Monday, October 21, 2013

Five Things I Hated About the New Remake of CARRIE

Oh yes, there will be spoilers.  (You've been warned.)

1) After a genuinely uncomfortable opening scene, this is mostly a scene-for-scene remake of the 1976 film.  Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the script for DePalma's film, even gets a co-writer credit because so much of his dialogue has been re-used here.  To me, that just seems lazy.  I know that horror fans can get pretty uptight about Hollywood changing their favorite stories... but, seriously?  Grow some balls.

When it comes to adaptations and remakes, I agree with Stephen King when he says that no one can ever desecrate the original.  It'll always be there, and you can always go back to it.  If you're going to remake a film, you should commit to doing things a little differently... not just adding iphones and youtube videos to update the story for a new century.  I found that I couldn't get invested in the remake because every line and every scene was so close to the original that the remake simply felt reheated to me.  Didn't Hollywood learn anything from Gus Van Sant's remake of PSYCHO?

2) I genuinely like Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz for these roles, but I'm disappointed that they don't get more opportunities to make the characters their own.

Moore wisely avoids the theatrical bravura of Piper Laurie's performance, suggesting a more complex character.  So it's unfortunate that she is saddled with the tiresome pseudo-religious dialogue from the original film, which seems way too broad for her take on the character.  Moore's best moment in the film is one in which she barely speaks (she uses a sewing needle to express herself).  A powerful scene like that is at odds with, for example, the line about "dirtypillows" -- which I don't think any actress could deliver without eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Moretz is likewise effective in the small moments when her facial expressions and body language are allowed to convey the possibility that Carrie White is not permanently damaged, and might be able to escape from her dark fate.  Watching DePalma's film, I never had a sense that Sissy Spacek would be able to overcome her insecurity in the long run.  Moretz projects a hidden confidence, especially in the early scenes at the prom, which makes her fall seem even more devastating.

The most instructive comparison to make here is actually not with Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek but with the actresses in the 2002 TV remake of CARRIE.  Patricia Clarkson and Angela Bettis had many more opportunities to shine in the expanded story.  They were not necessarily better in the roles than than Moore and Moretz, but the characters of Margaret and Carrie White were stronger in the TV movie.  It's worth adding that the TV movie also had a stronger supporting cast...

3) It might sound like I am trying to slam Lawrence D. Cohen's original script for CARRIE, but I'm not.  Cohen clearly understood the all-important truth that the horror in King's story was rooted in the characterizations, rather than in the gimmick of telekinesis.  For that reason, he avoided big displays of supernatural power until the climactic sequence at the prom.  Brian DePalma also understood this, as he explained in a 1977 interview:

"I felt the telekinesis was basically a device to trick, and I wanted to use it as an extension of her emotions - her feelings that were completely translated into actions, that only erupted when she got terribly excited, terribly anxious and terribly sad.... I never wanted to use it arbitrarily, floating stuff around.  In a movie that's kind of boring.  Okay, she moves objects.  As soon as you've established that, I don't think you can do anymore with it.  Just use it when it's needed and dramatically valid.  To play with it, to me, would be very boring and ultimately it has to do with credibility.  If you do it too much people will say 'Come on!'  In the cinema it's a trick: 'Oh yeah, they put wires on the lamps and that's why it floats through the air!'  You never want the audience to be so analytical and dissemble the trick.  I only ever wanted to use it as an emotional expression of her passions."

The filmmakers behind the remake apparently did not understand this truth, because the first half of the film features many set-pieces revolving around displays of Carrie's power... which has the ultimate effect of diminishing the trick as well as the essential believability of the world in which these characters live.

4) The best thing about the new remake is definitely the prom sequence and Carrie's destructive walk home afterwards.  That's good, because the film would have been a colossal failure if it hadn't brought something new to this iconic set piece.  The prom sequence is visually impressive and emotionally resonant... not just because of the effects, but because Moretz's performance powerfully expresses Carrie's anger.  In DePalma's film, Sissy Spacek's wide-eyed gaze makes her seem inhuman -- possibly even possessed -- during the bloodbath.  Moretz is possessed only by a lust for power.

As she exacts her revenge on her classmates, I got to thinking about how much Carrie is like Charlie McGee in Stephen King's FIRESTARTER.  Both stories revolve around a young girl with terrifying supernatural powers, but there is more compelling dramatic tension in FIRESTARTER because the girl is afraid of her power.  Charlie senses that if she indulges her abilities too much, she will not be able to control them.  She senses her own lust for power, and knows that it will consume her if she lets it. That's what happens to Carrie at the prom... or, at least, what should happen to Carrie at the prom.

The new Carrie's displays of power and rage are so extreme that I simply couldn't go along with the narrative when she went crawling home to mama afterwards.  Stephen King has said that in an early draft of the novel, Carrie didn't return from the dark side.  She had gone too far, became a monster, and couldn't recover her humanity.  King rewrote the ending because his editor argued that the final act needed the humanity.  I would have liked to see the new remake go big, instead of going home.  That would have been genuinely surprising, and given this version of the tale a reason to exist.

5) While we're talking about endings... A remake of the movie that practically invented the shock ending isn't even going to attempt a shock ending?  Lame.

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