Directed by Kimberly Peirce
Written by Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and Stephen King
Starring Chlöe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Ansel Elgort, Demetrius Joyette, and Judy Greer
It’s got to be a thankless task to remake a movie adaptation of a novel for the second time, especially when the previous remake is only a decade old. The fact that the original film is so iconic that images from it persist in popular culture almost 40 years on makes it practically a fool’s errand. Yet in 2013, another version of Carrie was presented to a skeptical audience.
I remember the online chatter about the film alternating between various synonyms for “why” and uncomfortable suggestions that Chlöe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore were both too attractive for the Whites. The bizarre belief that these characters had to be ugly was nearly as obnoxious as the insinuation that Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were gross. What both characters need is to behave like members of a troubled family, removed from the society they must exist within, and all of these actresses brought that out.
The charge of being unnecessary is a more interesting claim to examine. Of course, from the studio perspective it was plainly considered to be a profitable idea. The bankability of King’s name, the growth of special effects technology, the length of time since the last theatrical release of the property (the 2002 adaptation was for TV) — it must have looked promising. Studio heads aren’t always wise, though, so what makes a remake worthwhile for the audience?
For those of adaptations, the things I look for are modernization, unique approach, and ability to stand on its own. My best-case-scenario example for all of these would be The Thing From Another World and The Thing. Both movies were based on the story Who Goes There? but are very different. John Carpenter didn’t set out to redo the earlier movie but to make a new one based on the same source. Advances in effects made it possible to exploit the ability of the alien to look like the station’s crew, allowing the focus to change from scientists vs monster to paranoia. They’re nearly entirely different, and both are great films of their day.
Peirce’s Carrie is essentially the same story as De Palma’s. There are a few scenes that we didn’t see before, and some incidents happen differently, but all of the major plot beats are the same. This isn’t a knock on the newer version, but it’s not helping the case for having made it. To its credit, the newer version doesn’t invent distracting nonsense such as the battle with natives in the 1995 film The Scarlet Letter.
One of the minor differences is that Carrie’s humiliation in the locker room is recorded by Chris (Portia Doubleday) on her phone. Far from being a senseless modernization, the footage is then shared with classmates, posted online, and ultimately projected at the prom. In other words, it’s a new element woven seamlessly into the narrative. It’s a small thing, but the deftness with which it was inserted earns extra points from me. That Carrie does not have a phone herself or a computer at home feels natural, given her mother’s strong beliefs.
Where this adaptation really makes its own mark, though, is in the effects. The TV version used a lot of CGI, and it looked like CGI — noticeable, cheap, and excessive. Here, it’s used a lot but mostly very well. Almost all of it is just a new way to do old tricks, such as levitating small objects. There’s just more of it. This in turn makes her powers more of a threat early on as it’s almost constantly in evidence. It turns her overthrow of her mother into an armed coup rather than an escape, and it better establishes her apocalyptic rage. Her disposal of Chris isn’t the numbed afterthought from earlier. Here it’s maliciously savored, and the effects make that possible. It’s a shame then the theatrical ending was such tripe. Without revealing too much, the last thing you want to see after the dramatic implosion of the White family is a courtroom. The alternate ending is better, though not great. At least it’s above average for a horror film.
While I’m not entirely convinced that another film of Carrie was something we needed, the one we got was pretty good. It’s well worth a look for the different interpretations of Carrie and her mother and the increased danger afforded by the effects. I think it’d be a shame if someone were to watch this one and never see the first, but worse things have happened. It’s a decent film in its own right.