Almost 40 years ago an aspiring author became so frustrated with the first novel he was writing that he crumpled up pages of his manuscript and threw them into his wastebasket. Later on when his wife noticed the wadded up paper, she fished it out of the trashcan, smoothed it out, and began reading. After she finished, she went to her husband and told him not to give up on the story because she wanted to see how would end. The author’s name was Stephen King, and the novel was titled “Carrie,” which was published in 1974. And the master of literary horror was born.
Naturally it was only a matter of time until Hollywood came calling, and director Brian De Palma brought the story to the silver screen in 1976. Both Sissy Spacek, who played Carrie White, and Piper Laurie, who portrayed her mother, Margaret, deservedly earned Oscar nominations for their stellar performances in what has come to recognized as a horror classic. Inevitably we now have a remake, and predictably it isn’t in the same league as the original.
This time around Chole Grace Moretz portrays Carrie, who is a senior at Ewen High School located in Maine. Her religiously fanatical mother (Julienne Moore) has kept her sheltered from the real world, and when Carrie upsets her, she puts her in closet to pray. Because of the way her mother has treated her, Carrie is pretty much a social outcast at school, and Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), one of her classmates, has subjected her to merciless bullying.
One day after gym class Carrie is taking a shower and begins her first menstrual period. Because she has no idea what is happening, she freaks out and begins screaming for help, at which point her lovely classmates begin bombarding her with tampons and sanitary napkins. While this is going on, the sweet little Chris records the whole incident on her phone and puts it on YouTube.
When Carrie’s mother learns what has happened, she picks her up after school, takes her home, and puts her in the closet because, as everyone knows, having menstrual periods is a mortal sin. Carrie is so upset that she begins screaming at her mother to unlock the closet door, and suddenly she inadvertently discovers her telekinetic powers when the door cracks because of her violent reaction to being incarcerated in the closet.
Carrie’s only friend at school is Rita Desjardin (Judy Greer), the gym teacher, and on the day after the shower debacle, she imposes a punishment on the girls, but Chris refuses to do what she is told, and Rita subsequently suspends her from going to the prom. Chris then vows revenge and concocts a plan to put Carrie in her place once and for all.
Anyone who has not seen the original film probably will find this updated version of “Carrie” entertaining enough, but this rendition lacks the suspense and overall horror contained in the first movie. The only advantage this film has over its predecessor is that the special effects are more sophisticated, but that’s to be expected with the technological advances during the past 37 years. Nevertheless, the original was much more effective because of the acting and the directing.
Moore undoubtedly is an accomplished actress, but her portrayal of Carrie’s wacko mother just doesn’t have the emotional impact that Laurie brought to the role. In the production notes, Moore made the following comment about the film.
“Margaret is a miserable person, and quite frankly, she was miserable to play. At its core, ‘Carrie’ is about adolescent rebellion; it is certainly extreme in the relationship Carrie has with her mother, but at a certain point in everyone’s life, they grow up and away from who they are as a child. Carrie’s at that moment when she wants to move forward and claim her adolescence but has a parent who’s obstructing that path. In addition to all that, she’s dealing with being at the bottom of the high school social hierarchy.”
Although she makes a good point about the nature of the film, I found what she said about Margaret’s being a miserable character to play quite interesting because Moore did not really seem into her character at any point in the film. Carrie’s mother epitomizes religious fanaticism, and Moore just doesn’t convey her depravity powerfully enough.
The same can be said of Moretz, who doesn’t imbue Carrie with enough fright power when she unleashes the full extent of her telekinetic holocaust on her tormentors. Although Carrie is basically an introvert, when her ire is aroused she becomes a horrifying killing machine, and Moretz doesn’t quit carry it off.
In the film’s production notes director Kimberly Pierce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) explained her approach to the film, and her comments are quite telling.
“What I wanted to capture was the essence of Stephen King. I went back to King’s characterizations of Carrie, her mother, and the girls, and to Carrie’s response to being bullied. Carrie is a misfit and an outcast who, like most of us, longs to be loved and accepted. When she discovers she has special powers, she feels hopeful about her existence in the world and the fact that there may be others like her. I loved this. I dove in, in a modern sense, to Carrie’s powers, what they are, how she explores them and how mastery of these powers defies her. They come when she wants them to, but also when she least expects them as a result of emotions she cannot control. I was thrilled to shape this into a super-hero origin story.”
While I agree that King intended his first novel to be about a “misfit” and an “outcast,” I don’t believe that he ever envisioned her as a “super-hero.” Indeed when Carrie is sufficiently provoked, she turns into monster wielding an incredibly destructive arsenal of telekinetic powers. King wrote this book as a horror story, and whereas the original film stayed true to this idea, the remake does not.
And here’s one final observation. The final scene in both films involves placing a bouquet on Carrie’s grave. When I saw the original for the first time, this segment knocked me out of my seat, but this same scene in the sequel was almost laughable by comparison, and the film earns the final score of a weak four. And if I had had Carrie’s gift, I probably would have destroyed the screen before this joke of a horror film reached its lame ending.