Kimberly Peirce’s much-hyped “Carrie,” which we first got a fairly pleasurable preview of during last year’s New York Comic Con, finally opened this weekend in a prime pre-Halloween slot usually reserved for the yearly “Paranormal Activity” iteration and… nobody showed up. The movie, starring Chloë Grace Moretz in the title role, failed to connect with audiences, who rejected it in favor of yet another go around in Alfonso Cuarón’s IMAX 3D version of Space Mountain, and critics (like our own) were mostly unkind. But why this new “Carrie”—which, like the 1976 Brian De Palma original and the 2002 TV movie, is based on Stephen King’s first novel—defaulted so spectacularly is still worth investigating. We decided to look at the five most criminally awful aspects of this remake in an attempt to decode who killed “Carrie.”
What makes this whole “Carrie” debacle so mystifying is that this is the kind of story that is classic and timeless, one ripe for reinvention and a fresh coat of paint (or pig’s blood). Stephen King, while often peppering his work with historically specific pop culture references, writes broadly; they’re less novels than fables. The one about the drunk in the haunted hotel or the one about the killer car or the one about the little girl who’s picked on but has something special inside of her…
In another decade or so somebody else will try to take on the material. Hopefully they’ll have better success.
1.) The Joylessness Is Palpable
From the opening moments of “Carrie,” you can feel that there is something missing. This version begins with Carrie’s birth, which happens in the shabby bedroom of her mother Margaret (this time played by Julianne Moore). As soon as Carrie exits her mother’s womb, Margaret grabs a pair of oversized shears (she’s a seamstress, after all) and almost kills the newborn. She doesn’t, of course, and the moment is supposed to be a defiant act—not only is it a different opening than both the original movie and novel, but it’s also “hardcore” (or at least what some suit thought was hardcore), with a mother nearly killing her new baby. Its execution is almost laughable and cartoonish in an entirely unpleasant way, but more than that, it’s evocative of the movie’s joylessness. The rest of the movie proceeds like this, with little in the way of zippy inventiveness, actual fun or the morbid humor of De Palma’s film. While watching, we were reminded of another horror remake from a couple of years ago, Craig Gillespie’s exemplary 2011 “Fright Night” redo. You could tell from that movie’s title card that it had real pep; that it wasn’t just intent on pantomiming the original film but that it was determined to create something new, bold, and enjoyable. You could feel its liveliness in every frame. With “Carrie,” the whole thing seems rote, overburdened by the impressiveness of the original film and the source material, and unable to carve out a bold, new path for itself.
2.) It Doesn’t Stray Far Enough From The Original
Earlier last week we saw a TV spot for “Carrie,” where a new screenwriting credit appeared, immediately setting off very loud alarms. Since the movie’s inception, the film’s script had been solely credited to Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a brilliant-with-a-capital-bee playwright and screenwriter who had previously adapted King for a truly amazing, multi-part Marvel comic book. But now the movie didn’t just bear his name; it also included Lawrence D. Cohen, the screenwriter of the original “Carrie” (and, it should be added, the Broadway flop). Immediately the question arose: just how similar would this “Carrie” be? As it turns out, it’s almost beat-for-beat the same movie as De Palma’s; from the locker room humiliation to whole sections of dialogue (“It’s a shitty thing to do,” “Dirty pillows,” etc.), this new “Carrie” hedges very close to the original. Even the look of Julianne Moore’s Bible-thumping fundamentalist mirrors that of Piper Laurie‘s, which is all the more frustrating when you consider that there are so many more fascinating directions that could’ve been taken (especially the cultural and political impact Christianity carries now). At one point we thought, Well at least they won’t do the scene where the guys try on tuxes (a notorious low point in De Palma’s original). And then they did it. Only this time, it was set to a Vampire Weekend song.
Where the movie deviates is baffling: for some reason we spend more time with the other high school kids without every learning anything more about them. And any attempts at modernity are foiled completely: Carrie still mostly researches her newly discovered psychic powers by doing some “All the President’s Men“-style card catalog research (she does, however briefly, go online) and towards the end of the movie, snarky bitch Chris (Portia Doubleday) sends Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) a text suggesting that she’s about to do something horrible and fucked up. But these attempts at contemporary communication are haphazardly applied, as Sue doesn’t bother texting her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort), warning him of the threat, but she instead drives to the prom and tries to stop it (her hair is still wet from the shower). There’s also cursory attention given to a “found footage” element of the movie, first by having her locker room humiliation videotaped and then by having that same footage uploaded to YouTube, but that is barely developed, but again, it feels like a halfhearted inclusion rather than a fully formed concept.
We re-watched the 2002 TV movie version written by future “Pushing Daisies” and “Hannibal” mastermind Bryan Fuller, a movie that despite some uneven direction and low production values, does some exciting things with the material, including giving the bitchy girls some great dialogue (they have a discussion about the different types of waxing) and adding a slick layer of self awareness (Tommy Ross: “We should have a rule: if they do it in a Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie, we can’t do it in real life”). It also plays with race and sexuality as well, but even that TV movie took a few more risks than this new studio movie. Even the ending of the original “Carrie” is replicated here, but instead of a hand jutting out of the earth, it’s some unseen psychic power “shattering” Carrie’s tombstone.
3.) Chloe Moretz Isn’t Right For The Lead
In the original “Carrie,” Sissy Spacek had a willowy, otherworldly quality to her performance. It’s a turn that feels less like it was performed by an actor and more like the filmmakers were capturing footage of some kind of strange creature that was interacting with human beings for the very first time. She was decidedly off, in a delicious way. Angela Bettis, in the TV movie, shared an equal strangeness (she played a similar role in the indie horror favorite “May“). In the right light, both actresses could be labeled “pretty,” but it was important that this not come until the final act, and then could only be seen in silvery glimmers. Chloe Grace Moretz, on the other hand, is adorable. We know already this. And the problem is that she is as cute in the first scene as she is during the climactic prom (with or without her dirty pillows on display), and so the scenes in between are flush with a kind of painful awkwardness. It’s not the awkwardness that she’s supposed to have, either, of a tormented girl who is constantly bullied by classmates and pushed around even more violently by her bible-thumping mother. Instead, it’s the awkwardness of a poised, gifted actress trying to appear like the pigeon-toed outcast (and, worse still, too influenced by those earlier performances). In the “Carrie” TV movie, there’s a reference to all those teen movies where the “ugly” girl is transformed from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, even though the girl was usually a supermodel to begin with. The same thing applies here. Moretz gives off the vibe of a young girl who everyone wants to be friends with; everything else feels like a put on. Especially when, instead of staying statue-still during her massacre, she moves her arms and hands around like she’s conducting a symphony (or channeling Magneto in “X-Men“). It’s hard to give an actress grief for being too cute, but for the role, her adorableness works against her, the character, and the movie.
4.) “Carrie” Doesn’t Earn Its R
At some point during “Carrie” the poor sap who we dragged to our screening leaned over and said, “Is this even rated R?” It’s a good question: there’s painfully little about this new “Carrie” to warrant an R rating. The opening of De Palma’s movie, with the camera glacially gliding through the girls’ locker room (with tons of full frontal nudity) is gone, even though the scene mostly remains. And there’s barely any bloodshed. The prom massacre is oddly neutered, especially since, given the advances in filmmaking technology (and the idea, in this movie, that she has more control over her powers), Carrie’s wrath could have been more fully felt. Quite frankly the level of carnage doesn’t even level up to something like one of the “Final Destination” movies that take ghoulish delight in creatively offing teenagers. “Carrie” barely shrugs. The most violent thing about this new “Carrie” is the killing of the pig (in this version, Chris slits the pig’s throat), although that might unfairly be rewarded points because animal cruelty is so disturbing. Finally, when Carrie has her showdown with Chris and Billy Nolan (Alex Russell, who is no John Travolta), you think that the fireworks are going to fly. Except that they don’t. The stuff with Chris and Billy’s car in the trailers and TV spots is pretty much all of what you see in the movie, with a few more closeups. Billy breaks his neck and Chris goes through the windshield in slow motion (there’s a brief shot of her face embedded with shards of glass), but, it’s not the blood laden spectacle some may have been hoping for. In fact, when you boil where the R-rating is coming from, it’s most likely the handful of “fucks” that litter the screenplay. Besides that, this thing could be broadcast on cable TV with few objections.
5.) You Can’t Feel Kimberly Peirce At All
Maybe the most disappointing thing about this new “Carrie” is that you can’t feel director Kimberly Peirce’s presence at all. Peirce as the director of “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Stop-Loss” felt like the perfect choice for a “Carrie” reboot, with the thinking being that the outspoken feminist would infuse some forward-thinking girl power into the movie. Instead of Carrie merely being a victim of her psychic abilities, she would become emboldened by them. But this idea is hardly present in the film, reduced to one or two fleeting moments that don’t have much impact on the overall narrative. Additionally, the cast is uniformly underwhelming, a disappointment given Peirce’s previous knack for savvy casting (look at the lineup she assembled for “Stop-Loss,” well ahead of their time: Channing Tatum, Abbie Cornish and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Moreover, Peirce’s take on the prom night massacre feels rushed and unfocused. Those hoping for her to infuse the sequence with the same kind of dread and misgivings that she brought to “Boys Don’t Cry” will be sorely let down. It mostly plays as extended version of De Palma’s finale, with a better budget, but it’s missing any emotional depth or weight, or the sense of true horror and tragedy. How much influence the suits had in determining the final shape of the movie we’ll probably never know, but what’s on screen is a movie totally devoid of the authorship we’d expect from Peirce.
Of course, the list of things that are wrong with this new “Carrie” could go on and on (the limp Marco Beltrami score, the severe lack of stylization), but these are the main offenders. We hope that a similar fate doesn’t befall the next Sony/MGM horror remake on the docks, a refreshing take on “The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” directed by “American Horror Story” superstar Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Of course, it was also written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa …