Halloween Horror: Carrie (2013)

The remake of Carrie is a competently made production with enough spark to attract the horror audience, but not much else. When the remake was first announced, with a female director (Kimberly Peirce) to boot, I was excited by what new could be brought to this familiar story. Now that I’ve seen the film, I have to acknowledge the final product isn’t innovative. It lags during its opening scenes and only becomes engrossing near its climax. It’s not disastrous, but it lacks vitality.

The obvious question is whether it’s necessary? While I certainly prefer the original Brian De Palma film to this new version, it shouldn’t really be judged alongside the original. Films should stand on their own merits and not how they compare to other films. Should all the various versions of the Arthur legend be dismissed just because they’re all essentially remakes of each other? Of course not, and we shouldn’t dismiss Hollywood remakes either, regardless of whether they seem to be crass money grabs.

This new Carrie puts Chloe Grace Moretz in the role of Carrie White, bullied telekinetic teenager pushed too far at home and school. Perhaps it’s the shock of seeing the actress best known for playing the foul-mouthed prepubescent Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass in a role that plays upon her recent maturity, but Moretz seems ill suited to the role. It could be the natural aggressiveness of Moretz’s acting style, or the fact that she’s too obviously layering tics upon her performance to become a convincing outcast, but it’s hard to buy her as the put upon outsider.

In the violent climax and the other CGI-laden scenes, she’s fine, knowing how to play the fantastic elements for maximum effect. But when Carrie is supposed to be the overwhelmed, as in the infamous opening in the girl’s locker room, Moretz is reaching for a desperation and panic that she cannot achieve. She slips too easy into the confident Carrie of the later scenes, showing that the wallflower of the opening really was a show.

Believing in Carrie’s awkwardness is essential to caring about this depressing protagonist. The scenes with her mother, played to a terrifying pitch by Julianne Moore (did we expect anything else?), are the most effective in portraying Carrie’s helplessness. Being bullied at school is an experience familiar to many people, but an abusive parent is something completely different and more terrifying. Moore’s Margaret White is insane and fanatical, but her fear of Carrie as a creature of otherworldly power is justified. Villains are always best when they’re driven by understandable, human motivations, and the scenes of Margaret’s terror at Carrie’s powers are effective.

Still, nothing in the film seems particularly realistic. The film has a glossy visual style that clashes with the grittiness of Carrie’s powers. It looks more like a comic book film than a horror movie. In fact, even the telekinetic powers seemed obliviously computer-generated. I was reminded of the recent The Conjuring, where the effects during the exorcism scenes seemed tangible and heavy. The powers in Carrie are so weightless. When Carrie sends a bunch of knives flying across her living room, we aren’t scared because the knives are like the explosions in a Marvel film: CGI effects laid over the image.

The best part of the film is the supporting players. Aside from Moore, the fellow students who terrorize Carrie are all convincing. Ansel Elgort, who plays Tommy Ross, the handsome quarterback who takes Carrie to the fateful prom, is especially good. He fits the generic conventions of his role, but plays beyond them, making his two-dimensional character seem the most honest in the film. He has the qualities of a young Mark Ruffalo to him — likeable, sensitive, and down to earth. It’s strange to come out of a Hollywood film with major stars and end up praising a bit player, but Hollywood execs clearly noticed his performance as well. He’s been cast as the lead in next year’s eagerly anticipated adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I look forward to seeing what he’ll bring to meatier roles.

Carrie isn’t a failure of a film. It contains some interesting performances and a genuinely thrilling climax. It’s just that it never embraces the strangeness of Carrie’s predicament. For a story so consumed by emotions, the film is surprisingly light on them. At the end of the film we should feel Carrie’s rage, sympathize with her terror, and be in petrified awe of her. Unfortunately, all this film could muster was excitement in the action happening onscreen. It inspires an adrenaline rush, not human compassion. Adrenaline could be enough for some viewers, but Carrie deserves more than thrills. It deserves sympathy and this film didn’t have that.

5 out of 10

Carrie (2013, USA)

Directed by Kimberly Peirce; written by Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa based off the novel by Stephen King; starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Zoe Belkin, Ansel Elgort, and Judy Greer.