Tuesday, 7 January 2014
Kimberly Peirce // 2013 // 100 mins
**The following review features potential spoilers. Do not read if you are unfamiliar with the story of Carrie **
Adapting the work of possibly the most highly regarded horror writer of our time would be a daunting task for most filmmakers. To simultaneously be remaking a horror classic that features one of the most iconic and memorable performances of the genre is a whole other issue. With these two factors looming over production and marketing, 2013's update of Carrie had to be something really special in order to justify its being made.
Kimberly Peirce's remake//re-imagining//re-whatever follows the now familiar telling of Carrie's story to the tee. Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a socially awkward teen, alienated by her judgemental peers and smothered by her overbearing, ultra-religious mother (Julianne Moore). When Carrie is humiliated in the locker room after getting her first period a video of the event circulates the school, isolating her further while she must also suffers the disdain of a mother who now see's her as 'dirty'. Carrie's gym teach Ms Desjardin (Judy Greer) takes it upon herself to punish the girls that caused all of the trouble and in doing so suspends one of them from school and the Prom. The events that follow see one of the girls, Sue (Gabriella Wilde) trying to rectify the damage by having her boyfriend Danny (Ansel Elgort) take Carrie to Prom, while another, Chris (Portia Doubleday), orchestrates a plan to completely ruin Carrie's special night.
Tasked with carrying the film, Moretz delivers an uneven performance in which she struggles to inhibit the shy, put-upon protagonist. It is possibly due to the lasting impact of her previous roles but the young actress naturally exudes a level of self confidence that no amount of hunched shoulders or old-lady dresses could hide, and this becomes ever more apparent during the scenes in which Carrie begins to stand up to her mother, which Moretz plays perhaps a little too well. The main problem here is a screenplay that rushes through pivotal character development in order to cram in as much High School drama as possible, and so for long stretches the film feels a little more Mean Girls than actual horror. Then there is the issue of Carrie's discovery of her supernatural powers. The shower scene in which Carrie is viciously tormented by her peers was never going to match up to Brian De Palma's now infamous iteration, however there is a moment in Kimberly Peirce's version where Carrie, curled up on the floor of the shower and covered by a bloody towel, feebly attempts to shuffle away from her tormentors. During this moment the countless tampons that have been thrown at her begin to shift out of her path as she moves along the floor, it only lasts a second or two but it gave me hope that Peirce and her writers were going to give Carrie's telekinesis the slow-paced development it needs to feel realistic. However, within the next 5 minutes Carrie has made both a light bulb and a water cooler explode, and after reading a few books and watching some youtube videos she is able to control floating books and levitate her bed at the same time. The young girl goes from being unable to throw a volleyball to practically Jean Grey in a week.
Where the film hits a short but quite wonderful stride is during the Prom; here Moretz glows and, dare I say it, surpasses Sissy Spacek. Maybe it's that Moretz is the correct age for the character, maybe its that for one scene her less-awkward portrayal is beneficial, but she portrays the excitement and wonderment of the characters situation perfectly and at exactly the right time as it becomes impossible not to empathise with her and fear what we all know is to follow. Unfortunately this success only last a short time, and once the Prom massacre gets underway the film slips back into it's messily handled self. Blood-soaked Carrie is nowhere near as fearsome as she needs to be, mainly due to the fact that she so closely resembles the familiar cinematic representation of a Japanese Yurei in both appearance and physicality that it all feels like a cliché d attempt to make her monstrous. This is too much of a character change and comes off as even more derivative and unoriginal than it would have if they had simply copied Spacek's performance. The deaths also carry little impact due to a combination of shoddy effects and bad direction, and the fire that is supposedly raging through the room never feels like much of a threat to anybody.
The supporting cast of teens do the best with what they're given but only Ansel Elgort leaves a lasting impression, which is surely down to the fact that he shares most of his scenes with Moretz when she is at her best, while Judy Greer's whiny teacher feels very much like one of the teenage girls. Julianne Moore as Margaret White was a promising piece of casting but she is channeling so much of Piper Laurie's histrionic performance that she feels out of place in a remake that has toned down the performances of the original. Margaret's self-harming means that here she poses more of a psychologically abusive threat to Carrie than a physical one, which could have been interesting and successful if it wasn't all so melodramatically handled.
Carrie White is such an icon of the horror genre that any attempt to retell her story was going to be riddled with missteps and have to endure great scrutiny. Chlo ë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are two exciting actresses whose presence on this project filled it with potential and it is unfortunate that the writing and direction was not tight and focused enough to allow them to shine. Instead we get uneven performances from both in a film that struggles to distinguish itself as a worthy successor to the Carrie legacy.