I don't have internet access for most of this week, so you're going to have to wait a little longer for my year-end roundup and for some mini reviews of a bunch of films currently on circuit that are actually worth your time. For now though, here are two of my reviews that were published over at Channel 24 this past weekend. Sorry for the delay.
Check it out Channel 24 as well, if you're so inclined.
Carrie White is a shy girl, raised by
an overbearing ultra-religious mother who, while trying to navigate
the embarrassments and cruelty that comes with being a high school
outcast, has to come to terms the very powerful and very deadly
telekinetic powers that she has suddenly started to develop.
What we thought
I am probably going to get a lot of
flack for this but I was never the biggest fan of the original
Carrie. Stephen King, who authored the novel on which both Carrie
films are based, may consider it to be one of the most successful
adaptations of his many, many works but I found its dramatic, high
school elements to be more than a little naff and its horrific
elements entirely non-horrific. It had a strong performances from
Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie and, being a Brian De Palma film, it
certainly had visual style, but it's far from the best horror film of
With that in mind then, I approached
this remake with a touch of optimism added to my usual apathy or
outright cynicism towards this never ending stream of horror remakes.
While I will never understand why anyone thought “updating” stone
cold classic like The Wicker Man, Psycho or Evil Dead was a good
idea, the significantly more flawed Carrie could certainly be
improved on. This is especially so because in the nearly-forty-years
between the original Carrie and its latest and biggest remake (it was
already remade as a not very well received TV movie in 2002) have
seen TV shows like Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life inject some
much needed realism into high school dramas, while Buffy the Vampire
Slayer (the TV show, obviously) built upon and bettered the
supernatural/ teen angst combination of De Palma's film.
It is with no small amount of relief
therefore that I can officially proclaim the new version of Carrie to
be, by far, one of the best – if not the best – horror remakes of
the last decade, if not longer. It's far from perfect, to be sure, as
it still shares one major problem with the original and it certainly
never matches De Palma's version in terms of visual ingenuity, but
this is the very rare case where I can honestly say that you can
gladly watch the remake rather than the original. Besides, in terms
of its visuals, Carrie (2013) my not match the original but at least
it avoids that vomitous yellow-red tinge that has made most modern
horror remakes visually repulsive in a way that has little to do with
the actual horror.
For the first two thirds of the film
at least, director Kimberly Pierce (best known for Boys Don't Cry,
which makes her a particularly inspired choice here) knocks it out of
the park as she tells a compelling story about a teenage girl trying
to come to terms with her own internal changes, while doing her best
to fit into a peer group with which she seems to have nothing in
common – all the while having all this mirrored by burgeoning
supernatural powers, with both parts of her life acting as a metaphor
for one another.
By this point, we've seen Joss Whedon
perfect this formula with Buffy and films such as The Craft and
Ginger Snaps have done pretty good jobs with the same too so, while
Carrie – probably unfairly - doesn't exactly feel original any
more, Pierce does a wonderful job ensuring that her take on the genre
is far closer to Whedon than to, say, Stephanie Meyer. It certainly
doesn't hurt that she has a brilliant young actress like Chloe Grace
Moretz easily matching, probably even surpassing, Sissy Spacek in the
title role, as Moretz is both closer to the age of Carrie than Spacek
was when she brought the iconic character to life and, I dare say,
better at conveying the sadness, angst and confusion of her
character. And while the always superb Moore doesn't quite manage to
better Piper Laurie's frightening uber-Christian matriarch, Carrie's
class mates feel much more like real teenagers than their 1976
The problem with the film though is
one that it shares with its predecessor – albeit to a slightly
lesser extent. The original film's climax is infamous enough and the
promotion for the film is explicit enough that I don't think I'm
spoiling anything to say that the final act of the film basically
transforms our hero into the story's villain, after a particularly
cruel prank goes horribly, horribly wrong.
It is this final section of the film
where this perfectly paced, emotionally poignant dark fable becomes
a) a flat out horror film and b) a high school revenge story, but
both transformations feel cheap. This particular story point has been
done by Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its sixth season and by the 80s
X-Men comic book story, The Dark Phoenix Saga but while both of those
stories understood that this story is fundamentally tragic and
horrifying in its tragedy – even as they both ended in redemption –
neither Carrie film comes closing to capturing this level of
poignancy as they descend into hysterical horror and take just a bit
too much pleasure in the gleeful bloodiness of their violence.
The current version is actually quite
a bit better at leavening this with the kind of emotional drama that
the narrative calls for, but it still never quite lands in the way
that it needed to to be a truly fitting end to this particular story.
In both cases ultimately, I appreciated what they were going for, it
just never quite worked for me. I can't help but wonder if perhaps
the best Carrie remake would be one that tries to move it out of the
horror genre completely – not because of any intrinsic problem with
horror as a genre but because Carrie has somehow never really
comfortably fitted within it.
Still, a superior horror remake is
rare enough and Carrie's basic story is compelling enough that I can
pretty easily recommend the film to genre fans – disappointing
final act or no.
PS: Oh and one final point: one place that
the original kills the remake is in its final shot. The new take on
the classic scene is more congruent with Carrie's powers but it packs
none of “whoa, awesome!” impact of the original.