Film Review: Carrie (2013)

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MH: Hi Craig, today I believe we’re talking about the 2013 version of Carrie.

CHB:  Look, straight off the bat: I thought this was great.

MH:  Well this is going to be interesting because I didn’t!

CHB:  Brilliant. Totally David and Margaret.

MH:  Hahaha

CHB:  I guess first we should discuss the De Palma film. Are you a fan of that?

MH:  It’s actually impossible to discuss this film without reference to the De Palma one. I am a fan, although it has its flaws. De Palma’s film is very stylistic, and builds the tension in a wonderful way, and I think his interpretation of the character was very good. What about you?

CHB:  There are parts of it that I like, Sissy Spacek’s performance for one. I think she’s just great. And yes, the tension – particularly in the prom scene – is famously magnificent, and often parodied, and it’d take a lot of effort for a film to adapt Carrie and not in some way acknowledge those iconic moments from De Palma’s film. But other parts I don’t so much like: Piper Laurie is too over the top, the students are clearly not student-age, and it’s structurally a bit off. Feels like an opening act and then a finale. And De Palma did have financial restraints which meant he had to change the ending a tough from the book, which is fine, but I think some of the book’s strengths were missing in the original adaptation.

MH:  Yeah, I’d agree with some of that. I liked Piper Laurie as Margaret, and I’m prepared to forgive the age thing. Carrie is very much a story about the horror of high school, and I think you only really get perspective on that once you’ve left. The older actors were able to bring more to their roles because they understood a little more about the context the characters were operating in. And yes, the financial restraints prevented it from following the ending of the novel too faithfully, but he still did a great job with what he had. Sissy Spacek gave a brilliant performance.

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CHB:  I guess, additionally, there’s one aspect of De Palma’s film I really wasn’t keen on, and I felt this film avoided brilliantly. There was this aspect of De Palma’s vision that was somewhat voyeuristic, almost as if you could feel it was a film an adult male was making about teenage girls. Especially from the opening shower scene. Just a bit creepy.

Bear in mind that the clip above is the alternate opening, which has all the nudity removed.
But this film was something else. Having a female director – Kimberly Pierce, who made the amazingly good Boys Don’t Cry – tell a story about a teenage girl, and her controlling mother, and the other teenage girls that she interacts with, was just so well handled. It felt like a female film. Which is a rare thing.

MH:  Hmmm. See, I’d disagree with that. The De Palma film isn’t voyeuristic (although it could be seen that way), but I think he equates Carrie’s powers with her sexuality, so there’s this element of her discovering her body, which is present in the novel, too. And I think that Kimberly Pierce completely misinterpreted huge parts of the character.

CHB:  Oh that’s interesting, I never thought of it that way. I always thought the equating of her powers with sexuality was a misreading by Carrie’s mother.

MH:  But Margaret was right about a few things, wasn’t she? They did all laugh at her.

CHB:  That’s the tragedy of it all. The tragedy of Carrie. The wrong become right and all the good actions are lost.

MH:  Tell me what you liked about this film. I must say, I was surprised that you enjoyed it as much as you did. In your opinion is it superior to the De Palma version?

CHB:  Yes, I think it’s a stronger film all up, more consistent. I don’t think it’s a great film, but it rectifies some of the really dated elements of De Palma’s, and restores some elements from the book that I felt were missing. I was really struck by the opening. It was quite a shocking scene, and quite confronting. Again, there was no way one could replicate the opening shot of De Palma’s, and Pierce has instead gone for showing the Carrie’s birth, as her mother struggles to understand what’s going on all alone at home. Quite an awful scene, but great horror.

MH:  Yeah, it was a solid opening scene but seeing a bloody birth scene where a woman almost stabs an infant to death with rusty scissors negated the power of the shower scene. Margaret’s moment was much bloodier and more confronting than Carrie having her period and being pelted with tampons. Blood is so important to this story, and to have Margaret steal Carrie’s opening kind of watered down what followed. It also ruined the book-end of Carrie’s story. The chain of events are set in motion and ended by the shower scene and the prom scene. The birth scene added nothing to the story, other than a cheap dash of horror. That said, it’s a confronting scene.

CHB:  See I felt it set up the dynamic of the mother-daughter perfectly. And the scissors were used at the end by Carrie against her mother. Margaret wasn’t just a Bible-nut. She was actually quite psychotic. I thought Julianne Moore really did the character well, better than Laurie. And right in keeping with Stephen King’s almost stock character of the religiously-charged sociopathic woman. Similar to Marcia Gay Harden’s performance in The Mist. I quite liked the shower scene, but it’s hard. It has to be shocking, but not nearly as shocking as the prom. And by combining the birth of Carrie, and then the shower scene at the beginning, it just told us everything about the character in two moments. There’s nowhere safe for her, not at home nor at school.

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MH:  The mother-daughter dynamic doesn’t need a preface, there are so many examples of it as the story unfolds. Also, when a character who is 16 years old freaks out in the shower because she doesn’t know what a period is, it tells you that her home life is awful, the audience doesn’t need that to be spoon fed to them. Julianne Moore is an amazing actress and does a great job. But Piper Laure had that holier-than-thou smile, which was so irritating, but gave such a great insight to the character. She was crazy, but she believed that everything she did was a righteous act, and she smugly looked down on everyone else in town. Whereas Moore was just a violent psychopath.

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CHB:  That’s what Margaret was to me. Alright, let’s not get stuck disagreeing about the beginning – there’s so much more! I thought the depictions of teenagers was excellent. The dialogue, particularly between Chris and Sue, was – to me – spot on. It was scary watching how well Chris manipulated conversations, and far more indicative I think of a 21st century teenager than one in the 1970s.

MH:  I thought that the actress who played Sue was AWFUL. She looked like she was acting in every scene, and completely lacked the chops to deal with something as horrific as the finale. Sue is a tough role, and she just wasn’t up to the task. Chris was portrayed as far too bad, to the point of evil, whereas in the novel (and the De Palma film), she’s a spoiled brat who is in a bad relationship, but you feel that the character could be redeemed in the right circumstances. She’s making a mistake, a bad one, that had she lived, she would have regretted. And don’t get me started on the lame, lame, lame addition of this thing called “the internet” to the story. LAME!

CHB:  Ahaha. See I found it quite confronting to watch, as I see it all too often during the day. Having seen teenagers like Chris, behave and talk just like her, it was terrifying to see it depicted so accurately. The behaviour of all the characters, if you remove the telekinesis, is something really accurate, I thought. And the addition of social media was necessary, and well, it kind of had to be there, given the current world. So to me I was struck by how necessary and timeless King’s original story is, given that I’d dearly love many many students to watch this film and reflect on their own behaviour.

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MH:  My problem with the videoing of Carrie’s bullying is that it went nowhere. Kimberly Pierce introduced the concept of cyberbullying and then just leaves it hanging. It was like it was thrown in because she felt she had to add it, but it didn’t expand much beyond Chris’ phone, and Carrie doesn’t use the internet anyway, so it’s not even something she’d likely care about.

CHB:  That could have been better handled, I agree. The scene with Chris, her dad, the principal and Miss Desjardin was the big wrong note for me. It just wasn’t accurate. Chris’s actions were actually illegal, as anyone would know, and in the real world severe consequences would have occurred.

MH:  Yeah, if Chris had deleted the video to free up space on her phone, Miss Desjardin would have had to apologise and the film would have ended.

CHB:  But for Chris it isn’t that Carrie uses the internet, it’s the traction she gains with other people by circulating it. She feeds off the conflict, to the point of manufacturing it out of boredom.

MH:  Yeah, but it’s Carrie’s story, and it’s all about what leads her to go on a killing spree. I think the shower incident had a powerful enough effect on her that she wouldn’t have cared if some stranger in a town she would never visit had seen it.

CHB:  For sure, but I think it sets up the climate around her that generates her rampage in the final act. It can’t just be the shower scene, it’s the cumulation of her reputation in the community in combination with Sue’s manufacturing of Carrie’s presence at the prom.

MH:  Anyway, we’ve talked about lots of other characters and elements, but what about Carrie herself? What did you think of Chloe Grace Moretz? Personally, I liked her. She’s a good actress and she does a decent job. She doesn’t kick it up to Spacek levels, though.

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CHB:  No, she did a great job, but Spacek was phenomenal. The best thing though, is that she actually is a teenager. I guess this was a really big thing for me, the authenticity of teenagers, because I keep coming back to it. It’s almost a tale of warning to all teenagers: don’t bully because you can never know the consequences. The best thing about Carrie in this, which I thought was lacking in De Palma’s, was how sympathetic they made her. I think this was Pierce’s direction. Spacek basically went from complete naive innocent to murderous monster. It’s terrifying, and dramatic, but it’s different to Carrie in the book. She’s never monstrous.

MH:  DISAGREE but do go on…

CHB:  Pierce took pain at various moments to show Carrie’s humanity, so that we had this line of sympathy throughout. Particularly in the ending in with her mother and Sue. She would unleash hell, but then come back to it. I felt much more of the weight of Carrie’s powers on her as an individual in this film. Of course you disagree.

MH:  Ok, you may want to grab a drink because this response will be long and may take some typing.

CHB:  Haha.

MH:  Pierce’s decision to make Carrie sympathetic was her undoing, completely undermining the impact of the finale, and showing how badly she misjudged the character. In the book, how many people does Carrie kill? OVER 400! Including about 60 of her classmates. She goes out and massacres completely innocent people, people who never knew her, people who had never done anything to her. She destroys the town and tears families apart. This is what De Palma couldn’t show because of budget restraints, and it’s what I had hoped Pierce would try to bring. De Palma showed the monstrous side of Carrie when he had her murder the kindly gym teacher (Miss Desjardin in the book and the 2013 version, but I believe they renamed the character in 1976). Pierce has her SAVE Miss Desjardin, a completely un-Carrie thing. Carrie has monstrous elements, and she could go either way. Prior to the prom she only ever uses her power in anger, or to test the limits of her ability. She’s been brought up under her mother’s guidance, and there’s no doubt in the novel that she thinks her classmates are going to hell. In the novel, Carrie sabotages all the fire hydrants around the school, in a blatant attempt to kill as many people as possible. This coldness and cruelty is completely absent in this new version.

CHB:  (for those of you playing at home, Mark has been typing for about ten minutes.)

MH:  Don’t words-per-minute shame me!

CHB:  I agree with you, but to me it comes down to different interpretations of the character. De Palma went one way, Pierce another. We also are afforded much more insight into Carrie and her feelings in the novel and that generates sympathy, which makes the slaughter of the ending much more complex. I don’t think she’s a monster, and I don’t think she’s sympathetic. She’s both, in a sense.

MH:  Pierce went the way that undermined the horror.

CHB:  King has made comments about the character that he saw it almost as an origin story for a superhero, but in entirely inappropriate circumstances. This isn’t Superman stuffing around on a farm trying to hide himself. This is someone out of control and out of favour, but in possession of terrifying abilities.

MH:  It’s the origin of a supervillain.

CHB:  Yes, I agree, it’s less horror. But Carrie was never a horror story for me, not in the way that ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining are. It’s far more a tragedy, with horrific circumstances.

MH:  Maybe if she had lived she could have had a showdown with Danny Torrance. Carrie is a horror story, it’s a tragic one no doubt, but it’s still horror. It’s soaked in blood, it’s cruel, it has a massive death toll and a sense of doom and foreboding is present in every page (not in this film, though). And that’s something else wrong with it. The book has these snippets of documents and books written after the events sprinkled throughout, so you know something awful is coming. De Palma had these other-worldly slow motion shots and that weird, haunting score that indicated there was something bad on the horizon. This one had none of that.

CHB:  Ah look at that. Entirely valid yet wholly different readings of the same book and the same film. Who’d have thought.

MH:  Hahaha, yes. All of my complaints aside, this was still a competently made and entertaining film. I just wish they’d done a fresh adaptation of the book, instead of remaking the De Palma version.

CHB:  In an ideal world, we’d put the best bits of both films together. But I still think this one was in the Top 10 King adaptations for cinema. Which is not hard given that there’s been so many awful ones. Oh see I saw it as a fresh adaptation of the book. They included Sue’s pregnancy, which is the first adaptation to do so.

MH:  It’s a total remake of the De Palma film. I’m not even sure Kimberly Pierce read Carrie. This felt like a copy of a copy to me. I’m pretty sure the guy who wrote the De Palma version gets a screenwriting credit here. There are lines that are the same. The prom scene is done in the same way that the De Palma one is, even though the De Palma one is a big departure from the book. Margaret’s death and the destruction of the house is the same in both films, different in the book, same with Chris and Billy’s deaths. And she destroys an entire town in the book. Oh, one more thing. By focussing on Carrie killing the girls who bullied her, rather than on Carrie just throwing her rage on everyone, Kimberly Pierce again missed the point.

CHB:  Well we did get glimpses of town destruction in this. Which I thought was great.

MH:  But no sense that she killed 400 people.

CHB:  But more than in De Palma’s.

MH:  But there’s no sense of just how far she takes it, in the book she’s destroying fire hydrants all over town, igniting gas mains and multiple petrol stations, tearing live wires down. She’s causing widespread destruction on a massive scale and deliberately hampering the efforts of the emergency services. She wants to kill as many people as possible. In this version it’s like she wants to kill the bullies and is causing collateral damage but doesn’t notice.

CHB:  I think there’s an element of the producers unsure of who they were making this film for. The first teaser was brilliant, with Carrie in a completely destroyed town covered in blood. But then the next trailer basically told the whole story. And then there were the posters with the tagline of ‘you will know her name.’ which makes me wonder if they had made this for fans of the De Palma film. or at least, that’s who the studio was targeting. the finished film didn’t show nearly as much destruction as the original teaser did, and I wonder if things were cut. Had this been billed as a film completely separate to the original adaptation, I wonder if it would have had more impact.

MH:  Yeah, I agree. Carrie is not a teen slasher flick, and I think the studio knew that but Kimberly Pierce didn’t. To me, the tag line was a reference to the novel. In the novel, eyewitnesses are able to say that it was Carrie who did it, even if they’d never met her. As she went on her rampage, she broadcasted her name via her physic energy. So maybe there was stuff that was cut.

CHB:  So, in summation? I still hold to the fact that I think it’s a solid adaptation, elevated by the necessary qualities of the original novel. The story is so unexpected, and unlike anything else, and yet potently clear for a teenage audience that I think it’s good there’s a newer adaptation to show to a newer audience. Even with a few missteps, and possible studio mishandling of the marketing and execution, I’m glad it’s been made.

MH:  In summation, I found this to be an entertaining, yet pointless film. The De Palma version is better on almost every level, and this film doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from it. It would have been better with a stronger finale, and Pierce fumbled several major elements (including the entire prom scene), so it never really took off. Sometimes read is better!

CHB:  Haha. Nice pun shoehorning. It really is a great book. If only we could consult on all adaptations, there’d be less crap ones going around.

MH:  Agreed! Maybe some Hollywood producers will read this and call us to consult on the remake of The Rage: Carrie 2.

CHB:  Oh dear god no.

MH:  Hahaha! Well, see you in a couple of weeks with another topic? Maybe we could do our top ten King adaptions, as you mentioned earlier?

CHB:  That sounds great. I might have to check out a few more. And we can compare against his own list.

MH:  Cool! See you then.

Mark: 2 and a half stars

Craig: 4 stars

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