“Mistakes were made.”
I tried to talk him out of it. The Boy wanted to see a matinee. We’re tied up most days lately so he likes to take up a weekend day to see something. Problem is, we’re in an awkward period where the arty movies we’ve been seeing all year are flooding the art houses, and the discount theater is full of stuff we’ve seen or didn’t want to see.
And so: Carrie.
I have not, in fact, seen the original Carrie, despite being a Brian De Palma fan—at least until the Iraq War when he went full moonbat with the career-killing Redacted (US box office about on a par with the under-rated Nice Girls Don’t Explode, though far less if you adjust for inflation).
Anyway, haven’t seen it. I read the book, which is essentially a “found footage” approach in novel form, and which (like all of King’s stuff) is highly derivative of some pretty hokey tropes, in this case, the school revenge picture.
The book, nonetheless, works, while this movie does not. I’m going to list a bunch of ways that it doesn’t work before getting to what I think the key reason it doesn’t work:
- It’s not the early ‘70s any more. It’s not even the late ’90s. Carrie is 18, meaning she was born in the sexually repressed days of…1995.
- Julianne Moore is 53, meaning she was a blushing bloom of…33 or 34…when she was impregnated. (OK, she’s probably supposed to be younger, and just haggard looking but…Julianne Moore was Maude Lebowski back in ’97!)
- Actually, timeline-wise Carrie just about works as Maude and The Dude’s love child. Heh.
- Chloe Grace Moretz acts the part well but she recalls a young Scarlett Johannson. The clever thing here is that she was really 15 while her classmates are all late teens, early 20s, so the “late bloomer” effect works.
- But still, she’s ridiculously good looking. Sissy Spacek was cute, but not so cute that she didn’t do a lot of “plain” girl stuff. Moretz will probably be a glamour goddess in a few years.
- The characters are so broadly drawn as to be ridiculous. I don’t remember anyone from the book except for—well, except for the mother, in fact. But nobody’s accusing King of subtle characterization.
- There’s a scene where Carrie is thrown into her prayer closet, which is punctuated by the gruesome imagery of Jesus-on-the-cross which therein lays, making this a closet of horror. Except that if you’d been thrown into such a place your whole life, the imagery would be boring to you, not shocking or horrifying.
- The Christianity—there’s no connection to it. It’s probably less anti-religious than the original novel, but there’s a lack of depth that brings with it a lack of resonance.
A lack of depth is basically a good way to describe this film, which is competently directed by Kimberly Pierce (pretty much out of work since her award winning Boys Don’t Cry back in ’99). It deals broadly in archetypes that were rusty when King used them in ’73. (How many campus-geek-strikes-back movies were there in ’50s?)
The problem is you really don’t care. The Boy was just waiting for the climactic scene, which he thought was pretty well done, it’s just that you have to watch the rest of the movie to see it, and it’s not particularly spectacular or, on a visceral level, satisfying.
It doesn’t really work on a human level, either. I actually don’t believe the response to seeing someone drenched in blood would be laughter. This one follows that up with a video of the infamous shower scene, but it rings false. I think people’d be horrified.
So despite all the types, Carrie doesn’t seem fragile enough, her mom doesn’t seem evil enough, et cetera. I’m guessing that whatever flaws the De Palma version has, excessive restraint due to good taste is not among them.
But that’s not what I think kills this flick.
The book, as I mentioned, is in the “found footage” style: The story is told via newspaper clippings, diary entries, and so on. (Perhaps a clever way for a young writer to get around a lack of confidence in his own narrative ability?) The ending is a forgone conclusion from page one, just like the movie.
But the book works by instilling a sense of dread and suspense, that even though you know how it’s all going to turn out, there are all these little moments that might go differently and change things.
It’s a good trick. Better than relying on a twist or a Big Effect or whatever. You watch “Romeo and Juliet”, hoping for a different outcome.
There’s none of that here. There’s never any doubt what will happen. There’s no tease, no suspense, it’s all on rails, and then when it happens, it’s sort of like, “Well, yeah, that’ll happen.”
It feels weirdly unearned.
Competent acting, though. I liked Judy Greer (sort of a pleasanter version of Vicki Lewis who’s a pleasanter version of Kathy Griffin) as the kind gym coach, and Barry Henley as the principal. Competent direction. Dialogue’s okay.
But as the Boy noted, ruing his insistence on going to a matinee, it was all pointless. And I think that’s not just true at the narrative level, but at the meta-level. Without a compelling motivation to reinterpret, you have a remake that’s dislocated from its time and place, and just…not really able to find its modern audience.
It made about as much money as the original, as long as you don’t adjust for inflation.