Friday, October 25, 2013

Carrie (2013)

To Carrie Out the Lord's Vengeance
"Mama, Don't Ruin it!"

I've been working on a review of Brian De Palma's latest film Passion the last couple of weeks (still working out how I feel about it—on a superficial enjoyment level it doesn't succeed very well, but if you appreciate craft and detail there is a lot to digest, and it makes you realize that a lot of older directors go through that shift where the details are more important than the Big Picture) and was watching an interview with De Palma* about the film (which I'll include again when I get around to finishing it) and at one point the subject of Kimberly Pierce making a new version of Carrie was broached.  

"We're friends", he said of Pierce, who made Boys Don't Cry and Stop-Loss. "I've seen some stuff and it looks good."  But the more telling comment from the talk is when someone brings up Piper Laurie (who played mother Margaret White in his version) and De Palma remarks: "Piper thought we were making a comedy."

As well she might have.  Stephen King's "Carrie" is a hoot to read (you can do so—textually—here), but it isn't if you take it too seriously.  Which is odd. King cackles and galumphs through his writing, something he also did when he took to acting and directing his films.  Which is why the best King adaptations have a surreal sense of giddy humor about them—they have to be a little over-the-edge, dangling their feet in the muddy waters of madness to be really, really good.  It's why George Romero made good King adaptations. And Kubrick (despite King's protestations).  And Carpenter.  And Reiner.  And De Palma.  But, if you get all solemn and reverential about them, they fall flat as pancakes.

Pierce gets precipitously close to that edge, but doesn't tumble over it.  She includes a couple of things that De Palma, and the screenwriter of both versions—and the musical version—Lawrence D. Cohen, left out of King's book, which are the opening scene of Carrie's birth (the harrowing circumstances alluded to in the first chapter) and a sub-plot involving Sue Snell.  Quite a few things are better—the kids...look like kids, not twenty-somethings from television sit-com's posing as teens.  The good of that is that the performances are more awkward and more vulnerable.  The downside is that they are all dewy lumps that don't have a lot of distinctiveness to them, so one is caught for a second wondering "which one is this, again?"  I mock the ages of the older Carrie cast-members, but they had the experience and chops (from those sit-coms, presumably) to make their characters known as soon as they entered a shot.  The 2013 kids are...awkward...looking like they're ready for a direction-cue in the middle of a take.  For example, as pretty and competent as Gabriella Wilde is (she plays this version's Sue Snell, the "remorseful" girl played first by Amy Irving), most of the time she's blandly waiting for her next line with a concerned furrow and not much else behind it.

One essential thing (given the times, making this Carrie somewhat relevant) is the inclusion of the evil genie of new media into the mix.  Every kid here has a cell-phone.  Every kid is documenting their lives like would-be film-makers (and Pierce throws in random samples of such stuff for bridging sequences, showing "normal" high school activity). But, the most innovative use of it comes when Carrie has a "period" in school that isn't scheduled and the girls in her high school gym class viciously taunt her, there's the added inevitability that some goonish lout will whip out their I-phone (usually banned from bathrooms for this very reason) to record the event.  At that point, the truly bad-bad girl of Kris Hargenson (a brunetted Portia Doubleday here, future Mrs. de Palma Nancy Allen then) decides to go one step further, post it on YouTube, and it's then that punishment is meted out to the class. For Kris, this is unfair—she doesn't want to be an out-cast as she sees Carrie is and lashes out, digging herself deeper and deeper into detention, punishment and malicious revenge—and that video is used to twist the knife during the horrific prom sequence.  It raises the stink of public media being thrown into the mix of private bullying and how it has escalated the trauma of humiliation by bringing mob mentality into the pecking order, empowering the mean-spirited far beyond their reach, and narrowing the victim of options for safe zones that might bring light (and perspective) to their situation.  At that point, humiliation becomes torture and isolation becomes impenetrable.

As I said, if you take this stuff too seriously, it becomes no fun at all.  And while Pierce's heart is in the right place, standing up for the repressed outcast and removing the puerile nudity of De Palma's version, she also goes a bit too far, making things less horror-ific, and more disturbingly real.  For example, taking the loony ecstasy that Laurie brought to her fundamentalist (no fun; all mental) mother—Julianne Moore's version is seriously deranged, scratching herself to bleeding at the slightest provocation—and making Moretz's Carrie a very active revenge-seeker (where Spacek's interpretation was all evil-eye and mannequin-stiff, Moretz directs the carnage like a magician), the changes make her much less sympathetic as a character.  Even though both movies show Carrie "learning her craft" by checking out resources in the library (I thought schools were banning books right and left—heck, they even ban "Carrie!"), the new Carrie seems to have more control than Spacek's, whose bursts of revenge felt like an id monster that would combust things with a look.  This one concocts tortures and lingers over them like a cat playing with a mouse.  Hey, control is great, but at what point does the tortured become the torturer?  At what point do we lose sympathy for her and see her as just another maniac terrorizing a school?  At what point does that earnestness work against the intent?

So.  Good attempt.  Maybe even worth the effort.  But, at some point, this new Carrie manages to undermine the reason it was generated in the first place—to give us a really good scare.  Perhaps real life events have just caught up and overwhelmed the perspective of seeing entertainment in this, or, to make debating points, the filmmakers just eked out some of that entertainment value.  But, I remember leaving the first Carrie feeling sympathy for the devil, seeing it as a tragedy.  This time, it seemed everything was a natural consequence of tinkering with forces beyond one's control, especially if self-control is in short supply.  There was no catharsis, and at that point, Carrie just stands for nothing, a nihilistic bloody mess. 

Carrie is a Rental.


No comments: