2013, 109mins, 15
Director: Kimberley Peirce
Writer (s): Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Stephen King (novel)
Cast includes: Chloe Grace-Moretz, Julianne Moore, Portia Doubleday, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort
UK Release Date: 29th November 2013
Let’s play a game. It’s called guess the film. Ready? Okay? Here we go. It’s a remake of a beloved genre picture with Julianne Moore. It’s pointless and style deficient with a director ill-suited to the challenges of building tension. The lead actor is ostensibly meant to be playing a troubled and deeply scarred introvert with serious mommy issues, but proves too polished and naturally communicative for the task. Got it yet? No? Well, the answer is Gus Van Sant’s maligned 1998 “Psycho” redux. Want To play again? No? Fair enough. I guess I’ll review Kimberley Peirce’s “Carrie” remake instead.
Traumatised by her peers and fanatical mother (Julianne Moore), Carrie White (Chloe Grace-Moretz) is a teenager desperate to fit in. After some classmates pull a particularly cruel prank during Carrie’s first period, one-time bully Sue Snell (a vacant Gabriella Wilde) endures pangs of guilt, recruiting handsome boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to accompany Carrie to the Prom in penance. Whilst initially sceptical about the proposal, Carrie is eventually seduced by the promise of normality, ignoring her mother’s urges to avoid the sinful soiree. With her dress readied and her hands steadied, Carrie arrives prepared for the night of her life, much to the chagrin of spiteful enemy Chris (Portia Doubleday). Chris has something hideous in store for Carrie, but unbeknownst to the villain and her accomplices, the former-victim has a special and potentially lethal defence mechanism.
Adapted from a book by Stephen King and heavily inspired by Brian De Palma’s 1976 version, “Carrie” circa 2013 proves a strident miscalculation from the start. Director Kimberly Pierce has an intriguing pedigree, but she lacks any semblance of visual style – the cinematography and shot composition in “Carrie” ranking amid the year’s ugliest. The film has an uninteresting and heavily muted palette, only ever sparking to life when Pierce can find a way to smuggle obtrusive digital effects into the frame. If you cast your mind back to the De Palma incarnation, scenes boasted virtuoso camera work and a palpable intimacy, here pivotal moments (including the legendary menstrual mishap) fall flatly by the wayside. It’s a nuts and bolts affair, tacked together coherently but without flair or pathos.
The cast range from good to awful, with a miscast Moretz falling somewhere in-between. The young actress has transformed herself into an A-lister thanks to the “Kick-Ass” franchise and Scorsese’s “Hugo”, emerging from both with supreme confidence. However she’s too dynamic a screen presence to tackle Carrie White, emanating the mentality of a wallflower as opposed to the irreparably damaged soul at the heart of King’s tale. Moretz tries hard, but she can’t grasp the character’s tragic essence, instead conveying flighty angst. Julianne Moore and Portia Doubleday impress when they have maniacal meat to chew on, but Ansel Elgort is beyond amateurish as Tommy. His line delivery is slack and at no point do his rapports with Carrie or Sue feel natural.
The novel explored a wave of fascinating themes, including burgeoning adulthood, the outsider and an exploration of suburban fear. These feel glazed over in Peirce’s incarnation, the director maintaining a loud anti-fundamentalist religious angle, but amidst the shallow booming and shrieking she actually has very little of worth to say. Similarly the squandered opportunities for schoolyard reflection are alarming. Those familiar with the narrative will know how fertile the ending seems in a post-Columbine world, but again Peirce lets screeching sound-design and tacky special effects supersede commentary. How powerful would it be to have Carrie haunt the corridors, camera propped above her shoulder, as kids below scramble and beg for mercy? What about CCTV footage of Carrie mercilessly slaughtering the masses in a cafeteria, replete with cries of terror and upturned tables? That’s frightening imagery, but Peirce jettisons it in favour of having the blood-soaked anti-hero use her telekinetic powers (aka lots of dodgy CGI) on a car. Wasteful is an understatement.
Suspense is rarely mounted to any sustainable degree, Peirce’s stuttering direction lacking the control, timing or momentum to incur fear. It doesn't help that the usually dependable Marco Beltrami provides an incredibly rote musical score nor that De Palma’s kinetic designs hang over the barren mise-en-scene. Like its namesake “Carrie” is an unwanted beast, but at least she mounts a visceral and memorable last stand. Peirce’s ho-hum retread doesn't even get close.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013