The stories of Stephen King are some of the most popular works of horror fiction in the history of mainstream literature, and as such, have proved a fertile ground for adaptation into feature films and television series, with varying degrees of success. Back in 1976, this wave of adaptations was started by one film: Brian De Palma’s seminal Carrie, a film that still has a power to haunt and disturb, through it’s combination of a gripping, socially relevant narrative, the directing stylization of De Palma, and the haunting, career defining performance of Sissy Spacek as Carrie herself. Now, in 2013, Carrie returns to the big screen in the guise of a polished, modern remake for a new generation, one where the central themes of the pain of growing up, the psychological damage of bullying, and the inherent danger of burgeoning sexual identity, are even more prevalent for youth culture today, than they were back in the 1970s.  However, the three elements that give the original film such an iconic tone, look and impact, are the most difficult and disappointing for this flawed remake.

The high points of the film are unquestionably the scenes between Carrie and her disturbed mother, Margaret, played with menace and surprising sensitivity by Julianne Moore. These are captivating power plays between the two central damaged women, moving back and forth with electric intensity and a sense of inevitability that their universe will crumble with Carrie growing stronger as a person, and Margaret disintegrating into deadly desperation. Rather than being a one-dimensional foil for Carrie (unlike the main bullies who are woefully underwritten clichés and so unbelievable that it is almost laughable), Moore schizophrenically morphs between moments of crazed, threatening domination as she seeks to control her daughter, to glimpses of an unfortunate, pathetic individual damaged by traumas in her past that reverberate still, and in sad, misguided way is only seeking to protect Carrie from the evil that broke her. It is a nuanced performance of pain and power that stands out within the film, and stands up incredibly well to Piper Laurie’s Oscar-nominated turn in the original.

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While Julianne Moore excels, Chloe Grace Moretz’s interpretation of Carrie is a far more difficult performance to buy into. She imbues the character with the right amount of pathos and elicits sympathy…but she simply is not able to express the essential sense of vulnerability and fragility that defines the character, and that Spacek so brilliantly channeled, appearing more robust and at times, unbelievable physically. She is not the awkward, ugly duckling teenager on the edge of exploding out into the world, damaged by the forces in her life that mock, condemn and constrain her. Moretz does as well as she can, but unfortunately, she is just miscast in the role.

Visually, the film is slick enough, contrasting the interior world of Carrie’s home, dominated by dark browns and sickly beige, reflecting her unhealthy home life; with the bright and clichéd school environment, whose bland façade is perhaps even more threatening in it’s banal unfeeling formalism. However, whether compared to the sinister beauty De Palma conveyed in the original or simply in terms of its own place within modern horror cinema, Carrie is ultimately rather static and conventional. Looking at this issue closer, it could be argued that the visual style director Kimberly Peirce uses is an intentional device to challenge the sexualized imagery of the original, a critique often made of De Palma’s films. If it is her intention to challenge this, then it is unfortunately a detriment to the overall film as a result.

The perfect example of this crucial flaw can be found in the iconic prom night sequence where Carrie’s powers are unleashed at their most darkly devastating. In the original film, the scene builds with tension before unleashing a torrent of horror that is genuinely affective. In this film, the sequence is absolutely devoid of any sense of critical mass; the build up to the moment Carrie is drenched in blood is standard teen rom-com fare, an idea that should work well to contrast the false romanticism of that genre with the real evil of people and in particular, the obsessions with façade that plagues teen culture. Instead, it mundanely moves towards that inevitable moment the audience has all been waiting for…the revenge of Carrie White. When it does arrive, the sequence devolves into a mess that is over reliant on shoddy special effects that attempt to sensationally illustrate Carrie’s telekinetic might, but are quite frankly silly and instantly devalue the power of the imagery. And worst of all, there is no horror, no visceral texture, and no sense of sadness for Carrie as she finally breaks; instead choosing to focus on the thrill of her rage let loose at last, a choice that I believe is misguided and not as emotionally interesting as contrasting this overwhelming anger with the fear and tragic nature of Carrie herself. Like the film itself, this is a missed opportunity to take the incredibly potent source material, and craft an emotionally resonant and relevant vision that feeds into the themes and the power of the female character that speaks intimately to the audience, emotionally and viscerally.

Carrie is a decent remake on technical level, and one that brings female focused horror back to the mainstream for a new genre; but it unquestionably inferior to the original, lacking any new dimensions to define it as a distinctive modern reinterpretation. This lack of new ideas and an overall conventional nature turns something that could have been as interesting as this year’s superior remake of Maniac…into the epitome of the near pointless horror remake culture.

VERDICT: [rating=2]

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk