My thoughts on the Carrie remake

Carrie might have been one of the first Stephen King books I ever read – as I look over at my bookshelf, I see the tattered remains of one of the first paperback King books I ever got.

I have loved the story since the first time I read it.

Let me just preface the rest of this post with a SPOILER WARNING as I’ll be discussing plot elements – even though it may be silly to warn against spoilers of the 2013 remake of the 1976 movie version of the 1974 book.

There are several things I really liked about the Carrie remake, and some things I were not wild about. Some of these count for the original movie version of Carrie, but I’ll get to that.

The Good Stuff™:

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  • Transporting the story from the 70’s to the present:

I thought Kimberly Pierce (the director) did a good job on updating the story to the present. The presence of cell phones is done remarkably well – from the humiliation of Carrie to the regular usage between roles such as Sue Snell, Tommy Ross and Chris Hargensen. The use of modern technology (such as computers and cell phones) often feels hacky and misplaced to me in movies. This movie goes beyond that

  • The acting

Everyone from Portia Doubleday as the despicable Chris Hargensen, to Judy Greer as Ms. Desjardin and, of course, Julianne Moore and Chlöe Grace Moretz as Margaret and Carrie White are great.

Julianne Moore is intimidating in her role as Margaret White. The religious fervor she portrays is frightening, and especially the scenes in which she practically looms over Carrie, shrouded in shadows,were good.

Chlöe Grace Moretz is great in the role of Carrie. Much of her performance is non-verbal – from trying to shrink into herself to hide from her high school peers, to the pained expressions. fear and ultimately deadly wrath. Her performance showed some of that poor, doomed Carrie that I sympathized with in the book. Her short time in the light at the prom with Tommy Ross is as beautiful as it is short-lived and doomed.

Portia Doubleday is every bit as despicable as the cruel Chris Hargensen as  you’d want. While the role might not have allowed her the same kind of infamy as other villainous roles (such as Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon, or Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy), the cruel and petty current-day Chris Hargensen feels true to the story to me.

  • The use of differently aged actresses

While it is not immediately noticeable that some of the mean girls in Carrie’s life are portrayed by adult actresses, the effect comes off well. Chlöe Grace Moretz is nine years younger than Portia Doubleday, which definetely helps the feeling that Carrie is a younger, more innocent girl than her peers. According to IMDB, several of the other actresses were a good few years older than Chlöe. While none of them look out of place, Carrie is lent an even more youthful appearance in comparison to the other girls.

  • Actresses’ performance

While there are certainly men in the story, they are as secondary to the story as they were in the book. Tommy Ross reluctantly agrees to escort Carrie to the prom, and is kind to her as well – in jock-but-nice-person kind of way. Morton is as comically buffoonish and unable to deal with matters of, shall we say, feminine hygiene, as he is in the book. Billy Nolan is as unlikable as ever.

 

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The Bad Stuff™

While there are certainly things I liked about the Carrie remake, there are a few things I am not completely happy with either.

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  • “Beautification” of Carrie and Margaret White

Unless my memory of the book has completely failed me, neither Margaret nor Carrie are really “pretty” people. Margaret in particular could have been given uglier clothes, and maybe even more of a “reverse make over”.

This is, of course, not completely true of Carrie in the book – in which she is given the movie-style makeover in which letting loose her hair and giving her proper-fitting clothing makes her kind of pretty.

The relentless bullying of Carrie seems even more pointless, given that Chlöe is, well…Pretty. Her awkwardness is pretty much portrayed by her body language, clothing and the fact that she is much paler than the other girls (especially in the first few scenes).

This, however, is important to note that the original movie also did wrong. Sissy Spacek, while great in the role, was not really close to the description of Carrie in the book. Piper Laurie came closer to how I’d expect Margaret White to look, but even she was not as true to the physical nature of the character as I’d hoped.

  • Not enough character progression / screen time

The only real reference to Carrie’s religous side (outside of the scenes in the White household) is a single quote about how she “goes around telling the other girls they’re going to hell”. This is part of the kind of larger problem with Carrie’s character progression – I feel like even a short montage at the beginning of the movie showing some of the ways in which Carrie was akward, and the constant bullying from a young age would have lent more credibility to the cruelty of Chris Hargensen and the other girls when they bully Carrie. It would also give more credibility to Carrie snapping at the prom – we are given a woefully short glimpse into the life (and inner life) of Carrie White.

The Chris Hargensen / Billy Nolan relationship also received very little screen time in the remake of Carrie. In fact, Billy Nolan barely has any screen time at all – which is a pity, as his nature never really makes it to the front. The subplot of Chris and Nolan’s less-than-perfect relationship is also more or less completely left out, which leaves the characters a little less developed than I’d hoped for.

While it has been a while since I saw the original movie version of Carrie, I am fairly sure that that was also guilty of at least not showing too much of Carrie’s troubled childhood.

  • The use of cell phones in the movie

Unfortunately, while cell phones are used in believable ways during the movie, there is one way they are used less than perfectly. At the night of the prom, not-so-long before Chris Hargenson’s final trick on Carrie happens, Chris texts Sue “Your girl looks good. Not much longer” (or something to that effect). Instead of warning Tommy (who, in a previous scene is shown to have his cell phone with him), or trying to reach out to anyone else via phone, goes to the school in person. I know that it is probably implied that she tries (and fails) to reach anyone, I feel like just having a few seconds shown of Sue not being able to reach Tommy or anyone else of their friends would have made the use of cell phones in the movie more believable.

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The Verdict™

All in all, I feel like the pros of this movie outweigh the cons – if you want a decent excuse to eat popcorn, and see a movie in which bullies are shown getting to pay for their cruelty. If you go into this movie expecting it to reinvent the wheel vis a vis horror movies, you are going to be disappointed.

I don’t know if I wasn’t scared at any point in the movie because I know the story, or because it wasn’t really intended to be scary. Many of Stephen King’s stories (at least in book form) are much more compelling to me because of the character work and interaction than because of the horror elements.

The gore is not cranked up to 11 in the same way as the recent remake of Evil Dead cranked it up, but the visual effects were decent, and most of all I enjoyed Chlöe Grace Moretz’ performance.

If you’re not impressed with the amount of horror movies out this autumn, I feel like you should give the remake of Carrie a chance – but don’t expect it to be true to the original movie, and not completely true to the book, either. There are a few key differences between the book, orginal film, and this.

Just try to think of it as being more an adaptation of the book than an adaptation of the original movie.