Saturday, 14 December 2013

Carrie [2013] - Review

Dir: Kimberly Pierce
It's important that, should we have any, a film critic is clear about their biases and how they might effect their response to a given film, so, to be clear... I love Carrie.  I love the book, but I especially love Brian DePalma's film, which would be in any conversation I might have about the ten best horror films or the ten best teen films ever made.  In preparing to see this remake I also looked at the 2002 TV version of the story and, while it had significant issues, I found much to enjoy in it.  I suppose this could colour my response to this remake in one of two ways: it could have made it easier, after all, here is a story I know works and I know I respond to.  On the other hand it's also a story I respond very strongly to in one particular version.

There was another reason to be hopeful, director Kimberly Pierce, who has shown herself, especially with Boys Don't Cry, to be an effective chronicler of the lives of people violently rejected by their own society, which, at an essential level, is at least partly what Carrie is about.  She's also a very different filmmaker from Brian DePalma, and it seemed an intriguing choice to have a female filmmaker approach what is also a story catalysed by a character going, biologically, from childhood to womanhood.  

It is, then, a crushing disappointment to have to say that watching this Carrie was, for me, like watching a competent singer deliver one of my favourite songs on The X Factor: it's not that it's terrible, more that they bring nothing new to it and you're always thinking of another, much better, version of the same thing and wishing that was what you were watching and listening to.

It's not good practice, in general, to spend reviews of remakes simply comparing the two (or more) films, but Carrie actively works against you in this respect, because it is so close to DePalma's film for so much of its running time.  This was also true, though to a lesser degree, of the TV version, but there at least in between the swathes of dialogue that seemed to have been cut and pasted from the original film's screenplay there were some flashes of wit and new scenes that added something to the telling of the story.  That's really not true here, instead what we get are slight rewordings of original scenes and the odd contemporary reference jammed in (YouTube, that's a modern thing, right?)

This, however, pales next to the major problem: the casting and performances.  Chloe Grace Moretz is clearly a talented young woman, among the best actresses in her age group, however, she is also an actress who works best within a certain character type and has a particular persona that comes across on screen.  Ever since (500) Days of Summer there has been a no bullshit feel about Moretz and her characters and an inherent strength beyond her years has been a major part of most of her characters.  In this way she seemed to me an odd piece of casting as Carrie White, the wallflower who blooms at prom, so it has proven: Moretz is horribly miscast, especially in the first half of the film.  

This  miscasting is another aspect in which the film almost forces you to draw comparisons.  Brian DePalma cast an actress much older than the character, Sissy Spacek not only looked young but, with her mousy beauty and the way she appears to shrink in the role, seemed like exactly the kind of person who would try, and fail, to simply melt into the background of high school.  Moretz is much younger than Spacek was, younger even than the character, she's also a much more obvious, much more Hollywood beauty.  Of course it's not that attractive people aren't rejected or bullied, but it just doesn't seem to fit Carrie, at least not the Carrie of the first hour of the film.  The only concession the film makes to dressing Moretz down is to give her unkempt hair and little make up for the first hour, but that's not the crux of the problem.  The major issue is that when she's playing the shy Carrie, trying to disappear into the background, Moretz always seems to be acting.  The way she holds herself, the whispered voice, it all feels contrived.  If Carrie's character should feel contrived at any point then it's at the prom, Moretz gets it all wrong.

If the fact that the central performance doesn't work can't be entirely blamed on the actress, that's less true of many of the supporting cast, who do have rather more single note parts to work with.  Wooden spoon winner is Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargensen (another way in which, amusingly, this film echoes DePalma's).  Doubleday totally overplays Chris' bitchy nature, though she's not helped by an extension to the scene where she tries to get the other girls to join her in rebelling against detention.  Nancy Allen overplayed the role too, but by taking it even more over the top Doubleday renders the character little more than an evil cartoon of a high school girl and if even the bitchiness in Carrie doesn't feel realistic, what hope for the rest of the film?

Most of the rest of the young cast just bland their way through the film.  The fashions and hairstyles of the 1976 film may now be laughably dated, but at least you can tell those characters apart.  Here Gabriella Wilde and Ansel Elgort, as Sue Snell and Tommy Ross, prove unmemorable replacements for Amy Irving and William Katt and you shouldn't expect Alex Russell to go on to the big things that John Travolta did after he played Billy Nolan.

Some of this could be forgiven had Kimberly Pierce managed to bring something fresh, a new perspective, to this frequently told story.  There are attempts at updates; Ms Desjardin faces, offscreen, some consequences for her rather unprofessional approach to teaching (within the opening half hour she's slapped one student and sworn at another group) and there is a good idea, though rather hamsfisted execution, in an added scene that sees Chris Hargensen and her Father appeal the refusal of her prom tickets.

The most notable addition comes in the opening, which shows Margaret (Julianne Moore) giving birth to Carrie and only just holding back from murdering her with a pair of scissors.  This is actually effective, and promises an intense take on the Mother/Daughter relationship, but unfortunately this becomes yet another aspect in which the film falls into the pattern of copying DePalma but adding a few new digital effects.  Pierce's take on the material seems to be to treat it as a supervillain origin story, and this leads to some of the film's worst moments.  Carrie's powers are, throughout, much more emphasised and much more willful than they have ever been depicted as before.  This was something that really didn't work for me.  For instance, in the scene where Carrie tells her mother that she's going to prom, the original has a subtle menace thanks to Carrie's soft but firm tone and her (and our) growing knowledge of her powers, but the threat is barely even stated.  Here Carrie uses her powers on her Mother in this scene, in a way that makes it hokey rather than menacing and her increased violence, here and in other pre-prom scenes, undermines any sympathy we might have for Carrie.

The prom scene itself presents a daunting challenge to any filmmaker or actress who wants to reapproach it, because DePalma's handling of it and Spacek's blood covered look are both undeniably iconic images of horror cinema.  It really doesn't come off for Pierce and Moretz.  Their version of Carrie, a sort of vengeful puppeteer, is too basic.  The film never really succeeds in getting into Carrie's head in the way that DePalma managed viscerally with the montage of people laughing at Carrie (which I've always seen as at least half imagined).  In keeping with the supervillain narrative Carrie is all but totally unrestrained, but the CGI assisted carnage lacks the shock value it held in the other versions of the story because it's a small step in from what she's done in the rest of the film, rather than an explosion of rage.

This isn't the worst recent horror remake, actually in one aspect it it does come close to matching the original: Judy Greer is perfect casting as Ms Desjardin, she has an inherent warmth as a screen presence and gives a customarily excellent performance, but overall it's not a good, or even an especially interesting, film.  It would almost be a relief if Carrie 2013 were worse, because then I'd be able to get annoyed about it, but I can't even really do that.  Ultimately this isn't a truly terrible film, just a poor and deadeningly pointless one whose major achievement is that it makes you reflect once again on how great Brian DePalma's film was.

No comments:

Post a Comment