October 22, 2013

Carrie (2013)

"A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom."

What can I possibly write about this remake that hasn't been said before about every remake which doesn't match up to the original? If you avoid the notorious shill reviewers, you can pretty much pick any negative review of "Carrie" (trust me, 99% of them are very negative!) and they will all say exactly the same things as I want to: This remake of "Carrie" is a soulless and generic cashgrab.

If you've done the same thing as me and rewatched Brian De Palma's 1976 version recently, comparing the two movies is a bit like explaining the difference between Coke and Pepsi to other fizzy cola drinkers. Both use the same source material, but the American classic is bolder and more effervescent than the flatter and milder newcomer. The allusion is a good one, but it has to end there because some would argue that it's about taste rather than universals and discernment. If you don't know what those are, it's time for you to go back to Aristotle and re-aquaint yourself with basic aesthetic criticism. Some dramatic elements can be qualified, others not so easily, but at the end of the day, it's all about how the combination of elements evokes emotion and the catharis of emotion.

Before I begin my dissection, let me remind you that I'm not a nostalgist. I am just as willing to accept a new movie as I am an older one as long as it's good. I'm certainly not going to buy into the bullshit about a remake being better and more suitable for the younger generation than the original unless there's been an improvement. Sadly, the new version of "Carrie" adds a couple of extra scenes, removes a few others, and doesn't improve on anything.

"Plug it up! Plug it up!"

The first problem with the new "Carrie" is the age of the actors. In Brian De Palma's version, everyone was older playing younger. Sissy Spacek (the original Carrie White) was 27 years old at the time, not 16 like Chloë Grace Moretz. I'm not sure who the youngest cast member was in the original, but it's probably a toss up between John Travolta and Michael Talbott who were both in their early 20s. Consequently, they had a certain physicality, presence, and expressiveness about them which these younger pudgy-faced actors don't.

I know that if you use Nancy Allen as an example, things tend to not match the pattern, but despite only having two screen credits to her name before "Carrie", Nancy Allen (a 26-year-old) playing the bitchy but sexy Chris Hargensen was from a different world and fleshed out her character with natural charisma. Her replacement, Portia Doubleday, even though she's 25, is not only plainer but would be completely miscast if she tried to pull off the same role. Substantial changes to the character have made Chris Hargensen more cowardly, deceitful, and unlikeable, but turning her into little more than a stereotypically bully is at the expense of what made Nancy Allen's performance outstanding.

The same is true of every re-imagined character in this remake. The characters in the 1976 version simply have more depth to them which comes from who is playing them more than what they do or what comes out of their mouths. The originals have a look, an attitude, and vitality which the newcomers don't. The casting choices for this remake are okay-ish, but there's no star potential here. The cookie-cutter actors and actresses are as bland as the ones from the "trendy teen" slashers of the '90.

"Eve was weak! Eve was weak!"

Chloë Grace Moretz is a tiny, pretty girl, but she's not convincing as Carrie White. Her portrayal has no change from ugly ducking into a swan like Sissy Spacek's, and she only turns a pretty girl into a vengeful witch who can make CGI things float in mid-air and Hulk-stomp cracks into the road. The new Carrie doesn't sparkle with delight at the prom or make you want to fall in love with her when she smiles. Sissy Spacek nailed that role, and Chloë Grace Moretz is like a reject from "Charmed" in comparison.

Carrie's relationship with her mother is much the same as in the original, and Julianne Moore is occasionally better as a religious nutjob than Piper Laurie, but they don't resemble each other physically. Perhaps that's why a birthing scene was added to stop any speculation about whether the new Carrie might be adopted because, lamentably, there really are people who haven't seen other "Carrie" movies or read Stephen King's novel. As I'm not in that category, all I noticed was that Julianne Moore has the freckliness about her which would have made her a good match for Sissy Spacek, but if you tried to do the same thing with Chloë Grace Moretz and Piper Laurie, the mismatch would be more ludicrous.

The scenes between Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are the best in the movie, give or take some stupid CGI levitations which aren't as good as the more realistic effects from the original, but they still feel like parody re-enactments when compared to the powerful and iconic performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Judged on their own merits, they work.

The next problem is the pacing. Everything seems to be much faster, although if you time it, the acts are almost the same length. So what went wrong? The most obvious answer is the additional scenes of Carrie's birth and the posting of a YouTube video of Carrie being bullied in the shower. Neither of these scenes add anything to the story, and the latter isn't made as much of as it could be in light of recent media attention about bullying cases involving the internet. It's a contemporary update which some kids can relate to, but Carrie doesn't know about it or have any reaction to it, so what's the point? Adding these superfluous scenes just shortens the time which should have been used on better characterisation.

"They're all gonna laugh at you."

For something which is mostly a scene-by-scene remake in other respects, the new "Carrie" reveals some bizarre directorial decisions in what it ignores from the 1976 version. Admittedly, the scene with Tommy (William Katt) and his friends renting tuxedos (which is harshly remembered for the silly speeding-up in the middle) isn't very important apart from creating some comic relief, so I'm kind of glad that it's gone, but it did show that Tommy was just as happy to hang out with the nerdier kids as he was with the popular ones. The new rich kid, limo-hiring Tommy, played by Ansel Elgort, however, doesn't seem to have any friends!

In fact, the same could be said of all the kids in this movie. There's no rhyme or reason why any of them would want to know each other except for going to the same school. None of them are very friendly, and they don't behave like mid-teenagers normally would. They are so poorly differentiated that there's not one who you can care about either in a good way or a bad way; most only exist to fill space on the screen. Maybe it's because of the notable loss of lingering shots on the actors' expressions which makes the kids in this look like a bunch of console-gaming Aspies who don't have any contact with other people in the real world, or maybe it's bad acting, but there's no chemistry between them.

Let's also not forget the more "adult" stuff such as the opening shower and locker room introduction from the original with all that lovely nudity! That's gone due to a combination of Chloë Grace Moretz's age and what some might say is prudishness by a woman director. I'm not being misogynistic about it, it's a fact. Based on this director's grittier previous work, however, I suspect a lot of producer interference. You can clearly see for yourself how more "politically correct" hypocrisy is responsible for giving short-shrift to Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan's memorably fiery relationship from the original "Carrie", and it's turned their new versions into two-dimensional bullies with no motivation for what they do to Carrie White other than being bullies for the sake of it.

Time of the month?

I'm not going to go into any great detail about the prom scenes and the ending because you'll go to see "Carrie" no matter what I say, and I've given you far too many spoilers without warning already. Suffice it to say that there's no heart involved in the scenes between Carrie and Tommy, and you won't feel Carrie's joy or see Tommy's temptation turn into wish-fulfilment. They don't even dance to a song with words which complement the moment! There's beauty and depth (and lots of flute music) in the original which you won't find here.

When the action kicks off, some of the stunts are rushed and others are too drawn out, but as the original "Carrie" is flawed with dated split-screen effects, the final third may seem cleaner overall. Because of test screenings, the much publicised additional scenes from Stephen King's novel were left out of the theatrical release. Hopefully, they'll be on the eventual DVD and Blu-ray, but they'll probably be as "Special Features" rather than a director's cut if they get included at all.

At the end of the day, this is a remake which replaces subtleties and characterisation with spectacle, so I'll concede to personal tastes about that. I didn't care for it—too many punches are pulled horror-wise to make it satisfying for me—but your mileage may vary.

Nice poster.

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