Carrie **1/2 (out of five)
In the wake of the spate of revenge attacks upon school bullies that have come to be known, tragically matter-of-factly, as “school shootings”, a revamped, updated Carrie had all the potential in the world to be unbelievably current, edgy, creepy, meaningful, tragic and horrifying. Instead, and completely surprisingly given the pedigrees of the director and leading cast, this adaptation of perhaps Stephen King’s best book is strictly by the numbers, ticking off the book’s scenes one by one, almost absurdly faithfully, without any directorial flair, texture or point of view. And, in a world of cyber-bullying gone wild (the film is set in the present), only a tiny nod of the head is given to this aspect of modern school society. It is all a huge missed opportunity.
Technically, the film is proficient, and the A-List cast alone lift it above the remakes of Halloween, Friday the Thirteenth, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre et al that have flooded screens for the last few years. But Carrie was never a straight “horror” story. Rather, it is perhaps the best high-school bully book ever, the grandmama of the genre, and the original film, with the ultimate perfect casting of Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her bonkers mum, and directed with great personal style by Brian De Palma, was a classy affair, a psychological thriller that went full-scale bloodiest in its acclaimed final act, giving birth to perhaps the most iconic horror film image of all time: Carrie, in her prom dress, soaked in (pig’s) blood. That film remains a minor masterpiece – to some, a major one.
It also went to the Oscars. Spacek was nominated for Best Actress and Laurie for Best Supporting Actress. Horror films rarely receive acting Oscar nominations – they rarely receive any Oscar nominations, The Silence of the Lambs and a few others being notable and rare exceptions. But, as stated before, the original adaptation of Carrie was classy, and it wasn’t really a horror film. But you know what? It was scary. Laurie was full-on scary. Spacek was scary. De Palma shot it in a creepy, unnerving way, and, as usual for him, used sound in a particularly nerve-rattling way. And the climax – really, the very, very extended climax – was deeply upsetting, one death in particular, the image of which is as fresh in my mind as the day I first saw it (which was probably a day on which I was too young to see a film like Carrie, but such was my youth).
The new Carrie is not scary and it’s not headed to the Oscars, trust me. Director Kimberley Peirce’s debut feature, Boys Don’t Cry, went to the Oscars, scoring the Best Actress statue for Hilary Swank and a nomination for Chloë Sevigny in support, but Carrie doesn’t carry any sort of directorial voice; it essentially feels like it could have been directed by any journeyman director, and Peirce is considered something other than that, more of an “artiste”; there’s no artfulness on display here. The story skips from scene to scene like a stone on a lake, never going beneath the surface, never displaying deep thought. I actually wonder if there was a lot more texture and detail shot, and subsequently chopped out by a studio eager to bus in the kids and bus ‘em out again as quickly as possible to make way for the next session. I rarely if ever say this, but it was too short. There were the bones, but none of the fat and muscle to give the story taste and grit.
The story itself, of course, is absolutely fantastic, and, by adhering faithfully to it, the film immediately is watchable and enjoyable – how could it not be? A terrific concept, great characters, a contained setting, a completely relatable dynamic (bullying), and an immensely satisfying payoff. It was King’s first novel to be published but the fourth he wrote. He’d already mastered unity of character, time and place. He may not be the most literary of writers but boy he’s gotta be the world’s number one living storyteller.
The other plus is Chloë Grace Moretz, who continues to be a very promising actress, but who isn’t hitting the ball out of the park and blowing our minds as Saoirse Ronan continues to do. Moretz has been acting since she was a little girl, and made everyone’s jaws drop as Hit Girl in Kick Ass in 2010, but she is definitely showing mannerisms from role to role now, and they are on the verge – I guess past the verge, since I’m noticing them – of being distracting. I hate to say this, but, now that she’s old enough, a couple of years out of Hollywood and at a great drama school would do her a world of good. You can see Saoirse Ronan becoming a future Meryl Streep. No-one’s saying that about Moretz, and certainly won’t about her performance here. But she’s a really good screen presence, there’s no doubt, and she’s good in the role.
Julianne Moore is very Julianne Moore-ish as the demented mother, but must pale in comparison to Laurie’s definitive performance, which was absolutely, terrifyingly believable – this was a religious nut on screen, and one who needed to be locked up pronto. Frankly, Moretz also suffers in comparison to Spacek. Spacek was otherworldly, a true oddball, and, as such, again totally believable as a very, very damaged teenager and absolutely ripe to be ignored, bullied or both at high school. Moretz is not nearly as naturally weird as Spacek seemed, and, frankly, is a lot more attractive, which she has to fight against to be believable as the kind of girl the “pretty girls” would scorn – she’s actually prettier than most of them (if not all of them). So she slumps shuffles and peeks out from under a bowed head, and it all looks a little “acted”. Spacek, like Laurie, just seemed to be from another planet.
The new Carrie is fine, but it’s terribly disappointing that it’s just fine. I was really hoping for a provocative, or at least original, take on the material. Instead, the film feels like it was made by committee, a cash-grab just like any other horror remake. I noticed that Stephen King’s name isn’t present onscreen at all (maybe a quick “based on the novel by” flashed by when I blinked). Perhaps he’s happy that this adaptation is relentlessly faithful to the story beats of his book, but he must be disappointed at just how lacking in style, character and spark it is. Just another remake, not as good as the original adaptation, and, therefore, and unfortunately, ultimately… pointless.