Review: Carrie (2013)

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Director: Kimberly Peirce
Screenwriter: Lawrence D. Cohen & Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer, Alex Russell & Portia Doubleday
Runtime: 100 min // Certificate: 15

With a remake like this it is more often than not the sheer pointlessness of the enterprise that supersedes all else. Falsely marketed as a “re-imagining” of Stephen King’s classic tale of female empowerment and sexuality, Peirce’s film is in fact little more than a borderline-plagiaristic reproduction of Brian de Palma’s original adaptation of the story. Mostly – though not wholly – unnecessary, Peirce’s vision is derivative, tiresome and painfully ordinary, resulting in a film which does a serious disservice to the timelessness of the story upon which it is based.

The main problem with this version of the tale is that it struggles to forge anything remotely resembling a personality or identity of its own. As a piece of storytelling it’s relatively okay but when you’re in competition with a 37-year old adaptation that is about as perfect an interpretation of the novel as one can ever hope for, you have to at least make an attempt – however futile – to offer the audience something new. Alas, if you strip back the film’s constant attempts to stress its modern credentials (oh look, it’s YouTube, how contemporary!), you soon realise that it’s just a sleeker but duller version of the original film. Minor, inconsequential changes are made to the manner in which people die or the order in which things happen but for the most part this is a tamer, stripped down adaptation that spends its entire runtime wading in utter mediocrity.

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Worse still, when Peirce does attempt to project her own voice onto the film it all feels counterfeit, like a cheap copy. We know that Peirce can make a great film when she wants to (Boys Don’t Cry remains one of the greatest films of its decade) but her input here feels muted, almost as though she is scared to take a risk with the material. Carrie is such a well-known – not to mention well-loved – story that it is tough to put your own spin on things without creating a certain level of audience alienation but Peirce’s approach is so safe that she ends up creating a film which is bereft of fear, drama and emotion. So much effort is put into contemporisation that the tale loses all of its timeless qualities and, in turn, feels terribly benign. Even when the film is meant to be at its most intense and exciting, it all feels like a pale, paint-by-numbers imitation of what we’ve already seen. Fuck the special effects, you can give me de Palma’s cheap and nasty prom sequence over Peirce’s glossy but wholly uninspired copy any day.

The film’s sole purpose then – which is to make Carrie appeal to the modern youth of which I am still a member, albeit begrudgingly so – is not achieved. One of the most striking things about both the novel and de Palma’s film is that the male horror audience invests in Carrie’s plight just as much as the female audience does. It is the story that is key, not the setting; Carrie is everybody who has ever been bullied, she is everybody who has struggled with puberty and everybody who has ever wanted to take revenge on those who have made you feel small or put you down. In this film, alas, the appeal to the modern audience is gained through references to websites, the use of current technology and popular casting. There are times when the film practically screams “LOOK HOW MODERN I AM” at you, in some vain attempt to make you feel a connection with the characters.

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However, credit where credit is due, the film isn’t all bad. Julianne Moore tries her best to distance her performance from that of Piper Laurie but fails because the dialogue is taken not from the pages of the book but stolen almost wholesale from the original film’s screenplay, which therefore means that unfair comparisons between the two are all but inevitable. Similarly, though Moretz fails to convince as Carrie her performance is pretty solid (she does the best with what she’s given) up to the point where she goes batshit at the prom and hams it up far too much, unlike Spacek whose descent into insanity was beautifully nuanced. The rest of the cast are passable but unremarkable in their roles and though the film does feel somewhat modern, it’s also much too contrived for its own good.

Ultimately, the problem with Peirce’s version of Carrie is that it a hollow shell in comparison to both the novel and de Palma’s film. The feminism, the sexual politics, the attacks on spiritualism and the inversion of traditional horror tropes are all abandoned in favour of an appeal to the lowest common denominator through crass simplicity. The film is by no means terrible, it’s just unbearably bland. The music, the performances, the visuals and the direction all lack the surreal, otherworldliness of de Palma’s adaptation and though one is loath to making comparisons, when a remake steals so flagrantly from another film one feels an obligation to do so.

Carrie isn’t awful, it’s just hugely unnecessary. In years to come, when de Palma’s film will continue to stand the test of time, this version will be all but forgotten because it is just so inoffensive and uninteresting. And that, above all else, is its biggest crime.


Ps. Click here for my review of the original film.