Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The first question you might be asking is: 'was 'Carrie Remake' any good?' Well, you mostly answered the question already just by using the word "remake", which curses this movie to join a league of hundreds of horror remakes, nearly all of which are awful and forgettable. The more important question is: 'why did Blue Highwind go to see this movie when he knew it was going to be awful and forgettable?' The answer to that question is: there is no other horror movie playing right now. Its Halloween, I want to go out and see a nice bloody horror movie. But I don't get a nice bloody movie, I get a crappy remake of a Brian De Palma movie made almost forty years ago, and no other choice. Even the usual October suspects of Paranormal Activity and Resident Evil are mission in action. And those franchises view sucking as a matter of principal. So there's no other choice: "Carrie Remake" or no Halloween.
My main recommendation to a potential audience of "Carrie Remake" is to see the original. The 1976 movie, not this cinematic regurgitation. This ticket is unnecessary. This is exactly the kind of movie made to be as unoffensive and mildly entertaining as possible, so in many ways, its the worst kind of movie you can find. Utterly and horribly manufactured, with any points of controversy and real fear smoothed out. Because you don't need to be scared at a horror movie any more, you just need to gawk at CG effects and cheesy X-Men telekinesis poses. So if you want a movie made for the express purpose of mediocrity that will in no way enrich your life, go see "Carrie Remake".
So it goes without saying that the original Brian De Palma is a classic of the horror genre, one that pretty much everybody either has seen or at least knows the plotline of even without having seen. Yes, there's an original Stephen King novel, which I've actually read, and its not bad. This remake justifies its existence by claiming not to be a remake of the 1976 original, but instead a more faithful adaptation of the novel. It isn't, actually, which is surprising because Stephen King's conclusion to his novel is a huge explosion fest of the entire town getting blown to pieces, which you'd think a modern CG-obsessed studio would jump upon. The fact of the matter is that Brian De Palma's movie is a wonderful adaptation of the material, taking a story that doesn't have very many frightening moments into a slow disturbing psychological build towards its explosive finale. Its horror comes more from its fantastic performances, with a naturally sheepish Sissy Spacek as the lead and Piper Laurie as her terrifying and insane mother. De Palma basically invented the horror trope of the final jump scare at the end, that's how classic the original is.
Under that shadow, any movie at all would not stand very much chance. But the sad fact is: horror remakes don't have to be miserable bland experiences. They've been done in the past with even better material than "Carrie". I have to always point back to 2004 Zack Snyder "Dawn of the Dead"*, which covered the same ground but with an original flair and style, creating its own take on the Romero subversive rhythm. There was a lot that could have been done with the "Carrie" novel, especially considering how the high school experience has changed in the last forty years. Adolescents are more stressed and prone to explosive outbursts of emotion than ever, with so many tragic stories of teen suicides over Facebook bullies. There is a lot of ground to cover, a lot of possibility.
And let's be clear about things: the 2013 remake moves forward straight into the least interesting possible adaptation.
The film is directed by Kimberly Pierce, who made "Boys Don't Cry", a critically-acclaimed 1999 drama film dealing with very heavy gender issues. I haven't seen that movie personally, but you'd think with an Indie background and some honest creative energy, that Pierce would have actually been able to put in some kind of serious realistic style to this movie. Maybe not in the superpowers, but in the teenage emotions and feelings of isolation that build up the character of Carrie. Instead Pierce puts in a complete nothing job, she directs her film with no mood, no tone, and curiously with a heavy hand of the male gaze dominating the shots. I would have guessed that "Carrie" was made by a complete no-name hack like the absolute clowns who made the recent remake of "Evil Dead", another utterly meaningless turd of a movie. Having seen "Carrie", I'm guessing "Boys Don't Cry" was badly overrated, or that Kimberly Pierce was going out of her way to hide her talents, perhaps as a subversive meta-joke on whatever soulless creature was paying for this wreck. She does such a bad job that the movie is just utterly incoherent, its almost as if "Carrie" didn't even have a damn director at all.
Inevitably every remake is going to have to suffer the problem of comparison. Julianne Moore tries her very best to recreate the insanity of Piper Laurie, but ultimately you just cannot outshine an utterly perfect performance. Yeah, Moore does her best when quoting "dirty pillows" and "they're all gonna laugh at you"**, but I can immediately start rewatching the original character in my mind and this film simply has no hope. The new Carrie is played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who the tragic victim of some terrible casting in this. Moretz is a decent actress, but she is far too cute and pretty in this movie in make for a convincing social outcast. It was possible with a clever use of make-up to really prove the 'high school freak' here, but quite paradoxically the movie refuses to not have a pretty protagonist. Its at cross-purposes with itself: on the one hand it needs a victim of high school society at its most vapid, but on the other hand, nobody is gonna want to watch a movie with an ugly girl as the star - look at that poster, she's airbrushed. Sissy Spacek is not ugly, but she's believable as a frail weak outcast. Our new Carrie cannot play weak or vulnerable, instead she keeps pushing outward as strong and compelling.
Cross-purposes is a good way to look at a lot of the artistic decisions in this movie. "Carrie" is the ultimate story of lashing out against the cruelty and viciousness of high school. Yet Pierce directs effectively a fairy tale prom at her conclusion, complete with fuzzy lights, unbelievably gorgeous people, and even a whole goddamn limo for Carrie to ride in. There's a greater focus on the high school society than in the original, and maybe the idea was to make high school itself the villain rather than the mother. However, this seems to be done mostly so that the film can jump right in and glorify the drama of high school as the most important thing in the world. And so that it can cast supermodels in major roles. Those supermodel-ish girls have too much screentime in a movie that is rushing its way through the story, so Carrie is barely a presence in her own film. The conclusion of the movie isn't a frightening explosion of violent energy against innocent victims, but rather a showpiece of CG spectacle - and even that's horribly directed and poorly paced with awful special effects. Carrie makes huge operative gestures like she's Darth Vader or Mangeto, and now the movie isn't exactly horror so much as self-parody.
Speaking of self-parody, Judy Greer gives a simply bizarre and awful performance. Its probably the most interesting aspect of the movie, where a gym teacher is somehow more juvenile than the children she's teaching. And in case you're wondering, yes, they do choke out Cheryl Tunt.
This isn't the worst movie to come out all year, as the natural tension and build-up of the story manages to eek by despite the miserable execution and the film is still mildly compelling. But this really is the kind of production that makes nobody look good, it makes the entire industry look pathetic and mercenary. You don't walk away from the remake of "Carrie" with a feeling of terror, but shame.
* Or for that matter, the 1990 Tom Savini remake of "Night of the Living Dead", which is really underrated.
* Piper Laurie's rendition of "they're all gonna laugh at you" is my favorite line in all of horror cinema to repeat ad nauseum.