squalor: Carrie

It was never really clear to me why Carrie needed to be remade, but I could see how it might be managed. Though society has shifted in significant ways since the 1976 original, the anxieties of that first go still seem to be writ large: Sissy Spacek's Carrie White is a girl becoming a woman without understanding what that means, and De Palma successfully merged Carrie's erotic terror of her body with her sense of coming into an additional, supernatural power.  That Carrie's telekinesis seemed like an extension of her late adolescence, and that film trapped the viewer in a claustrophobic space created by those central anxieties: it's the looming darkness of an awful teenage experience encapsulated in a relatively short film.  Of course, then it was also necessary to strip Carrie of some of her ability to be a fully fleshed out figure. Spacek's Carrie and her tormentors are less characters than stand-ins for ideas of persecution, suffering, and nastiness.

Now it's 2013. Kimberly Peirce has picked up Stephen King's original material, and the potential seemed extraordinary: a female director dealing with visceral girl-on-girl crime at a point when the psychological abuse of bullying is constantly in the headlines and a character like Carrie can be presented as so, so outside of the tech-reliant, raunch culture norm. It's unfortunately quite easy to imagine the crimes that could be perpetrated against a repressed, uninformed, suffering soul like our new Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz); she's a creature from another time, a walking relic.  Her fanatic mother has all but boxed her into an unending version of 1976, blocking knowledge, pop culture, and basic biology from corrupting her daughter's fragile soul.  To be a girl that cut-off from society in a world where her peers thrive off constant connection sets her so far behind the curve that the potentials are limitless.  In the rehashing of the first scene, Peirce seems aware of the possibilities: as Carrie gets her period for the first time in the locker room showers, Moretz morphs her from girl to animal, she is something wild, so outside of girl culture that she appears a writhing, monstrous thing squealing and shrieking with bloodied limbs as her peers press record and whip tampons at her. The difference is clear, there can be no catching up.

If she'd kept up that otherness, found new ways to shift and expand the painful humiliations into the true horrors of the film while slowly sealing all possible escapes other than telekinetic apocalypse, the new Carrie would triumph.  Instead, Peirce merely paints on a new, 21st century gloss in the most superficial of ways, and the big difference between this version and the last is that now the bullies have smart phones, make video recordings, and can repeatedly rehash embarrassing moments.  It should go without saying that this isn't enough. Giving Carrie White the power to Google telekinesis or her tormentors the power of social media is necessary, yes, but not reason enough to re-shoot a classic using so much recycled material (particularly the dialogue). Worse, though, is when this seems to stand in for any sort of spark.  Carrie is curiously lifeless, and its best moments seem to be wholly inadvertent appropriations of old lines.  There's a palpable sense of the paths the film could have taken.  As Carrie's mother, Julianne Moore has the chops to easily work the story towards raw drama or pure camp (and Moretz seems to give off a camp energy no matter what the role), but Peirce seems to be torn between the two.  She knows better than to exorcise the fun from a horror classic, but may be too aware of the gravity of Carrie's situation to really let it swing camp.  It's a problem the film can't reconcile, and consequently, the tone is uneven yet flat, punctuated by strong moments amid furious eye rolls.

As a basic horror film, it's not terrible. Carrie may be, in fact, significantly stronger on the whole than most "scary" movies in a given year, and if I'd written this within a couple days of actually watching it, I may have been willing to give it a little extra benefit of the doubt.  A little bit of extra time has further stripped Carrie of any color.  It's a bland piece of work, forgettable and lifeless, occasionally frustrating.  Most importantly, though, as a remake of a genre classic?  It's an unnecessary mess.        

1 comment:

  1. Your final paragraph perfectly sums up my thoughts on the film. Is it okay as a horror film, and nothing else? At first, maybe. But this one didn't do well with time. I almost forgot I even saw it.


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