Many things are different now than when I was in high school. Few feel the rapid changes in technology and social climate like young people, who are more open to such things. One thing that hasn’t changed is how cruel we can be to one another.
In my home state of Florida, two young girls bullied another girl in their class so mercilessly that she was driven to suicide. 14-year-old Rebecca Sedwick was called names on the internet, harassed everywhere she went, taunted as her aggressors told her she should kill herself. The torment never let up. Finally, Sedwick took her own life by jumping from the top of a silo. The bullies were 14-year-old Guadalupe Shaw and 12-year-old Kaitlyn Roman. Remember these names, of the victim and the tormentors. The stigma of this should haunt Shaw and Roman the rest of their days.
But what is capturing the attention of people in my state is the sheer callousness exhibited by the adolescents. Although her cyberbullying already cost one girl her life, Shaw continued to post on Facebook, noting Sedwick’s death and writing, “I don’t give a fuck.” Recently, Shaw’s stepmother Vivian Vosburg was arrested on charges of child abuse and neglect, as a video surfaced that allegedly shows her cursing, laughing and beating on two twelve-year-old boys. The lessons of cruelty are handed down.
This is a story that has national media attention for the time being, but likely it will be forgotten in time. It shouldn’t be. The names of the victims should be carved in stone on a memorial, so their deaths are indelibly linked to the savagery of their attackers. Because while we would like to think that this is an isolated incident, there is nothing truly special about this case at all. Stories of this sort exist in every middle school, high school and college. An acquaintance recently wrote that “bully” seems like too genial a term for such horrendous behavior. Lately, I am inclined to agree. I myself have had friends that committed suicide, due to problems with addiction, depression or abuse. And it continues to this day. According to a recent Time magazine article, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. And the number continues to climb steadily.
The cruelty of teens was always at the center of Stephen King’s novel, CARRIE. When Brian De Palma released his film version in 1976, it must have come as quite a shock to people. I can’t think of any film beforehand that captured the sheer unrelenting cruelty of bullies in such a blatant, unflinching manner. Carrie White is a character abused by an unhinged religious fanatic at home and pushed around by her peers at school. There is no relief from the pain of living. When she develops powers and the years of pain and rage explode in an orgy of death, would anyone contend that she is the antagonist of the story?
By the time of this 2013 remake, the story has become all too familiar. Not only has it been previously remade as a TV movie, a horrendous 1999 sequel and a notoriously misguided Broadway musical. But the story itself remains familiar due to similar stories of bullying in the decades since King’s novel was published. Some people have reacted to being bullied by lashing out with lethal force. There is nothing heroic about this in real life, as it just leads to more misery and a dead end for the former outcast. Yet, Carrie White remains an icon of the oppressed. A fictitious character with otherworldly powers that people still relate to because she seems more real than many of the actual people we encounter every day.
This new version is very much like the original, enough to make one wonder what the point was in remaking it. There are a few updates to the story that integrates the relatively new threat of cyberbullying but it’s an incidental change. There is also one minor element taken from King’s novel not included in De Palma’s film, but it ends differently.
Otherwise, it’s a case of “second verse, same as the first.” Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) experiences her first period in the locker room shower at school. She has never been told about menstruation by her fanatical mother (Julianne Moore), so she is terrified, sure that she is bleeding to death. Her unsympathetic schoolmates throw tampons at her as she’s crumpled on the shower floor. Ringleader, Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) takes a video and later posts it on YouTube.
As punishment for her crime and her refusal to accept responsibility, Chris is suspended and has her prom privileges revoked. Conversely, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) feels remorse for her part in the attack and goes to extraordinary lengths to make it up to Carrie. She convinces her reluctant boyfriend (Alex Russell) to take Carrie to prom, so she can feel special and appreciated for one day in her life. But Chris continues to blame Carrie for her misfortune and has payback on her mind.
Apart from being shown kindness for the first time, Carrie has discovered something special about herself. She can move things with her mind, just by thinking about it. She is intrigued by this power and soon uses it to assert herself on everyone who ever laughed at her.
I was immediately leery of another remake of CARRIE, and those feelings were reinforced when I read Jesse’s review. Still, I was open to the experience. For one thing, it was the only horror film being released for Halloween 2013, showing just how clueless studios are when it comes to the genre. For another, it had some real talent behind it. Moretz is a fine actress and director Kimberly Pierce scored previously with the underrated STOP-LOSS and the powerful yet problematic BOYS DON’T CRY. But the most shocking thing about this version of CARRIE may be that many of the problems seem to be Pierce’s fault.
Have modern filmmakers lost all sense of subtlety and restraint? These are two qualities that should be taught in every aspect of fine arts, from filmmaking to acting. I know these might be blasphemous statements to some, but sometimes not hammering your already-obvious point home makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes, it can be the only thing to keep the audience from rolling their eyes and laughing. A lack of these qualities is the equivalent of someone who continuously writes in all caps on the internet and is then bewildered why no one takes them seriously.
There is absolutely no subtlety on display in Kimberly Pierce’s CARRIE. So, if you’re the type of person who needs every action and reaction spoon fed, this is the film for you. It is not enough to have Carrie exhibit powers, but there is also occasionally the slightest breeze to signify that it is indeed Carrie causing these things to happen. It is not enough for Carrie’s mother or some other persecutor to enter the frame. No, there is often a thundering soundtrack and slow motion to cement the effect. Carrie is not only forced to pray in her closet, but witnesses blood coming out of the wounds of Christ. Towards the end of the film, she floats and CGI blood seems to levitate off her body. All of this might sound good in writing but actually dulls the impact of the film overall.
Chloe Grace Moretz does a decent job as Carrie, even if she can’t hope to compare with Sissy Spacek. But her performance can’t make up for the many other problems exhibited throughout the film. The most outrageous problem might be Julianne Moore as Margaret White. Piper Laurie was notoriously over the top as the crazed fundamentalist. But, you can’t deny that people like that exist (I myself came up against someone who was the living image of Margaret White in a prolonged struggle during my own adolescence.). Moore’s depiction so beyond the pale that it is a prime candidate for the most embarrassing performance of the year. She whispers every line through gritted teeth, slaps herself around and her intent glares suggest that she is trying to ignite the set through the power of her mind. She chews scenery in a manner I have rarely seen and never lets up. There is not one genuine note to the performance. If that weren’t enough, Kimberly Pierce obviously didn’t think Moore went far enough and so has her cutting herself whenever she speaks to someone. We get it, she’s crazy! That could have been made evident in a million less intrusive ways!
Doubleday is also completely misguided in her performance. Nancy Allen was cruel yet believable Doubleday’s Chris on the other hand is playing the stock bitch role. This has become a common trope, particularly in horror films about put-upon young people. Doubleday veers in two directions. Sometimes, she is indistinguishable from Rachel McAdams in MEAN GIRLS and other times she is a grinning maniac that seems to have escaped the asylum. Chalk this up as yet another character and performance that I didn’t buy for one moment.
Aside from Moretz’s decent performance, the only person I can completely defend in the CARRIE remake is Judy Greer. She plays the sympathetic gym teacher, Ms. Desjarden. She’s the one actress who never felt like she was acting and she deserves to be singled out for it.
Carrie White is an outcast of iconic proportions and she deserves better than this film. Just when you think you’ve seen the worst CARRIE has to offer, the last minute of the film gives the viewer one more slap in the face. I hate to make Pierce’s gender an issue, but let’s face it – women face a ridiculous uphill battle in Hollywood, dealing with a bigoted and outdated system. Pierce has shown a real knack for cherishing vulnerable but ultimately powerful characters. She could have been the perfect director to give a voice to the oppressed Carrie. She’s one of the few who might be able to better relate to the pitfalls of female adolescence, of having fingers pointed at you from every direction, of being told that you are horrible and will never accomplish anything. She would have been the perfect person to portray the horrors of such an existence and the perfect person to put the lie to that thinking as Carrie’s fury explodes. Instead, Pierce has created a copy of the original, louder and more tech savvy, but misguided in every sense. ★ out of ★★★★
– Rated R for strong language, sexual content and graphic violence
– Running time: 1hr. 40mins.