Saturday, October 26, 2013

Movie Review: "Carrie" (2013)

The Kimberly Peirce-directed remake of Carrie has been in theaters for over a week now, and if you've wondered why I've kept my silence on the subject so far, let me clear things up: it's only on account of me being busy.  Also, I wanted to see the movie more than once before writing a review.  I've seen it twice now, though, so review time is here at last.

Judging from the cold-shoulder the film is receiving at the box office, America got together and decided collectively that it had no need for a(nother) new version of Carrie; "the one with Sissy Spacek is still just fine with us," the consensus seems to be.  "Gaahhh!!!!  Another remake?!?  Pointless!"

Call me crazy, but for the most part, the idea of remakes simply does not bother me.  What's the downside to them?  The worst-case scenario is that you get a bad movie, in which case it is eminently ignorable; the best-case scenario is that you get a good one, in which case, hey, you just got gifted a good movie.  Does it negate the original in any way?  Uh...let me  It doesn't.  I'd argue that the John Carpenter version of The Thing is twice as good a movie as the Howard Hawks version.  But guess what?  That doesn't make the Howard Hawks version any less awesome.  Similarly, the shitty remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still does nothing to make the original any less great.

The one simply does not impact the other.  If anything, it creates awareness of the original, and causes new audiences to find it.  I know at least two people who were intrigued by the new version of Carrie enough to seek out the Brian DePalma version and give it a look.  Granted, this is a mere two people, but I think I'm on the safe side in assuming that globally, there will be plenty of others doing the same thing.

So folks, let's just knock it off with this nonsense about remakes being unnecessary and pointless.  EVERY movie is unnecessary; and just as surely, every movie has a point of some sort.  If the extent of your film-criticism abilities lies in, as a default position, being unable to accept a new telling of an old story, then you have no business pretending to be a film critic.

You feel me?


Ah, but this does not address the most important question: is the new version of Carrie any damn good?

For me, the answer to that question is a definite "yes."  It is not a slam-dunk, unfortunately; there are several key places where I feel like the movie goes awry, and while the effect of these moments is not enough to ruin the movie, I do find them to be sufficient to hold it back a bit.  We'll get into those in detail, so before we proceed, I feel obliged to mention that there will be tons of spoilers.  So if you've got no clue what happens in Carrie, this might not be the review for you.

In fact, let's go ahead and deal with the negatives up front.  I'll start with this: the movie just totally fumbles the character of Billy Nolan, and his relationship with Chris.  This despite the fact that the role is well-cast (Billy is played by Alex Russell, who was extremely likeable in the excellent movie Chronicle) and well-acted.  The problem is that Billy is basically not even in the movie.  He has -- if I mentally count correctly -- six scenes; in one, he is merely a background figure; in the other, he has a couple of lines, but does not propel the action in any way; and in the next, he is bashing a pig over the head with a mallet, which in this version of the story is apparently his idea and not Chris's.  At no point does Chris cajole him into doing anything to help her get even with Carrie.


This is, to be blunt, a horrible decision.  In the novel, the implication is that Chris has a poor relationship with her father, and has decided to work through it by picking up a roughneck from the wrong side of the tracks and fucking his brains out on the regular.  In Chris's mind, she has Billy wrapped around her finger; in reality, it's more like the other way around.  And when Chris suggests that she wants Billy to help her exact her "revenge" on Carrie, Billy takes it to a place she would almost certainly never have dreamed of going on her own.  Still, the core ideas are hers.  That does not come through in this version at all, which would be okay if the film had made more out of Billy himself, so that the ideas being his served as a compelling bit of character development on his end.  That does not happen.  As a result, the movie loses a massive amount of steam at roughly the halfway point.

The counterargument to that, I suppose, would be that it is irrelevant how the plot against Carrie comes about; what matters is its end result.  See? I can play devil's advocate.  But that's all I'm doing, and don't think for a second that I actually believe the hows and whys are irrelevant here.  I see Carrie as being primarily a character piece, and stripping the motivations of the characters out of the story is just not the right direction to go.  And for the most part, the movie avoids doing so.  Why, then, do it in this particular case?  It's a mystery (although I suspect the pernicious hand of editing to a specific runtime might have been at work).

For whatever reason, it is that issue that gives me the most trouble with the movie.  However, the final scene of the film comes a close second, and over time -- as I continue to live with and process the movie -- seems likely to pull into first place in the "What's This Shit?!?" derby.

In fact, let's back up a little farther and review the entire climax of the film.  Much that happens after Carrie's mother dies is garbage, both in terms of concept and in terms of execution.  I wanted to say "everything" there, instead of much, but Chloe Grace Moretz is good enough that I can't quite do it.  I want to, though.

Part of the problem is that the movie has purloined an idea from the screenplay of the 1976 movie: that Carrie's telekinesis causes a rain of stones to fall on the house, vaporizing it and her both.  DePalma shot his film that way, only to realize that the stones -- and the effects of the house sinking into the earth -- didn't quite work.  So he used a bit of editorial magic, and made it seem as if the house were merely collapsing in on itself.

Would that Kimberly Peirce had done the same.  Because guess what?  The stones don't work.  The collapsing house doesn't work.  Why not go the route of the novel, and have Carrie simply die as a result of the wound her mother gives her?  In King's book, Carrie is telepathically linked to Sue during this scene, and Sue is present in Carrie's mind when she dies.  King does a good job of describing the alien horror of being present in someone's mind when it ceases to exist, and Sue seems understandably devastated.  I'll grant you that portraying that on film would be difficult, but all you'd need is a thirty-second scene involving Sue telling someone else about it.  Problem solved.

So instead of ending the climax on a note of existential horror, it ends on a poorly-realized scene of rocks hitting a building.  Not a good substitution.

The DePalma movie didn't do much better, but it at least redeemed itself with the hand-out-of-the-grave stinger at the end.  (I actually hate that scene, but since most people seem to love it, I'm going to -- for this one time only! -- adopt an If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em stance.)  I fully expected this remake to either replicate that scene or go for something similar.  Instead, Sue visits Carrie's grave -- an actual one, not a dream-grave -- and then walks away.  Loud music begins, and the tombstone begins to split in half, reminiscent of the way the pavement on the road split when Carrie stomped on it earlier.

What the hell does this even mean?  Are we supposed to think Carrie is still alive?  If she is, then why not go the route of the 2002 television remake and simply have her live?  There would have been a way to do that in an interesting fashion (which the 2002 remake decidedly does NOT manage to do), but tossing in a lame gag like this is not the way to do it.

So, what we've got is a climax that robs the story of any potential cathartic drama by having Carrie die in an uninteresting fashion, and then makes things worse by making a halfhearted suggestion that she might not even be dead at all.  This is the equivalent of fumbling the football at the goal-line, then tripping over your own feet on the way off the field and face-planting on the turf.

To be clear, these things do not ruin the movie for me.  They hurt it; badly, in fact.  But so much of the rest of the film works well that overall, I find myself being very much a proponent of the film.  I won't swear that I won't have additional complaints as the movie progresses, but for now, let's turn our attentions toward what works for me.

Heyyyyy.....this scene ain't in the movie...!  It's almost as if a lot of scenes had been edited out...

During the casting of this movie, the two names that I saw most frequently as potential Margaret Whites were Julianne Moore and Jodie Foster.  I'd have been fine with either one, because both of those ladies are actors of such capability that there was no doubt whatsoever in my mind that they would be excellent.  Because, like, when aren't they?  (Answer: Jodie Foster in this summer's wretched Elysium.)

And sure enough, Julianne Moore knocks this one out of the park.  Her version of Margaret is by far the scariest thing in the film, and where she excels is in making the character seem like someone who is dangerously unbalanced, but not so much so that she can't fly low enough under the radar to avoid having someone take Carrie away from her.  Moore also steers 100% clear of the campiness that Piper Laurie brought to the role in Brian DePalma's film.  (Not for nothing is Margaret a fan-favorite among drama queens, and queens of other sorts, as well.)  I've never been a fan of Laurie's Oscar-nominated performance.  She's great in a few scenes, but goes too far over the top in others, and by the end of that movie, you feel like she thinks she's starring in a kabuki-theatre production.  It's a good performance, but it does not, for me, hold together.

Moore walks right up to the line of going over the top on a few occasions in her movie, but never actually goes over.  Instead, she makes Margaret a very believable character; you actually believe that in the movie's opening scene, as a baby comes unexpectedly sliding out of her vagina, she would have had no idea she was pregnant up until that point.  The look on her face is the look of a woman who literally cannot believe what is happening to her.  It is arguably her best moment in the film, but there are others that compete, including: a horrifying scene in which she is cutting her leg -- scourging herself -- while talking to Sue's mother; her terrified shock at being lifted into the air by the power of Carrie's mind; and her pleading with Carrie to stay home instead of going to the prom.  I'll take her version of "they're all going to laugh at you" over Piper Laurie's every time, and for my money, Moore's is now the best depiction of the character to appear on film thus far.

On the subject of Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie, I'm a bit more torn.  On the one hand, I think she's a tremendous actor in general, and is mostly very good in this particular movie; on the other hand, I think she is inherently a bit too pretty and self-assured to entirely convince as put-upon wallflower Carrie White.  She is acting very well, but it always feels as if she IS acting, whereas with Sissy Spacek, you at least felt like she might at heart actually be a bit of a wallflower, and possibly a put-upon one at that.  And in the 2002 remake, Angela Bettis seemed genuinely weird and off-putting; it wasn't a particularly good performance, but it had some verisimilitude to it, if nothing else.

What I'm saying, I suppose, is that I feel like Moretz was fundamentally miscast, but once in the role did an awfully good job of making up for that fact.  Does it work?  Ehhhh...I think so.  But it's close.  Either way, I'd have to say that Moretz does exceptionally well in a few key scenes, such as the one in which she tells Miss Desjardin about having been invited to the prom.  Watch that scene and see how complicated the emotions playing out on Carrie's face are.

She's also very good in the prom-massacre scenes.  These go in a slightly different direction than Spacek's; Spacek played -- beautifully -- an aura of near-possession; her Carrie becomes an alien, unknowable entity in those scenes, almost as though she has had her consciousness scooped out and replaced by sheer malevolent instinct.  Moretz instead opts to play the scenes as though Carrie has become so enraged -- by both her own humiliation and (this is key) by Tommy's death -- that she loses control.  That approach is more consistent with the novel.  It is arguably also less striking than what DePalma and Spacek did, but even so, I think it works pretty well here.

Pictured above is Portia Doubleday, who plays Chris Hargensen.  Doubleday gets my vote for best performance of the entire film, and I'll explain why that is.  The screenplay, you see, gives no depth to Chris at all; essentially, it follows the same template for Chris that the DePalma version uses, except minus a few scenes.  In DePalma's movie, Chris is memorably played by Nancy Allen, who plays the role in rich-bitch queen-of-the-universe fashion; she is a spoiled little girl who has never been told no once in her entire life, and finds the experience entirely unacceptable.

Doubleday -- who is working with essentially the same material, only less of it -- goes in a completely different direction.  Her Chris is someone who very obviously has her own hopes and desires and fears; this Chris has a rich interior life, and while it might not be an entirely pleasant one, it is certainly not a simple one.  Doubleday's eyes tell you that it is, in fact, about as complex as it gets.  The single best moment in the movie, for me, comes when Billy and Chris have snuck the blood into the gym and are about the begin setting things up for the big prank.  As they enter the gym and Chris sees the finished decorations, a very haunted look plays across her face; you can tell that underneath the excitement she feels at preparing this prank, there is genuine heartbreak at being deprived of the opportunity to go to this prom.  Earlier, she has severely chastised Sue, and accused her of acting in her own self-interest only because she has been dreaming of the prom her whole life, and has planned everything, right down to the sounds she'll make while having sex with Tommy afterward.  In this moment in the darkened gym, you get the feeling that in that earlier scene, Chris was actually describing herself, and that what this represents is a lifetime's worth of dreams fallen by the wayside.

So, why can't Chris play things safer, and just keep running during the scene where Desjardin suspends her?  Here, too, Doubleday's haunted eyes hold the answer.  This is a girl who may be privileged, but has had far from an easy life.  Her relationship with her father is obviously troubled, and what I assume is that Chris began her life as bully the same way a lot of bullies do: as a means of making themselves feel better about who they are.  Chris hints that she has been picking on Carrie since the sixth grade, and if that's the case, then keeping herself in a position of superiority over Carrie has almost certainly long since become a key part of Chris's own self-image.  So, when Desjardin is demanding that she keep running, Chris is being confronted with a choice: surrender that self-image in that moment, or assume that her father will be able to bail her out of whatever trouble she gets in.

She makes the wrong choice, and so all she has left is to double down on regaining her superiority over Carrie.  Hence, the bucket of blood.  (And hence my frustration at the movie failing to actually follow through by making it all be Chris's idea.  Bad, bad move.)

Now, to be fair, none of this is made explicit by the screenplay.  And that, friends, is why I'm giving Doubleday the MVP award for the film.  Because it's ALL in her eyes, and in her sad, haunted face.  She has one weak moment toward the end of the movie when she commands Billy to hit Carrie with his car -- "Run her down!" she barks, surrendering to the ridiculousness of the line, which may as well have come out of a Children of the Corn movie ("Outlander!  We have your woman!") -- but is, otherwise, absolutely dynamite.

Be on the lookout for Portia Doubleday, y'all.  We haven't heard the last of her, I'd wager.

I was also very impressed by Judy Greer, who makes for an excellent Miss Desjardin.  In the novel, the character -- if I recall correctly -- was not too long out of college, and was therefore sort of a contemporary for the girls, which gave her more insight than might be the case with some other teachers.  Greer is a bit too old to fit that bill, but she's got something just as good: a girlish nature.  Desjardin, here, seems like the kind of a woman who, in the back of her mind, never stopped being nineteen.  You even see her dancing like a nineteen-year-old briefly at the prom.

Greer brings a huge amount of sympathy to her role, and she's also terrific in the scene with Chris's lawyer father.  In the novel, the principal gets the upper hand on Mr. Hargensen by threatening to counter-sue on Carrie's behalf, and that is a fun little scene.  Here, though, screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who used so much of Lawrence Cohen's screenplay for the 1976 film that Cohen actually received co-writing billing!) made an excellent choice: he has Desjardin herself get the upper hand, by having her call Chris out as being the one who shot the video.  Chris bluffs; Desjardin calls, and Chris has no choice but to fold.  It's a great scene.

I'm a bit torn on the subject of Tommy and Sue.  Played, respectively, by Ansel Elgort and Gabriella Wilde, both roles are adequate, but neither actor quite manages to impress.  Of the two, I'd give the advantage to Elgort, who has better material to play.  His take on Tommy is very different than William Katt's in the DePalma version.  Katt's Tommy was the kind of guy who you sensed was a big deal in high school, but only because he knew it was expected of him; he seemed destined to, after high school, turn to a different type of life, and maybe remain a big deal, but in a very different way.

Elgort's Tommy, on the other hand, strikes me as being the kind of guy who thinks the world is his on a silver platter, and is apt to remain convinced that that is the case for quite some time to come (except for that pesky bucket).  What keeps him likeable is the fact that he is, obviously, a fundamentally nice person.  He gets a great scene in which he tells Sue the story of how once, he kicked a kid in the stomach when he was passed out on the ground; the kid had been bullying him for years, evidently, and Tommy still feels bad about it.  He is equating this to what Sue did to Carrie in the shower; "he was a dick to me; what did Carrie White ever do to you?" he asks, reasonably.

Elgort is pretty good, but he's got a core of goofiness that doesn't quite sell me.  At the same time, he seems like an actual high-schooler, whereas Katt seemed like a 30-year-old, so maybe the goofiness is appropriate.

As for Gabriella Wilde . . . I don't know.  It isn't a bad performance, but it is a bland one.  Sue is a bland character, though.  Is Wilde really any blander than Amy Irving?  Not really.  Irving added an extra layer of regret and self-disappointment that Wilde can't quite reach (though she doesn't do poorly in that regard), but that's really the only thing I'd say that she does noticeably better than Wilde.

Kimberly Peirce with Chloe Grace Moretz

We haven't talked much yet about director Kimberly Peirce.  Peirce has only made three movies; I've seen two of them (the awesome Boys Don't Cry, and now Carrie), but based on them, I think it's a real shame she isn't working more often.  I might have a few quibbles with certain decisions she made -- or that somebody made, at any rate -- in the course of making Carrie, but the best scenes of the movie make it plain that Peirce is a very talented filmmaker.

Let's now bring scriptwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa into the conversation as well.  Reason being, I want to discuss several scenes, and while my gut impulse is to give Peirce the credit for them, it is entirely possible that some of what makes them work may have been written into the screenplay by Aguirre-Sacasa.

First up: the opening scene to the film.  Well, clearly, that's as much Aguirre-Sacasa as anyone.  The DePalma film opened with a brief volleyball scene, then launched straight into the shower sequence.  Here, we see Carrie being born, and as I alluded to earlier, this scene is terrific.  Peirce makes the act of childbirth an alien, horrifying thing, but one that, biologically, nevertheless holds an intense fascination.  By starting the movie in this manner, it sets up the awful bond between Margaret and Carrie, and also intensifies the story's focus on the female reproductive cycle.  By getting her first period, Carrie has biologically earned the right to have such an alien experience herself.  Yay?

Next: the volleyball scene, which somebody has relocated to a swimming pool.  Peirce throws in a great underwater shot that tracks past six or so pairs of beautiful, athletic, active legs to find Carrie's, who are also rather beautiful and athletic-looking, but are tentative and shy whereas the others are bold and outgoing.  She is standing in the corner of the pool, trying to get as far away from the others as possible.  It's a nice visual representation of where Carrie fits in; i.e., she doesn't.

The shower scene is also extremely well-done.  Minus the seedy lustiness of DePalma's film, it also has a much more graceful transition from Carrie's panic into the taunting of the other girls.  And on a character level, it works well, too.  Carrie comes, panicked, screaming out of the shower just as in the earlier film, and everyone has the same disgusted reaction.  However, there is a very important addition: Chris reaches into a locker for a tampon, and casually tosses it to Carrie, adding a decidedly gentleadmonishment for Carrie to just plug it up, already.  Here's why that matters: because we see that Chris's first impulse is not to taunt, but to help.  It's not incredibly helpful help, but it is help nevertheless; and let's face it, why wouldn't Chris assume that Carrie would know what to do with the tampon?  Seems logical.  Now, granted, Chris immediately thereafter leaps to making fun of Carrie, which quickly escalates to actual abuse; but still, the addition of that extra step makes a big difference.  This is by far the best version of that scene; and in this situation, I'm even including the novel.

A bit later, after leaving the principal's office, Carrie is sitting in the hallway, waiting for her mother to come pick her up.  First, she is being taunted by a couple of boys who are making "blow me" gestures at her.  (Nearly identical gestures appear in high-school scenes with Heather Graham in Boogie Nights, which also co-starred Julianne Moore, incidentally.)  Her response to that is to close her eyes, and she does this sort of find-my-inner-peace thing; seemingly in response to that, a sort of darkness passes over her face, and when I saw the movie the first time, it felt to me almost like something she was wiling to happen, a sort of representation of making herself invisible to others.  But, no; she opens her eyes, and finds that it is her mother who has darkened the light.  Goddamn, what a cool moment!  It's a simple one, but it works like a charm.

Here's another thing of which I approve wholeheartedly: the way Peirce and Aguirre-Sacasa use Carrie's prayer closet.  When Margaret first puts Carrie there, Carrie's powers spill over for a moment and cause a large crack in the door.  This is a cool moment in and of itself, but later, it is used to even better effect when Carrie locks her mother in, so that she can't disrupt Tommy's appearance at the front door.
This works well in several ways.  First of all, it helps the plot, because it gives Margaret a good reason for not doing what she's threatening to do (warn Tommy off).  Second, because Carrie has to become even more aggressive toward her mother, it gives Margaret a bit more of an impulse to kill her wayward daughter.  Third, and best, it causes a terrific visual metaphor in which Margaret has to shove her way -- her hand bloodied -- out of this tight enclosure.  Say, didn't Carrie have to do something similar to that in the film's opening scene?  Hmm...

I loved all of this, and whoever gets the credit, they deserve it.

I'm winding down here, but before I go, I suppose I ought to talk about the big prom scene a bit more.  As I indicated earlier, I like the way Moretz plays it.  There are things I don;t like, though: for example, I could have lived with the "from-three-different-angles!" approach to seeing the blood hit Carrie.  I also very much could have lived without the moment in which the bucket doesn't want to tip over, and I also wish Peirce had simply made Chris the one who pulls the rope; having it sort of be both Chris and Billy doesn't work for me.  When in doubt, stick with the simpler approach.

I also wish that Moretz and Elgort had more chemistry.  They are fine together, but there was a bit of a spark between Spacek and Katt that their modern equivalents don't quite have.  Only in a couple of moments do I get any sense that Tommy is actually, really falling for Carrie in this scene, and I wish there had been a few others.

The single worst thing that happens during the scene, however, is Tommy's startled cry of "What the hell?!?" after Carrie is doused in blood.  It's a genuinely awful moment, arguably the worst in the movie.  Part of it is because Elgort's delivery is off, but the mere fact that he's bothering to stand there and say anything -- as opposed to doing something (anything, really) -- is a bit unbelievable.  Shouldn't Tommy be recoiling in horror from all that blood?  Shouldn't Tommy be wrapping Carrie up protectively?  Shouldn't Tommy be looking upward to see where the blood came from?  ANYTHING?!?  This is a problem with the source material, of course, because what the story needs is for Tommy to stand in place so that the falling bucket can kill him.  DePalma sidestepped the issue by entering a weird, quasi-surreal, dreamlike mode in the editing; we're too focused on what's going on with that to worry about Tommy's inaction.  Peirce goes a different direction, and it's fine, apart from that one line.

What comes next is one of the movie's best decisions: one of Chris's friends plays the shower video on the big screen.  Seeing that, a lot of the students -- who now get the joke -- actually begin laughing.  The laughter in DePalma's film is, presumably, imaginary, and that has always struck a false note with me; why would Carrie, in that moment, imagine laughter?  It's purely to motivate her next actions?  So why not just have people actually laugh at her?  That's what Peirce goes for, and it works.  Then, she adds Carrie's fury at Tommy's accidental death on top of things, and shit gets real.  Quick.

First, Miss Desjardin steps forward to try and help in some way, and Carrie pushes her back telekinetically.  Soon after, she emits a huge, widespread burst of power that knocks everyone in the gym onto their backs.  This is a very, very cool moment; and it's scary, too, because you sense that Carrie, suddenly, has figured out how to really focus her power.  It's been building over the course of the movie, but anger seems to be the ingredient that was missing all along, and with that discovery made, Carrie gives in and unleashes her powers.

And the rest is history.

My final verdict?

As I've hinted at, but maybe not stated outright, this is a movie that I liked.  A lot, in fact.  I feel like it dropped the ball in a few really inopportune moments, though, and consequently it ends up being a bit of a mixed bag.  But what works works really, really well.  There are things in the movie that I will not hesitate to say become the definitive cinematic take on the source material so far (Chris's motivations, the use of the prayer closet, the birth scene, Miss Desjardin's resilience during the scene with Mr. Hargensen), at least for me.  Other things work less well.

Overall, though, I think it's a very solid effort.  It's dying a painful death at the box-office, which is perhaps more a result of the way Sony chose to sell the movie than anything else.  It may also be a sign that  the DePalma original is still a much-beloved horror classic, and this new version did not seem to offer anything persuasive in terms of why fans of the '76 version should check out the '13 version.  And fans of the novel similarly saw no compelling reasons to see it.  It's a shame, but not a surprising one.  For my part, I hope that as time goes by, people will give it a chance; I think there's a lot to love here, and while that can't entirely counteract some of the not-so-loveable things, it nevertheless has a great deal of merit.


Now, before I pull the ripcord and get out of here, I've got a few leftover thoughts that I never managed to squeeze into the review proper:

  • In the shower scene, there is a cool shot of Carrie telekinetically pushing some of the tampons away from her.  I don't think she even knows she's doing it, and it's subtle enough that nobody else even notices.  Very nicely-executed.
  • I know, I know; the principal's discomfort with all the period-talk comes out of the novel.  But the novel came out nearly forty years ago.  It was a different time.  Do I believe that a lot of men are still uncomfortable talking about and.or being around such things?  Of course I do.  Do I believe a high-school principal would be one of them?  I kind of don't.  That's an idea you have to sell me on, and this movie doesn't quite manage the trick.  (Speaking of that scene, the changes from the original film work well.  The principal's bungling of Carrie's name are drastically scaled back, and Carrie breaking the water cooler is much better than her flipping the ashtray.)
  • What's with that song that sounds like "Aqualung"?  It's not a bad song; it's just weirdly reminiscent of Jethro Tull.
  • Marco Beltrami's score is fairly good, but it's nowhere near as good as Pino Donaggio's.
  • Another great change: Miss Desjardin now -- seemingly -- punishes the girls in class, as opposed to holding them for detention.  A nice, simple solution.  The film also wisely avoids having her slap Chris; that simply wouldn't play in 2013.  She'd get fired no matter the circumstances.
  • Alright, I hesitate to bring this up, but...fuck it, I'll do it anyways.  Two of Chris's friends are twins, Nick and Lizzie.  They are played by Katie and Karissa Strain, who are roughly as hot as microwaved plutonium.  Sorry if that makes me sound like a middle-aged pervo, but doggone it, it's the truth. And anyways, I figure odds are decent that they only got cast because Peirce -- who is openly gay -- thought they were hot as hell herself.  If so, she has my full support, and my congratulations on exceptionally good taste.


  • The poem Carrie reads aloud in class is pretty great.  Google informs me that it is an excerpt from Milton's "Samson Agonistes," and I'm gonna go out on a limb and speculate that a study of that poem might yield thematically resonant results.  I'm too lazy to do so now, but I've bookmarked it for a less lazy time.  For now, though: "But rush upon me thronging, and present / Times past, what once I was, and what am now. / Oh, wherefore was my birth from Haven foretold / Twice by an Angel, who at last, in sight / Of both my parents, all in flames ascended."  Haunting stuff, no doubt, and again, Aguirre-Sacasa has improved upon Cohen's original screenplay: he has Tommy be the one who responds to Carrie's poem, rather than the other way around.  Much more logical this way.
  • One of my favorite scenes in the DePalma film is when the gym teacher confronts Sue and Tommy.  It's one of my favorite scenes here, too.  And I got quite a chuckle out of Tommy saying, "Famous athletes -- like Tim Tebow...he takes kids to prom all the time, and everyone loves him for it!"  Miss Desjardin's are-you-kidding-me-style "Really...?" is pretty great, too.
  • Have I mentioned how much I loved the incorporation of modern technology?  Because yes, indeed I did.  Taking a video of the shower scene with a phone makes perfect sense; so does posting it online.  That is a terrific pair of examples of how to update a story to modern times.  I also loved the sound effects used when Sue gets a text from Chris during the prom.  This is (A) a great motivation for Sue to actually go there and (B) just a cool, semi-creepy use of that weird vibration sound phones make when texts come in.  The sound mix really emphasizes it, and it actually helps to add tension to the scene.  So don't hand me none of this jive eye-rolling about the use of phones and the internet and whatnot; it works flawlessly here.
  • IMDb credits several characters/actors who are not in the movie, including a Young Carrie and an Estelle Parsons.  Hmmm...  I wonder just how much got cut out of this movie?  It feels like a lot, and I automatically begin to hope for there to be a longer cut someday that fixes some of the problems I have with this cut.
  • How did I fail to mention Sue's pregnancy subplot?!?  Ack!  What an oversight!  I don't really understand why this is in the movie.  In the novel, Sue's period is late, and so she thinks she might be pregnant; but shortly after Carrie dies, Sue feels blood flowing down her legs, and then feels cheated; she was, in some ways, hoping to hold on to that much of Tommy, at least.  Maybe there were thoughts toward making something similar, but flipped in perspective/intent, here?  I don't know, but it doesn't work.
  • God damn.  Another tuexedo-shopping scene.  This one may be even worse than the original!
  • I did not notice until the second time I saw the movie that the reason Billy and Chris can't immediately get out of the parking lot is that Sue blocks them in when she gets to the high school.  That's pretty damn great, actually; it makes it much more plausible that Carrie is able to catch up with them.  If not for that, they'd have been looong gone...
  • I also failed to mention my favorite moment of the prom massacre: Carrie -- in her best Darth Vader imitation -- force-grabs Miss Desjardin by the throat, and then flings her to safety.  I was afraid she was going to kill her, which would have totally out of character if we assume that Carrie is still more or less conscious of what she's doing.  But she lets her live, which, for me, verifies that it IS Carrie doing this, in an active sense.  Very cool.
  • I also failed to mention that I felt like the movie didn't make it clear enough that the vote was rigged.  That's a lot of fail.
  • Boy, do I love that shot of Chris's face slamming into the windshield.  I hate the "RUN...HER...DOWN!" line, but otherwise, the whole scene with Carrie dispatching Chris and Billy is pretty great.
  • I also love most of the confrontation between Margaret and Carrie.  I was hoping they'd steer clear of the crucifixion, but if they had to do it, doing it by having her be pinned to the door of the closet is a good choice.  I also love the repetition of the blade approaching Carrie's eye, which we first see in the birth scene, when Margaret considers killing her newborn daughter.
  • I appreciate the brief nod toward the idea that there was a massive investigation of this whole incident, but if they weren't going to do more with it than that, they should have just not bothered.  And boy oh boy, how I was hoping they'd end the movie the same way they did the novel: with some other little girl in some other town pushing things around with her mind.  There's another girl like Carrie, just out there, waiting...let's hope the world treats her better.  That would have been great!  Instead, we get a lame non-gag at the grave.  Weak, y'all' weak.

And that, friends, is that.

If I don't bog myself down watching Friday the 13th movies, I'm going to write a review of Room 237 tomorrow.  Been looking forward to that one for a while now.  If not tomorrow, the next day.

Either way, talk to you soon!


  1. I'll be back for this one - haven't seen it yet. (It might be awhile.)

    Sorry for the lame comment!

    1. Judging from the anaemic box-office, America has decided to sit it out with you!

      I think this is one that a lot of people will discover over the next few years, and find themselves saying, "Hey! That's not bad at all! There was no reason for them to do it, but it's not bad!"

    2. I agree and disagree with this review but it's among the best I've read. very detailed. To me, Chris and Billy's portrayal was weak, lacked credibility. the only scene I felt the line between actor and character blur was Chris realizing all she was missing because of her actions.Chloƫ plays a great Carrie, I don't know why people hate her so much. she made me like Carrie even more (fan for 17 years now). In my opinion, speaking as a victim of bullying myself Chloƫ's portrayal of Carrie is one of when you're so emotionally exhausted from all the stress and pressure of constant bullying both humiliating and demanding anything left for you is 'faking it' when you are approached by people because you don't have any strength left in you. the only scenes where Carrie seems relieved of all this stress, and actually doesn't cope by faking it is the massacre prom scene (of course) and a less frighting example the pool scene when she laughs for a moment thinking everyone was laughing with her instead of at her. this has given the character more depth, a new perspective. everything else in this movie in my opinion went pretty well, no complaints from me. I recommend this movie.
      -Carrie is my superheroine.

    3. Thanks, Joel!

      You might theoretically also be interested in reading a couple of follow-up pieces I wrote about the movie:

      I'm glad you're a fan of the movie. I think it's well worth being a fan of!

  2. Thanks to IMDb inexplicably not having him listed in the credits, it has just come to my attention that the actor who plays Chris's father is Hart Bochner. Bochner played smarmy, coked-out asshole Harry Ellis in "Die Hard"! And he plays a smarmy asshole (who could easily be coked-out) here, too!

    My esteem for this movie -- which was already fairly high -- just went up several percentage points!

  3. Just watched the movie, just saw this analysis. You sir, are excellent! Loved this!! Will be back for more!

  4. I still haven't seen this, but a friend and I are discussing "Carrie" this afternoon and he asked me if the newer version was more faithful to the book. I said I think so, but thought I'd read through here to see if it was the case. (Seems to be.)

    I have to disagree that it is at all strange for Carrie to imagine laughter after the pig's blood scene in the original. In fact, It's such a natural moment in the film, that imagining the worst and then it coming true and then it represents her snap into the dreamlike possession. I don't think it's done only to motivate the next actions - it makes complete sense and feels totally authentic to me. I think it's fairly common for persecuted people to read/ interpret situations as harsher than others in the same room do, and in THIS situation, Carrie's hallucination makes total sense. It's her worst nightmare/ her Mom's warning/ her ultimate "failure."

    Anyway, solid review and all, that just caused me to raise an eyebrow.

    I still haven't seen it - one of these days!

    1. I must have been in an anti-DePalma mood when I wrote that. It's definitely sensible for Carrie to imagine everyone laughing, especially considering that her mother has warned her that something like that might happen.

      I think that works. However, I also think it works pretty well in this version for (nearly) everyone to actually be laughing at Carrie. I think they got there pretty capably.

      The movie still stands as a bit of a missed opportunity, one that was crippled by several ineffective decisions. But I've seen many worse movies than this one.

    2. I look fwd to checking it out. (A sentence I type way too often when it comes to movies from the past 5 years!)

      That conversation with my friend ended with a brief discussion of the SyFy Channel "Carrie," and this bit amused me (after I told him that she survives in that version:) "They must've wanted to have her live so they could spin it off into a new Carrie TV series. Carrie moves to the big city, gets a sassy roommate, and takes a new job with an overbearing boss. The boss yells at her and says don't stab me in the back, Carrie! Only he doesn't know that there are 50 knives hanging in the air behind him. Cue laugh track.

      I want every King novel to get spun off into a Friends-style sitcom. "

      I could get behind that.

    3. On some level of the Tower, it won six consecutive Emmys for Best Comedy.

      Anyways, you may already know this, but that tv-movie version -- which I feel obliged to point out was NBC, not Sci Fi -- actually WAS intended to kick off an ongoing series. The idea was that Carrie and Sue would travel the country helping other girls with problems like Carrie's.

      Which, let's face it, sounds awful. Still, the guy who wrote this went on to create "Dead Like Me," "Pushing Daisies," "Hannibal," and "American Gods," so would I like to access the Ur-Kindle and see how his series based on "Carrie" turned out? You bet I would.

      And I have to admit, I'm kind of fascinated to consider what Carrie's life from that point might have been like. "Carrie" is one of the King novels I keep coming back to, considering different ways things might have gone. Part of me would love to write a fanfic version in which Carrie doesn't have telekinetic powers, and things kind of work out the same except for her ability to strike back. And then another version where she DOES have her powers, but somehow evades the humiliation at the prom and ends up running off the college having stolen Tommy away from Sue.

      I think about those things sometimes. So in that sense, I kind of get the desire to come at the story from a different angle. And anyways, it makes at least as much sense as doing a karaoke version of the DePalma movie, which is what large sections of the Kimberly Peirce film is.

    4. If you go back to the novel, the laughter isn't provoked by the blood bath Carrie's subjected to. The prom goers receive that in appropriate, horrified silence. It's the bucket falling on Tommy - a slapsticky, cartoonish moment- that causes the laughter. The prom goers have no idea Tommy's been killed, of course. They're just releasing nervous tension in laughter- the same release you hear in the laughter watching a horror movie in a full cinema. The most memorable example for me was watching 'The Amityville Horror'
      ( original) all those decades ago when the line "Jodie doesn't like George" was answered with " George doesn't like Jodie, either" by some wag in the audience and the whole cinema cracked up laughing. King made it plain in the novel that the laughter was provoked by the bucket hitting Tommy, he also made it plain it was the injury to Tommy- the one person who treated Carrie well - that tipped Carrie over the edge. The novel tells us Tomy can "feel" Carrie, so it's reasonable to assume Carrie can feel Tommy, too. She knows he's dead. I don't know why nobody made it plain in the film versions- they hint at it in different ways. Perhaps they thought we'd be too thick to pick up on it. Like they thought we needed an exploding water cooler because we're too thick to get an ashtray falling off a desk.

    5. You make some great points here, Kathy. Thanks!

      I love the novel, and for me it remains the definitive version of the story. My appreciation for the DePalma film has increased considerably since I wrote this review in 2013, however; and my appreciation for the prom scenes specifically increased, too. I think if you watch them with the novel in mind, the laughter moment comes off more or less the same as King writes it. Whether that was DePalma and Cohen's intention, I don't know; I tend to think it was Cohen's for sure.

      But I think the way DePalma filmed it (and the way it was edited), it's definitely made clear that very, very few people in that gym are laughing. Miss Collins, for example, is visibly crushed; her reaction is maybe one of Betty Buckley's best moments in the film. And most of the students seem similarly aware that something truly awful has happened.

      I love that story you tell about "The Amityville Horror." (I love the movie itself, for that matter.) Virtually anyone who goes to horror films probably has a story or two like that. Mine is of going to see "Seven" on opening night, and there being a guy sitting in front of me who laughed at all the most horrible parts; loudly, and without accompaniment. I think everyone in the theatre -- which was packed -- must have thought what I thought, i.e., that we were in the presence of a true lunatic. It made the movie scarier, if anything!

      Oh, and the scene in King's "Carrie" which involves Carrie being in Tommy's head ... I love that. ALL the scenes in which people are talking or thinking about Carrie's presence in their mind are gold. It would be close to impossible for any movie to capture that stuff; none of them have ever tried, which might be for the best ... but feels like a missed opportunity, too. Like there's a truly great version just waiting to be made that captures those aspects of the novel.

      Maybe someday!

  5. Wish u could thumbs up this article, but I fully agree! That ks