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Film review: Carrie *

By Preston Wilder

It’s madness trying to remake Carrie, the 1976 horror classic directed by Brian DePalma – not because it’s a great film (though it is), but because it’s an almost-terrible great film. The whole thing is perched within a hair’s-breadth of absurdity. Everything’s cartoonish; DePalma uses the Psycho killer-in-the-shower music, lapses into purposely lame comedy and overdoes everything, from Carrie’s blissful Cinderella moment at the prom to her bloody revenge on those who tricked her – yet the film has such audacity and verve (and such a strong visual sense) it becomes unforgettable. Trying to repeat something so mercurial is like expecting lightning to strike twice. Unsurprisingly, this remake fails.

Does it matter? That’s a familiar dilemma – because Carrie is geared for the multiplex audience, and the multiplex audience are mostly teens who may not even know that the movie is a remake, much less seen the original. Should a review turn into a comparison? On the one hand, it’s an occupational hazard for critics to discuss films in terms of other films, much to the annoyance of readers; if you’re seeing Film X, why should you care that it’s not as good as Film Y (which you haven’t seen, and don’t intend to)? True; on the other hand, it seems daft to pretend that Carrie 1.0 doesn’t exist – especially when the remake itself brings up the comparison, by trading on the first film’s reputation, and when older films are so widely available. You could literally – literally! – rent or download the 1976 Carrie in the time it’d take you to drive to the cinema for the 2013 Carrie.

I have the older film on DVD, and watched (or re-watched) it the evening before seeing the remake, so maybe I’m biased – but the remake struck me as crushingly dull, leaching all the mystery out of the original even while copying it almost scene-for-scene. The most obvious difference is that things get over-explained now. Sue (Gabriella Wilde), the fair-minded classmate who tries to help poor, bullied, telekinetic Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz), gets a little speech making clear that she feels guilty and wants to make up for what she did. Later, when she asks her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom, Tommy offers various sensible objections (surely Carrie will say no, etc) and Sue duly counters them: “What girl doesn’t want a magical prom night? Maybe I can give that up for her”.

None of this was in the original. DePalma simply had Sue asking Tommy, then cut to something else – and he was right. First, it kept her motives a little ambiguous. Second, it moved the story along. Third, and most important, it made everything seem a little strange and more volatile. The whole point of Carrie ’76 was its naked emotion; it felt hormonally charged, like its teenage characters. Once you start spelling everything out, the passions are smothered. A related problem is that the script imports details from the original, then feels compelled to ‘justify’ them for a 2013 audience. It may be true that no teacher would dare slap a student in 2013, or say the word “shitty” in front of kids. Fine; but then leave them out, instead of copying them and making a big deal out of it.

Almost every detail bothered me in Carrie 2.0. Why change things so that Tommy admires Carrie’s poem instead of vice versa? You lose something valuable, viz. the suggestion that he’s only nice to her to feed his own narcissism. But the huge, the unbridgeable difference lies in the portrayal of Carrie herself. Sissy Spacek in 1976 gave (in my humble opinion) one of the greatest performances in cinema. Her Carrie was creepy and beautiful, girlish, weak, adorable at times – I love her giggly “I don’t have a crowd” – desperately poignant in the scenes with her abusive mother (now played by Julianne Moore). Chloe Grace Moretz is a fine actress in the right role – plus she’s a real-life teenager, unlike Spacek – but she’s badly miscast here. She has far too much self-confidence, looks blank when she’s trying to look withdrawn, and can’t entirely shed that adolescent know-it-all snarkiness. She seems ready to roll her eyes at her mother’s religious mania (Mum gets more screen time here, yet seems more irrelevant); “That’s not even in the Bible!” she scoffs, then actually quotes Scripture back at her.

I think I know what’s going on. The audience has changed in 37 years. The new Carrie is aimed at youngsters (ironically, the special-effects gore-fest in the last half-hour guarantees an ‘18’ rating), therefore it (a) makes Carrie more intelligible, less of a freak, (b) dwells on the relationships more, spelling everything out, and (c) behaves more like a teen movie, less like Gothic horror. This is a terrible remake, taking a fevered pop masterpiece and making it more explicable – more banal, more ordinary – in a hundred little ways, yet I don’t really know how to deal with it, consumer guide-wise. If you haven’t seen the 1976 Carrie, and you don’t have ready access to a DVD shop or a computer, and you’re trapped in the multiplex with friends who absolutely insist on seeing the remake and won’t be dissuaded … well, you might as well give it a shot. Has praise ever been any fainter?

 

DIRECTED BY Kimberly Peirce

STARRING Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde

US 2013           100 mins


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