Wednesday, October 23, 2013


CARRIE (Kimberly Peirce, 2013)

Remaking a film recognized as a genre classic is a tall order for any filmmaker. Although director Kimberly Peirce doesn’t take the shot-for-shot approach for her adaptation of CARRIE, her version is remarkably loyal to Brian De Palma’s 1976 film. Consider it a kind of cinematic karaoke, in which the basic track and lyrics are provided but room for individual interpretation remains.  De Palma got first crack at the Stephen King novel and made his CARRIE in the key of Alfred Hitchcock.  Peirce bases her cover on De Palma’s composition.  While the similarities are hard to deny, the variations construct a conversation between the works a la Liz Phair’s EXILE IN GUYVILLE responding to The Rolling Stones’ EXILE ON MAIN STREET

A new opening scene with Margaret White (Julianne Moore) giving birth to Carrie and choosing to spare her life marks one of the biggest differences.  The child’s origin is referenced later in the original CARRIE but not depicted within it.  This key departure makes plain the theme regarding fear and confusion about female sexuality.  It also suggests the possibility of the story being viewed from the mother’s perspective, although ultimately that is an avenue not taken.  Moore’s Margaret doesn’t get significantly more screen time than Piper Laurie did in the role, but the character’s arc is more empathetic in Moore’s portrayal even as it’s clear that this is a woman whose beliefs have caused her great anguish. 

The plot foundation is virtually the same between the two films.  Loathed by her high school classmates, Carrie (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) becomes a larger object of derision when she reveals her ignorance regarding the changes to her body during adolescence. Rather than comforting her daughter after the traumatic episode in the locker room, Margaret doubles down on a message of religiously rooted guilt and bolts Carrie into a closet to contemplate her inherent sin.  Carrie rejects her mother’s warped philosophy as a source of strength.   She prefers to hone the telekinetic power within her.

Most of the other girls despise Carrie even more now that they are being reprimanded for viciously teasing her and threatened with suspension, including from the prom, if they don’t follow gym teacher Ms. Desjardin’s (Judy Greer) punishment regimen.  Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) regrets her behavior toward Carrie and decides to give up her time at the dance because of it.  She persuades her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie instead. Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) refuses to do penance for her treatment of Carrie and, along with boyfriend Billy Nolan (Alex Russell), plots to give the shy girl a prom no one will ever forget. 

CARRIE’s examination of teenage cruelty gets updated with a humiliating smartphone video that circulates among the student body, but for all of the potential to illustrate how technology can make an ostracized kid more vulnerable to peer abuse, Peirce’s film doesn’t convey the violation and torment associated with being perceived school-wide as a laughingstock.  Aside from the shower scene, which clashes with the rest of the character’s conception, Moretz’s Carrie seems wise and in control from the get-go. She’s not a meek girl discovering her development but a mostly self-assured young woman who learns to channel her strength, which is a major departure compared to Sissy Spacek’s performance in De Palma’s film.  While Peirce and Moretz are welcome to this put this spin on Carrie, it undermines the protagonist’s trajectory. 

Peirce and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa are indebted to Lawrence D. Cohen’s screenplay but make justifiable minor tweaks.  The film benefits from giving Sue a slightly larger role.  Clarifying her motivation and having Tommy defend Carrie in an English class rather than the reverse adds poignancy to the inevitable tragedy.  Ms. Desjardin gets a fairer shake this time around than her analogue did.  Unfortunately the indistinct extreme Christian fundamentalism remains as much of a caricature in the new CARRIE as it was previously.  Taken on its own terms Peirce’s CARRIE holds its own as a coming-of-age drama even as some of the changes weaken the payoffs.

Grade: C+

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